The business of government

At various times in history, different professions have been regarded as the best preparation for government. Philosophers, theologians, warriors, priests, artists, intellectuals, lawyers have all been mentioned in that context.

Some of those prep professions still have their champions, although one doesn’t meet many Poles who fancy a concert pianist as their PM (Ignacy Paderewski held that post in 1919).

However, many American fans of President Trump swear that nothing prepares a man for a top political job better than a business career. They may have a point, though not in the sense they mean it.

Like Trump, modern governments finance their projects with other people’s money. If it works out, the government benefits, although not necessarily the other people. If not, the debts are written off – or indefinitely rescheduled, which amounts to the same thing.

The business equivalent is called bankruptcy or, in the US, protection under Chapter 11. That wipes the debt slate clean by letting creditors have whatever the businessman can afford to pay them. Ten cents to a dollar is seen as a victory for the creditor, 20 as a triumph.

If a businessman has kept enough of his borrowed loot for himself, he has no fear of lawsuits: a regiment of lawyers at his disposal can tie up a plaintiff in knots for years.

Modern governments don’t have to repay their debts, although they do have to service them, which they accomplish by borrowing or printing more money. That’s why they don’t mind spending more than they earn and running up debts in the trillions.

One has to admit that some respectable figures in the history of American business haven’t relied on the model so crudely outlined here. For example, unlike Trump, Henry Ford never boasted of his agility in using bankruptcy laws. And Bill Gates hasn’t been involved in thousands of lawsuits.

But then people like them are traditional businessmen, creators of products that make people’s lives more comfortable. They display their shrewdness by making products cheaper and better, not by playing Chapter 11 with Ignacy Paderewski’s virtuosity.

Trump is a different breed. He creates things like casinos for American mafiosi, golf courses for Russian ones and monuments to bad taste in Manhattan. His talent is talking others into chancy investments, and he doesn’t really care if the money comes from the KGB or the Salvation Army. That requires a wholly different set of qualities from those boasted by Messrs Ford and Gates.

Trump is discovering that at the moment, and also finding out that, certain similarities mentioned above notwithstanding, his type of business is different from government.

Trump’s career has been signposted by six bankruptcies, for him a source of pride. There have also been 3,500 lawsuits. Though in his line of work this is considered par for the course, he has fought more lawsuits than the next six biggest property developers combined.

Trump emerged at the other end relatively unscathed, avoiding not only the minimum security facility in Danbury, Connecticut (his colleagues’ frequent choice for prolonged holidays), but even excessive opprobrium. Large amounts of money seem to have redemptive value.

By applying his business experience to his new job, Trump effectively became a lame-duck president from his first days in office, probably the first man to boast that distinction.

In his iffy property empire all his charges worked for him. Now the situation has been reversed: in theory at least he works for his charges, not the other way around.

To make sure this arrangement isn’t merely theoretical, his charges can keep him in check through many institutions over which Trump has little or no control. For example, he can’t fire any of the 435 congressmen or 100 senators, much less the people who elected them.

He can fire heads of federal agencies but only at the risk of backfire if the execution was performed for spurious or corrupt reasons. He can wheel and deal with any foreign leaders he pleases, but only up to a point and not unaccountably.

Trump is also discovering that more rigorous moral standards are applied to his present job than to his previous one. It’s no longer enough for him to stay a whisker within the law or at least not to get caught when overstepping that line. A president is held down to higher standards than those demanded by criminal courts.

By sacking FBI head James Comey, Trump may have broken the law that proscribes obstruction of justice. Comey was leading an investigation into the questionable links between Trump’s campaign and Putin.

As a result of that investigation, Trump has had to part company with three of his closest associates, including National Security Advisor Gen. Flynn who lied about those contacts. According to Comey, Trump asked him not to proceed any further with Flynn because he’s “a good guy”.

That he may be, but someone who tries to sabotage a federal investigation is generally seen as not so good in the US. Comey has documented that request in a memo, though Trump denies all.

Then there’s the business of Trump divulging classified information to the KGB thug Lavrov, Foreign Minister to the KGB thug Putin, with whom Trump has had many profitable dealings.

As president, Trump can legally declassify any material, which he hastily pointed out. Matter closed, or rather it would have been in Trump’s previous (and concurrent) career. But here those higher standards kick in, and Trump is found wanting.

As a matter of courtesy, if not national security, he should have cleared his garrulous generosity with the intelligence agencies involved. Alas, Trump’s self-confidence is as boundless as is his affection for his friend Vlad.

Yet Vlad is certainly not America’s friend, which everybody but Trump and his advisors know. It’s unhealthy when a president’s interests diverge from his country’s.

Vlad’s response to the ensuing scandal amused me no end. “We can see that political schizophrenia is developing in the United States,” he said.

“We’re prepared to submit to the US Congress and Senate the transcript of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump. Of course only if the US administration wants it.”

Don’t know if the US administration wants it, but I certainly do. Even though I don’t read much fiction these days, this would be a masterpiece worthy of the Booker Prize, if not the Nobel.

The information carelessly, if not criminally, divulged concerns IS plans to blow up an American airliner with a bomb hidden in a computer notebook. Since the IS is in bed with Iran, which is Vlad’s client state, one struggles to accept Trump’s explanation that his generosity was proffered for “humanitarian reasons”.

Moreover, the information had come from an Israeli undercover agent, who has now been for all intents and purposes blown. But that doesn’t matter: Trump has dealt with Putin before, and he knows he can deal with him now.

In the past, those dealings were immoral, for Trump has financed some of his deals with Putin’s purloined and laundered cash. Now they may well be criminal – whatever the letter of the law says.

Trump’s fans claim that only left-wingers want to take him down. Well, I’m no left-winger, but I’m scared of what this illiterate chancer can do to the West his country supposedly leads.

He has already done us a great favour by keeping Hillary out of the White House. To preserve this legacy, he should go before he’s impeached. President Pence, anyone?

4 thoughts on “The business of government”

  1. It was always suggested that what the United States needed was a businessman as President. The businessman who knew how to balance a budget and meet a payroll. The outsider and not the insider, the non-politician but someone who still has people skills and organizational skills. New ideas, new boss with new staff and cabinet. Now you got him.

  2. AB,
    I’m not so sure Henry Ford or Bill Gates are very good examples for our purposes here, save that NEITHER would have made a good….well, whatever a US President is supposed to be after Woody Wilson – or Georgie Dollar Bill, for that matter.

    The wildly anti-Semitic Henry Ford didn’t “boast” about a lot of things, especially his quadruple dealings with the war machines of both Adolf and Josef during WW II. Pius XII’s job became exponentially harder to help fleeing Jews when American company’s things with wheels were sold out to-whom-it-may-benefit.

    As far as our Billy G, well, a computer savant, for sure. And a circuit board whisperer.
    Mere mention, though, that his operating systems have oozed their ways into every United States public school under the educationally exciting “Common Core” invites another long story. Our Billy DID NOT become a billionaire because his “product” was THAT great. Our Billy’s product asked every other innovator, “Why bother?” That doesn’t happen without men who are issued M16-A2s.
    Henry Ford helped people forget the splendor of a brisk walk.
    Billy Gates helped – and is helping still – people forget how to think.

    1. But you are likely to get that sort of thing with successful businessmen. They should stick to their knitting and leave government to the mafia.

    2. I wasn’t commenting on Ford’s character, which was as truly repulsive as you say. I only wrote that he actually made things (and money in the process) rather that used Chapter 11 to get ahead in life. Also, my two homes are 400 miles apart, with the Channel in between — rather too far for a brisk walk, wouldn’t you say? And just think of the pollution problem if everyone used horses rather than cars. Also note that I didn’t say Ford and Gates made our lives better — only more comfortable. Big difference, as far as I’m concerned. But I must thank you, John: it’s not often that I’m made to feel as a champion of technological progress.

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