Tag Archives: Bob MacDonald

America Needs a Business Leader Like Trump to Break the Dysfunction in Government … Or Do We?

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There is no doubt that Americans are frustrated with a government that seems mired in a deepening cycle of dysfunction. Large and small issues become bogged down in petty politics, trivia and procedure. Legislative activity often moves at the speed of someone rollerblading through a swamp.  

It is natural to assume that this inability of government to function effectively is the result of a political disease that has infected government and impaired its ability to act. There is also the belief that we are suffering from some type of new government phenomenon caused by the 24-hour, politically tilted cable news, special interest groups, blogs galore and dump truck loads of political contributions, all attempting to influence the actions of government. In response to these frustrations people begin to believe that the answer can be found by turning to a government outsider; preferably a successful business person. The belief (hope) is that a leader not previously entangled in government and one who has been successful running a successful business is the type of person who can eliminate the dysfunction in government. But a dysfunctional government may not be all that evil.

Government is Working the Way it Was Intended to Work

What we are witnessing is exactly the way our government was intended to function and, for the most part, has since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788. Much to their credit and our benefit, the framers of the constitution specifically and intentionally created a government designed to be “dysfunctional.” That is to say, a government that is prevented from operating like a well-oiled business that churns out legislation with the ease of a goose with diarrhea. Those who drafted our constitution rightly feared a government that was efficient and effective, because they knew from experience that this opened the door to tyranny and loss of freedom.

As a result, with few exceptions, every major decision or issue faced by our government in the past 225 years has been resolved in a dysfunctional manner, often taking years or even decades to resolve; all because our system required that all sides of an issue should be heard. That’s the inherent beauty of our constitution: Decisions are made only after careful and thoughtful deliberation—not by imperial edict. It may not be pretty, and it can be messy, but it works as intended to protect our freedoms.

What Happens When Legislative Scrutiny is Diminished?

Most of the poor (and dangerous) decisions that have been made by our government came at a time when one party had overwhelming control of  government, giving them the efficiency of legislative clout to implement their plans with almost unfettered impunity. One classic example of this was the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, when the Federalists under John Adams were in virtual control of the government. Among other things, these laws made it illegal to even criticize the government. That may seem laughable to think such acts could be passed today; and they can’t—so long as the government remains dysfunctional and deliberative. Deliberation gives time for passions to cool, options to be considered and for reason to prevail. As American statesman and Senator Henry Clay once said, “Time is always reason’s greatest ally.” (There is a difference between deliberation and obstruction, but that is for another discussion.)

Desperate for a Solution

The current frustration and impatience with a dysfunctional government has intensified the belief that  by electing a government outsider and successful business person as president, we will be able to solve the problems of government. It is an alluring and tempting argument.


In the 230 years of American history, hundreds of successful business entrepreneurs have built immensely successful corporate empires that became the drivers of the greatest economic growth in the history of the world. But despite their power and prominence in American society; none of them were ever elected president. America has elected 44 men to be President. There have been lawyers (far too many), soldiers, farmers, teachers, career politicians and even one actor, but not one was a successful corporate capitalist. And it is not as if there is a shortage of potential business candidates who would seem to fit the bill to be president.

The list of great American capitalists is too long to list here, but we all know of many: Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, John J. Astor, E.H. Harriman, Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Hearst, Andrew Mellon, Warren Buffet, Sam Walton, and Bill Gates.  Without a doubt, all of these individuals – and scores more like them – were exceptional leaders, possessing unique vision and perspective. And yet, in over two centuries – during economic times even more tumultuous than now – the country never once looked to any of them for presidential leadership.

Government is not a Business

There are those who sincerely believe that the problems with dysfunctional government would be solved if government was run as a business by a business person. But the reality is that government is not intended to be a business. The objectives of government are distinctly different from the goals of business. The purpose of government is to be passionate about the welfare of all its people; the objective of business is to be passionate about the welfare of its shareholders. The leadership mentality needed to make government function properly is the antithesis of the leadership temperament needed to run a business.

The power and structure in government is (at least it’s supposed to be) bottom-up where needs and actions of the many filter up through a series of checks and balances, shared power, and divergent interests. Conversely, the power and structure in business is top-down: direction, decisions and actions are dictated, not debated. A CEO in business has the focused, specific power granted by the few (board of directors) to set priorities, make decisions, implement plans and direct the actions of all others; all with the single objective of profit for shareholders.

The favored attributes of a CEO are laser focus on specific actions to increase profits, efficient input-output analysis, decisive decision making and an impatience to get things done that translates into a sense of urgency. The favored attributes of a government leader are a focus on the broad ideology of the purpose of government, the patience to hear the views of many, the ability to cajole diverse centers of power to coalesce to take action and the skill to build broad coalitions that are willing to work together for the benefit of the many, not the few.

Sometimes dysfunction in government can be a good thing. It forces those in power to be open to deliberation, explain and justify actions. In government this type “dysfunction” reduces the possibility of taking rash actions in an atmosphere of passion or political expediency. As frustrated as we are with a dysfunctional government, we might want to consider if the best response is to elect a business person with a proclivity for bombast and a willingness to propose rash actions in an atmosphere of heated passion and political expediency.

Is Trump Qualified to be President?

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Now that it is fairly certain – if anything can be certain in this election cycle – that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in the election, the debate is shifting to the fundamental question of whether or not Trump is even qualified to be president. Aside from complaining about his free-wheeling, bombastic style and simplistic approach to problems, those who have opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump argue that he simply lacks the credentials to be president of the United States. Of course, this raises the obvious question: Exactly what are the qualifications to be president?

There is a clear dichotomy existing in this year’s presidential election. On the one hand you have Hillary Clinton who some argue is the most qualified person to ever run for president. At the same time, there is scant evidence that Trump has the necessary experience, knowledge, temperament or talent needed to be successful as president. Many suggest that Trump may be the least qualified person to ever run for president.

Looking back, Hillary has been on a 40 year campaign to accumulate the credentials that will qualify her to be president. Working either with or in government, she has been a successful lawyer; was sort of a co-president in the White House for eight years observing the activities (well not all of them) of her husband Bill Clinton and then moved on to be a senator and served as Secretary of State under President Obama. During her career Clinton has gained the knowledge and experience as to how government works at the state, federal and international levels. As for Trump, he has spent the past 40 years grubbing for real estate deals, chasing women, running beauty contests and gambling casinos, fighting lawsuits, learning the particulars of divorce and bankruptcy law, promulgating conspiracy theories, doing credit card commercials and starring as a reality TV show host.

If we could take politics and emotion out of the equation (which we can’t) and decide our vote on the basis of which candidate has the most relevant experience and knowledge to take on the rigors and responsibilities of the presidency, the clear choice would be Hillary Clinton. There is only one problem with this approach to picking a president: History has proven that no matter how qualified or unqualified an individual may seem to be, there is no way to really know if a person is qualified to be president until they are president.   

Political scientists suggest that the scope, pressures, stress and responsibility of the presidency has become so consuming that no individual – regardless of their experience or knowledge – is qualified to be president when they become president. If so, this triggers a different way to asses a candidate: Does the individual have the capacity to grow into the presidency once elected?

So if not Experience then What?

The fallback position for those who look beyond experience to determine if a person is qualified to be president suggest that “character” should be the determining factor, but that approach has a clear weakness. If Trump and Clinton are judged based on the purity of their character, they both might lose. The truth is that some of our most popular and successful presidents had closets full of character flaws. The truth is that one cannot become president – let alone a successful one – relying on the purity of character. If an individual is not calculating, cunning and ruthless when necessary they are not, by definition, qualified to hold the highest office in the land.   

But back to the basic question: Is Trump qualified to be president?

Ronald Reagan is the closest parallel to Trump. As a presidential candidate Reagan was deemed “not ready for prime time.” Reagan’s experience was derided as no more than being a bad actor and a slick salesman. He was a life-long liberal Democrat who claimed to have converted to a conservative Republican. (He was also a well know womanizer.) His campaign theme was to make America once again a “shinning city on upon a hill.” (Sound familiar?) Opponents disparaged as “simplistic” his answers to difficult problems and mocked his single-minded focus on defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War; calling him “a trigger-happy cowboy.”

By most standards – especially among Republicans – Reagan is considered to have been a successful president. Looking back, it turns out that Reagan’s lack of experience was irrelevant and his perceived weaknesses turned out to be his strengths. Because he was not philosophically rigid in his political beliefs he was able to work with and strike deals with even his most ardent opponents. Reagan’s training as a radio personality, actor and pitchman for GE and, of all things, Borax Soap, created the “great communicator” who may have even surpassed Franklin Roosevelt, when it came to selling his message to people. Above all, Reagan’s dogged effort to defeat what he called the “evil empire” and end the Cold War not only appealed to but resonated with the people.

I am not suggesting that Trump is the reincarnation of Reagan, but even his most ardent detractors can’t deny the parallels. Trump was a philosophical Democrat, long before he was a registered Republican. In his business deals he has worked effectively with both Republicans and Democrats. Trump’s campaign theme of “Make America Great Again” is a direct echo of Reagan’s message. When it comes to communicating, marketing, branding and pure huckster salesmanship, no politician alive can match Trump. It is not clear yet, but Trump’s “evil empire” may be his call for “America first” in all areas such as trade, military entanglements, immigration and international relationships. All of these talents were on full display as Trump decimated a large field of “qualified” candidates to improbably win the Republican nomination.  

This does not mean that Trump is qualified to be president, let alone a successful one, but it does suggest that in this modern media-centric world, the ability to work with rivals, communicate, market and brand your ideas effectively is even more important than it was in Reagan’s time. These talents and experiences may be the new normal when it comes to qualifications to be president. And it’s fair to point out that these are not talents gained from 40 years in government.

Is Trump qualified to be president? Not if he is judged by the traditional standards of presidential qualifications; in that case the nod goes to Clinton. But what if the traditional way to measure one’s qualifications for the presidency have become as outdated as the process of nominating a candidate? What this all comes down to is that we will not know if Trump is qualified to be president unless he is elected president. The real question is: Are voters willing to take the risk to determine if Trump really is qualified to be president?

Trump Can’t Win, Right?

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Let’s face it, by any scientific measure or logical reasoning, Clinton should easily thrash Trump in the general election; and she probably will. The evidence presented by current polls, political pundits, television talking-heads and those experienced in national elections, persuasively make the case that Trump is on track to suffer the worse electoral drubbing of a Republican nominee, since Barry Goldwater did at the hands of Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  (Johnson won 61% of the popular vote and 486 electoral votes to Goldwater’s 52.) The only demographic poll that Trump seems to be leading in is among poorly educated, ignorant, red-neck white men. And even if you add in those who supported Ted Cruz, who has been described as a talking snake masquerading as a human being, it would not be enough to push Trump over the top.  

For the experts, the first indication of an impending catastrophic political earthquake that will destroy the Trump Train (and the Republican Party along with it) is that all the animals (aka – the political elite of the Republican Party) are running for the hills. Right before our eyes, the Republican Party is coming apart at the seams. The entire Bush family, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a number of sitting governors, numerous senators and members of Congress have announced their ominous opposition to the nominee that millions of Republican voters have selected. Not to mention the coup de grace of disapproval showered on Trump by none other than the esteemed, effete Mitt Romney.

The theory put forth by the political experts is that by the end of the campaign, the voters will come to see that Trump is one of the least qualified – by experience, temperament and talent – to ever run for president and “come to their senses” by rejecting Trump.   

(In the past couple of days this organized Republican establishment resistance to Trump seems to be collapsing; not because they want Trump, but because they fear he might actually win.)

Theories Can be Flawed

There is only one problem with this theory. When Trump exhibited the audacity to announce his candidacy for president last June, the political pundits giggled, scoffed and suggested that his effort was no more than an ego trip, intended only as a commercial for the Trump brand. (And initially it probably was.) Trump was the 17th Republican candidate to enter the fray and his poll ranking was at barely one percent. Neither the media nor the gaggle of other candidates took Trump seriously. And why should they? There was nothing in Trump’s background to indicate that he was the least bit qualified to be taken seriously as a candidate for president.

We all know the rest of the story. Totally contrary to the conventional wisdom of the experts, Trump bulldozed his way through the primaries, knocking off other candidates (who were really too timid to attack him) one by one until he was the last man standing. Along the way Trump garnered more votes than any Republican candidate in history and ignited revitalized interest in the Republican Party by attracting disaffected Democrats and independent voters.

The media and his opponents focused on the worst of Trump; his crude, boorish, bombastic attacks on fellow candidates and even members of the media. The media gave Trump millions of dollars in free air time that allowed him to put forth what the establishment experts all derided as naive childishly simplistic solutions to highly complex problems. The free media coverage provided Trump was driven by exactly the same motivation that causes news networks to break away from regular programming to dramatically follow a police chase from a helicopter. The media knows that more people will watch coverage of a potential car crash or police shootout than will stay glued to a discussion of educational policies. For the media, Trump seemed like an accident waiting to happen and they wanted to be there to cover it when he crashed and burned. What the media and other candidates did not understand was that Trump was taking them for a ride. Regardless of whether it was a masterfully planned strategy on his part or (more likely) that he had stumbled on an exposed nerve of sentiment that resonated with voters, Trump continued to rise in the polls.

The Republicans recognized, and the media harped on the “conservative base” of the Party being frustrated and angry with the “establishment,” but they all missed the fact that this anger and frustration was felt all across the voter spectrum. As evidenced by the Sanders surge against Clinton in the Democratic primaries, it was not just the core Republican conservatives who were frustrated by failed political leadership and dysfunctional government; liberals, moderates, young, old, black, white and Latino were all exasperated with politicians and government in one way or another. This is the real “base” that Trump tapped into and this drove him to the nomination that everyone said would never happen.

Trump’s Path to Victory      

Trump, unlike any other politician – Republican or Democratic – is willing to turn things upside down and search for a new and different approach to old problems. He has gone where others fear to tread. Trump may not be able to find the right answers, but his approach can be beguiling to millions of voters – in both parties – who are fed-up and frustrated with traditional politicians who keep chasing their tails with the same old arguments and tired solutions that do nothing but put the problem off to the next election. Trump’s strength is that he is not identified as “one of them.”

There is another phenomena that may be at work here. People who do not drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the back or don’t have a shotgun under their bed, may not want to admit publicly that they are secret Trump supporters. In most circles it is still not proper etiquette to acknowledge support for Trump. It is estimated by some that there are millions of frustrated voters who will only support Trump in the place that matters most, in the secrecy of the voting booth. 

Trump’s Secret Weapon

In truth – and what the experts discount – is that the best thing Trump has going for him in the election is Hillary Clinton. In reality, Hillary Clinton is probably the only Democratic candidate that Trump could beat. As strange as it may seem, the election may be more for Trump to lose, than it is for Clinton to win. Clinton is the epitome of the establishment. She represents all that is frustrating for voters. Unlike Trump, people know what they will get with Hillary, but what they will get from her may not be what they want. Just consider how well a 74 year old Socialist has done against Clinton in her own Party. This election may boil down to the frustration vote going for Trump and the fatigue vote going against Clinton.

Still, the odds are strong that Trump will lose the election, and he probably should, but if he wins, the blame will not fall on those who vote for him, but on the establishment politicians of both the Republican and Democratic Parties who have failed and frustrated voters to the point that voting for Trump is seen as the best option.