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The U.S. President Should Not Be A Businessperson

Government is not a profit-motivated, CEO-governed enterprise.

09/22/2017 16:56 EDT | Updated 09/22/2017 16:56 EDT
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U.S. President Donald Trump waits for a meeting with Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Palace Hotel on Sept. 19, 2017 in New York City, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

For over 200 years, Americans had the good sense to elect non-businesspeople to the presidency. Typically, U.S. presidents have been chosen from among the ranks of lawyers, generals and career politicians.

There's a reason why that was a good idea: such folks had the experience and expertise to govern. Businesspeople, on the other hand, did not, and that, I submit, is the primary reason that the country has been in rough shape for much of this new century.

The new millennium started out with the contested election of America's first MBA president, George W. Bush. The Harvard business school grad touted his business experience but running the country like a corporate CEO turned out to be a huge mistake.

Bush 43's historical legacy has yet to be finalized but there seems little doubt that he will rank among the five worst presidents, possibly supplanting James Buchanan as the consensus choice for worst president ever. After all, Bush was the one who started the ill-fated Iraq War and then brought the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

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Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2008.

Some might say that Bush also had political experience as governor of Texas but that counts for little since it's essentially a part-time job. His big selling point was that he was a businessman who supposedly could apply the lessons he learned in the world of business to government and make it more efficient.

The problem is that government is not business. It's not a profit-motivated, CEO-governed enterprise. Rather, it is designed and constructed to serve the public interest in such areas as health, welfare, education and infrastructure.

Barack Obama, the lawyer and legislator, understood the nature of government and was therefore able to get things accomplished. Against all odds, he cleaned up the financial disaster left by Bush. He was also able to pass comprehensive healthcare legislation.

Sadly, the American electorate (or at least a plurality of the American electorate) did not learn the lesson of the Bush years — i.e. — don't elect a businessperson to the highest office in the land. Surprisingly, America again fell for a CEO promising to solve the nation's problems by running government like a business.

The political process is complicated at every level and it takes someone with experience to know how to stickhandle through the legislative and regulatory mazes of government.

And now we can see the disastrous results of electing another businessperson to the Oval Office. Donald Trump thinks he can run roughshod over the constraints of government and do whatever he wants. He can't, of course, and instead has completely failed to work with Congress and the courts.

The political process is complicated at every level and it takes someone with experience to know how to stickhandle through the legislative and regulatory mazes of government. Someone like Trump doesn't have that background.

I suspect the extent of his knowledge of the workings of government is limited, possibly restricted to an adolescent viewing of "How a bill becomes law" in junior high school. He doesn't know how to "do politics" and, like most tycoons, is used to issuing orders and ruling with something close to absolute authority.

Donald Trump is a walking, talking civics lesson in how not to govern as president. He has alienated every branch of government and has been unable to pass any meaningful legislation despite having a majority in both the House and the Senate. He's great at signing executive orders with a flourish but has shown no actual executive competence.

It's early yet but it looks like Trump's reign will make at least one person happy. Luckily for George W. Bush, by 2020 (or perhaps even sooner), he may no longer be a leading candidate for worst president ever.

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