Donald Trump said he’d run the country like a business. He’s not running it yet, but early signs are clear that he meant it. This is going to be a disaster.
Reports have been circulating for more than a week now that Trump’s inauguration organizers were offering hefty cash incentives and even diplomatic posts (as in, “You get to be the official U.S. ambassador representing our country to another country!”) to talent brokers who could line up A-list stars to perform at the ceremony and related events. The Trump team has said that this is categorically false, that they have made no such offers.
I happen to believe it.
All of it.
I believe the reports that the offers were made and I believe the Trump team’s disavowal. How can this be? Because in business, a person in Mr. Trump’s position can say, “Get this done, I don’t care how, don’t bother me with the details, just do it.” and expect it to be done. If the big boss says your job is on the line if you can’t deliver, you do whatever it takes to deliver.
Do I believe Trump’s party planners are empowered to make deals about diplomatic posts? Certainly not. Do I believe that would stop them from implying that they did, if it would seal the deal? Well, of course they would. They are representing a personal brand built on hype and overselling, and on the sort of negotiation that happens after the other party has already come through on their end and you walk back what you promised to whatever pittance you feel like paying.
I can believe Donald Trump had nothing to do with it, that he didn’t approve it. But I also must believe he would have approved of the notion, had it worked and had they gotten away with it. To Mr. Trump, getting away with stuff is “smart” and doing as much as you can get away with is “good business”. And I have no reason to believe that he won’t continue to conduct his affairs this way when he’s president.
After all, he promised to run the country like a business, didn’t he?
Trump tweeted this morning about his son Eric’s conflicts of interest.
A lot of people have characterized this as an immature tantrum. They’re not far wrong, but that characterization misses where this behavior is coming from. “Wrong answer!” isn’t the response of an actual child, but of a childish boss hearing something he doesn’t like.
“Wrong answer!” doesn’t say, “I disagree with this, and will work to change it.” It says, “I’m in charge, and I say that’s not true, so it isn’t.”
Donald Trump said during his campaign that his inexperience didn’t matter because he would surround himself by experts, “the best people”, and get their advice. It’s what he does in business, after all. But to his ears, “the best people” are the people who tell him what he wants to hear. If anybody brings him unwelcome news, they’re wrong, just wrong, and they need to get out of his sight and don’t come back until they can bring him the right answer.
These are not what they call in the business world “best practices”, but they are certainly common enough practices, and they speak to the shark-like image that Donald Trump projected when he played a billionaire business genius on TV for all those years. The very format of The Apprentice speaks to a horrible and horribly stereotypical practice of the sort of bad boss who can easily run a business into the ground: fostering division and competition within the business itself.
The theory is that this kind of environment makes sure everyone is performing at the highest level. The practice is that everybody involved spends as much time trying to undermine each other and guard against sneak attacks as they do on anything that actually helps the company achieve its goals.
And if you pay attention to the ongoing sideshow that is… well, everything about Trump’s transition… it’s apparent that this is what’s happening. He’s got multiple people performing the same tasks in direct conflict with each other. He’s throwing his spokespeople into the deep end and seeing who can swim. He’s making people audition for positions like they’re on a reality show, making picks not based on credentials or merit but on how well they play his game. This does not ensure that he’s surrounded by the best people, but the most ruthlessly manipulative ones.
The way Trump does business—when properly edited—makes for terrific television, if you like that sort of thing. When it’s done in business, no one really sees it except for the people who are immersed in it. But Trump is, as previously noted, not even in office yet and we’re seeing what it looks like when a public figure does business the way Trump does business.
The results aren’t pretty, and that is likely to be the best that can be said of it.