I’ve been saying this for a long time. Certain commenters—they know who they are—have been rejecting the point for just as long a time. Other non-commenters have been willing to consider it, if not to agree with it. If the comments section is any indication they are silent majority.
My point, and it felt too obvious to make, was that being a businessman was not a qualification for being president of the United States. It was like saying that a champion chess player could sit down and learn bridge in a weekend, then to become a champion bridge player. It’s absurd to think that being great at one game necessarily means that you are great at another game.
And, yes, I do understand that such remarks should come with a trigger warning. I understand that Trump’s followers, staunch opponents of political correctness, are very quick to take offense at any disparaging or discouraging word about the Donald.
Yesterday in the Washington Post, the former prime minister of Yugoslavia, Milan Panic explained what happened when he morphed from successful businessman into political leader. He concluded as many others now have been trying to explain, that skill in one field does not translate into skill in another field.
Panic explained what happened to him, adding a quotation from Robert Gates:
After decades as a successful California businessman, I answered the call to serve as prime minister of my former homeland of Yugoslavia.
I quickly learned that politics is another realm with very different rules in play. “If you don’t have experience in how government works,” as former secretary of defense Robert Gates recently noted, “your ability to make the government work is going to be significantly reduced. It’s different than business.”
Different game; different rules. Knowing how the system works is essential to make it work better. Having had dealings with some government officials is not sufficient.
When Panic was asked to become prime minister of Yugoslavia in 1992, he had great hopes and aspirations, to say nothing of an overweening confidence built on business success:
At the time, Yugoslavia was under United Nations sanctions, cut off economically from the rest of the world, and breaking apart into separate and warring republics. I thought I could work with the legislature to create an investment and financial environment conducive to economic growth: low inflation, stability and a climate friendly to foreign investors. I planned to hire the best brains from American universities and think tanks to help reorganize the economy. I would bring enemies together and show them it was in their mutual self-interest to stop the interminable fighting. In short, I would give orders and they would happen.
One notes that Trump promises that he will also bring together the best brains to run the American government. Many people would be reassured if he named a few of these brains. Is the country going to be run by Roger Stone?
Saying that an eighty-year-old hedge fund manager is going to step in and run the treasury department or the council of economic advisors is rank absurdity. As of now, we have no idea who these great minds are and—another important consideration-- whether they would sign on to work for Donald Trump.
It appears to be true that a President Trump will not be beholden to any special interest group or contributors. And yet, these special interest groups and their lobbyists have considerable influence on the legislative process and even on the bureaucracy.
Even if Trump is right about the influence of money, if we consider how little he knows about government, about history and about policy… the real question is: who will have his ear? Who will he empower? And if his advisers disagree, will he know enough to decide between two competing analyses of a situation whose details escape him?
Meanwhile back in Yugoslavia, Panic explained what happened when he started dealing with legislators.
In his words:
But politics soon proved as murky as business seemed clear. As CEO, I could simply issue directives; my employees would follow my lead. Their jobs, in fact, depended on it. I also had the opportunity to handpick my closest business associates.
Working with politicians was a different story. The legislators I dealt with had their own agendas and constituencies to serve. On a given issue, they would talk the whole thing into oblivion, and nothing would get done. I met dozens of nationalist politicians who were filled with a startling level of vicious xenophobia. These politicians wanted to expand their power base by reveling in imagined slights and blaming everything bad on other religions or ethnicities. When I urged the peaceful recognition of breakaway republics following the borders laid down by Josip Tito decades earlier, one former Yugoslav president told me I had fallen from Mars.
But, how did Panic do in the art of diplomacy, aka the art of the deal?
Trained as a businessman, I confess I was initially unprepared for the machinations of diplomacy. I had always prided myself on being able to sit down with anyone, talk things out and find common ground. But politics is more often a zero-sum game, where enmity and intrigue often supplant self-interest and simple common sense. The gloomy and paranoid worldview of Milosevic and my counterparts in Bosnia and Croatia was maddening to me. Rather than work toward a future based on pluralism and respect, they were always looking to the past, quick to take slight, and eager for revenge. Once, losing my patience at a diplomatic conference in London, I yelled at Milosevic to sit down — a slight that ignited a personal war between us.
It did not all turn out badly. But it took many years for Panic to make anything happen at all. Many people believe that Donald Trump is going to march into Washington, wave his magic wand, to make great things happen. In truth, he has no record of government accomplishment. He has never gotten anything done within a government. He is running on air.
Or better, he is running on hope and change, on your hopes that he can do what he says he will do to institute radical change. And he thinks that he can do that after having insulted and offended the better part of the people he will supposedly be working with.
But, if you challenge him, if you disagree with him, if you dare to run against him, even to beat him in the Iowa caucuses, you will be the object of his withering contempt. He will call you out as a “pussy.” Surely, that will solve our political correctness problem. If you don't believe me, try it at home.