Novices Need Not Apply

Isn’t it about time for an essay about President Trump that discusses why he is totally unsuited to be President of the United States, but doesn’t concern his terrible character and horrible associations? Well, this is that essay.

For a purely empirical reason (and not because he’s an ill-informed and unsavory human seemingly without access to able and/or honorable aides), Trump is entirely unsuitable for his current position. It’s because of his total lack of experience.  And that palpable lack of experience was borne out in the recent Obamacare repeal debacle.

No one – not Fox News or even Trump himself – can claim he has any experience in government. This sets him apart from the other 43 men who have served as President of the United States.  (And for these purposes, we don’t count Grover Cleveland twice.)  Thirty-nine of our 43 Presidents had previously served in some significant role in government:  Vice-President, Senator, Governor, House member, or Cabinet Secretary.  Of the other four – Washington,  Zachary Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower – all served as major generals in major wars.  Leading an army is not an elective or appointive office, but invading another country (or taking on an invading army from another country) is a pretty big administrative task not unlike the executive functions a President faces.

Many of our presidents held multiple important governmental jobs before assuming the presidency.  Take James Monroe, for example.  Prior to becoming our fifth president he had been Vice-President, Secretary of State, and a Senator from and Governor of Virginia (as well as ambassador to France and the United Kingdom).  He may not be remembered today for much other than his Doctrine, but no one could ever say the guy wasn’t prepared to be President.

It’s true that not every President had extensive experience. Abraham Lincoln – certainly one of our best if not the best – served just one measly term in Congress.  President Obama served just two-thirds of a term in the Senate.  Nixon, though, who was a bit of a disaster, had been a Congressman, Senator, and Vice-President.  Thus, experience doesn’t necessarily equate with a good performance as President.

In the end, though, those 43 all had government experience. And Trump doesn’t.  Maybe all this outsider stuff isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.  At least that’s the way it looks after Trump failed so miserably in the effort to repeal Obamacare.

In the process, he got rolled by the mediocrities in the House Freedom Caucus. His efforts to sell “Trumpcare” were puerile.  “It’s a wonderful bill,” he was reported as saying.  (Whatever else you could say about the bill, nobody thought it was “wonderful.”)  Once the discussions about the bill got more than an inch deep, Trump’s lack of knowledge about healthcare policy left him speechless.

So much, too, for his vaunted negotiating skills. Hard to believe that a guy who had a book called The Art of the Deal ghostwritten for him, could have messed this up.

So Trump has (a) never been in government, (b) shown little interest in it, and hence (c) knows virtually nothing about it. All of these facts proved to be a toxic combination when Trump sought to enact one of his first and biggest promises, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  Sad.

None of this was a secret, by the way. Pretty much all of us knew that Trump had no experience.  Some, though, thought that Trump could overcome this inexperience or even rise above it, based on a magic bullet, namely his experience and success as a businessman.  So far, it hasn’t worked.  And anyone who expects it to work in the future is dreaming.

This raises the more general question concerning how deferential we should be to the “businessman.” The willingness of something less than half of American voters to make Trump President is the apotheosis of something that’s been going on for a long time, namely the lionization of the businessman.  Sure the boss of a company is the chief executive officer (or CEO) and the President is the chief – he even gets hailed as such – of the Executive Branch, but c’mon.

The difference between running even a major corporation and running the main part of the U.S. government is night-and-day. Just look at Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, one of the world’s largest companies, now running just one department, State.  So far, he looks like he’d be more comfortable performing at the Winter Olympics in Pairs Ice Dancing.  At Exxon, Rex had one constituency, Exxon’s shareholders, and one primary concern, the company’s price per share.  At the Department of State, he’s got to worry the other 180 or so countries in the world and what they’re up to.

Which is all a long way of saying that anyone who thought that Trump’s business experience as a real estate promotor, casino operator, and purveyor of name-branded ties was somehow going to make him capable of being President were kidding themselves.

With the failure of Trumpcare (and all the other myriad failures of the first two months), the myth of Trump (and the myth of the omni-competent businessman) may be finally melting away.