Government is not a business

by Eric Baker ([email protected]) 349 views 

Editor’s note: Dr. Eric Baker joined the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith faculty in 2008 and has a doctorate in political science from the University of Florida. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics or the administration of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
In a previous post I said the Founding fathers would have found the popularity of Trump to be disturbing, If not scary. The Founders were men of reason. They were suspicious of persons who appealed to the public’s emotions to gain political power. In short they were wary of demagogues.

James Madison said such people had “sinister designs” that would in the end betray the very people they are trying to win over. Another constitutional delegate, Gouverneur Morris, warned that demagogues would create a “mob” mentality that would trample liberty.

Given the passion, often angry, at his rallies, I think it is safe to call Trump a demagogue. Trump tells his fans what they want to hear, and damns those who disagrees with him. In addition to preying on fears of free trade and immigration, like any demagogue he offers himself as the nation’s savior.

I suspect Trump’s appeal is that he is a businessman who can “fix” the country. Surely, the thinking goes, a businessman accustomed to running a successful business can reorient the economy to better serve the American people.

It’s a common argument that government should be run like a business, and thus only a businessman like Trump can do this. This view is wrong.

First of all, we can question whether Trump is truly a successful businessman. He inherited a great deal of wealth from his father; it’s easy to reach the top shelf when you are sitting on somebody’s shoulders. Also, Trump has resisted releasing his tax returns, which would show how much he’s really worth. Could it be that he is not as great a businessman as he claims?

Besides, it was businessmen who off-shored much of America’s manufacturing jobs, closing plants all across America. It was a businessman who laid off thousands of workers in Flint, Michigan. They have polluted our air and water. They can hire and fire on a whim. Trump the businessman may enjoy saying “you’re fired” on his reality show, but Trump the president cannot fire an American citizen.

Fundamentally, government is not and should not be a business. The bottom line for a businessman is profit; for a president the bottom-line is unclear. There are many roles a president must play, some contradictory.

In an age of terrorism, he or she must balance the need for security with the protection of individual rights. As commander in chief, the president must be willing to order the military into action. But as America’s chief diplomat, the president must be willing to lay down the sword and negotiate, even with enemies.

He must manage and grow the economy to the best of his ability, but also enforce the regulations that may seem to business an impediment to that goal. Finally, he must protect the equality before the law of all Americans, even if the national mood is against that.

Making money is easy. Governance of a diverse nation in a complex world is not.