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Trump Is Showing You Really Can't 'Run Government Like a Business'

The president is part of a wave of executives who have floundered once given power over government.

Brett Di Resta

Rarely does a day go by in Washington without President Donald Trump complaining he does not get enough credit for his accomplishments. But I want him to know that I am truly thankful for his efforts so far. His incredible incompetence, along with his cast of bumbling characters, may finally kill off politics' most tired cliche—that we need to run the government like a business.

This simplistic turn of phrase, born of a misguided notion, gets used regularly. Look no further than Trump's most useful simpleton—I mean son-in-law—who recently stated that "government should be run like a great American company."

I've always found the sentiment confusing. Sure, there are many great businessmen that turn a profit and take care of their communities. But has anyone longing for business leaders to run our government actually followed corporate titans the past few decades? Did they miss the Enron disaster? Or Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme? Or AIG's fine management? Or the introduction of outsourcing?

This is not to condemn businesspeople in general or say that they shouldn't run for public office. But companies and their leaders have proven to be every bit as incompetent, if not more so, then government. And the proof is in the pudding, if by pudding you mean taxpayers bailing out industry, from savings and loans to the automobile industry or most recently, Wall Street.

And yet, this imbecilic idea that we need to run government more like a business somehow lingers on. Its days may be numbered, though. The election of a bipartisan spate of incapable entrepreneurs, including Trump, may finally drive a stake through the heart of this old chestnut.



A few years back, New Jersey voters elected mogul and Democrat Jon Corzine as governor. The Goldman Sachs alumnus did the near impossible: He made Chris Christie seem desirable. Corzine's follies, including that time he shut down New Jersey's government, compelled the people of Garden State to turn him out of office and willingly embrace Christie. As an encore, Corzine was fined $5 million and banned for life from commodity futures trading for tanking his firm, MF Global.

Then there's Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. A former computer company CEO, Snyder bragged about his business acumen with iconic commercials during his campaign. Now Snyder will be remembered as the governor who sat idly by as the people of Flint were poisoned by their own water. At least Nero did some fiddling while Rome burned.

Snyder's own attorney general, Republican Bill Schuette, said in June that "the health crisis in Flint has created a trust crisis for Michigan government, exposing a serious lack of confidence in leaders who accept responsibility and solve problems." That statement was made as he charged five people, including the head of the state health department, with crimes related to the Flint crisis.

In Illinois, citizens are enduring the reign of equity investor Bruce Rauner. He ran successfully for governor in 2014 on his business acumen, promising to fix what ailed the state. Instead, his confrontational style has actually made governing worse, with Springfield "more paralyzed by partisanship than it's ever been," as Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote in April.

Under Rauner, the state saw its bonds downgraded repeatedly, and its rating is now the lowest ever for a state. Rauner recently sought to shake up his staff, and it ended predictably. He had to fire his new body man on his first day, after discovering the man's history of racist and homophobic social media posts.

Constant staff shakeups, allegations of racism, and putrid social media posts brings us back to Trump. In the first seven months of his presidency, he has proven to be pretty much inept at everything. You would expect a billionaire businessman to at least be good at hiring competent employees. But he's already had to fire his national security advisor, his chief of staff, and one of his most senior advisors. His first communications director resigned after three months, and his replacement, Anthony Scaramucci, was so controversial that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer quit to protest his firing. Days later, Scaramucci himself was fired. The San Andreas fault has shown more stability than this White House.

Trump's foreign policy has been particularly inept. Rather than negotiating better deals, as he promised, Trump has stumbled around, ramping up rhetoric and threatening nuclear war. He's also managed to alienate a number of our closest allies. Even the US–Australia relationship, is now at a low point thanks to Trump. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—brought to government from ExxonMobil to instill some private-sector efficiency in the department—has been repeatedly singled out for his mismanagement and ineffectiveness.

On the domestic front, Trump has a dismal relationship with Congress, and he's openly waging war with the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Every time he speaks, there's a good chance something controversial and/or stupid will come out of his mouth. The constant storm of controversy and infighting that Trump throws up around his administration has resulted, predictably, in an awful lot of dysfunction.

One of the most obvious and least discussed aspects of the Trump White House is that it runs nowhere near as smoothly as the previous one. Barack Obama was criticized for his alleged lack of experience—he was a community organizer before he entered politics, and only served one term in the Senate—but he ran the government in a far more effective and efficient manner than the 71-year-old business tycoon and reality star currently atop it.

It's enough to make you think that maybe, just maybe, running the government isn't like running a company after all.

Brett Di Resta is President of the Maccabee Group and an adjunct professor of opposition research at George Washington University.