Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Cult of the Non-Politician

What does Donald Trump have in common with French president Emmanuel Macron? Neither is a professional politician. Both were elected to save us from professional politicians. John Podhoretz adds Theresa May to the list, though, to be fair, she certainly has had more experience with government. May’s problem has less to do with inexperience and more to do with personal ineptitude.

Podhoretz writes:

In Britain, the thuddingly conventional Theresa May called an election meant to empower her and barely squeaked by an anti-Semitic terrorist-loving back-bencher loony leftist named Jeremy Corbyn who had spent three decades as his Labour Party’s crazy uncle in the attic. May is a dead prime minister walking.

In France, the leaders of the two major parties that have dominated French politics for nearly 60 years both collapsed in corruption scandals and surrendered their nation to a 39-year-old one-time investment banker named Emmanuel Macron who campaigned with 3-D holograms like Princess Leia and had a little bit of government experience. His party, which came into existence a year ago, is likely to end up with the most dominant position in the national legislature in the history of France’s Fifth Republic.

And of course America elected Donald Trump, while the heart of the party that opposed him belonged not to Hillary Clinton — the Theresa May of America — but rather to a 74-year-old socialist gadfly who has never gotten anything done in the Senate.

He continues:

Macron and Trump sold themselves specifically as anti-politicians beyond the ordinary boundaries of left and right, beholden to no party but themselves — visionary business executives who could cut through the nonsense and get things done.

Surely, being good at running a business is easily be transferable to running the government:

The cult preaches that the skills of leadership and decision-making every good businessman possesses are transferable to any circumstance. It’s why, to take one notorious example, Apple’s board felt comfortable dethroning Steve Jobs in 1983 and handing the job to a guy who had run Pepsi — because if you’ve run one corporation, hey, you’ve run them all.

You might recall that we discussed and debated these questions on this blog. For the record, I expressed doubt that the skill set could easily be transferred. Many commenters disagreed vehemently. From my perspective the Trump administration’s problems have derived from inexperience, not from some rarefied psychological disorder.

Podhoretz describes the early days of the Trump presidency:

He does not know how Washington works. He does not know how the executive branch works. He does not know the political system works. He does not understand the difference between the rules that govern a privately held family company and the astoundingly complicated set of rules that have been put in place to restrain American politicians from just doing whatever they want.

He seems remarkably powerless in the most powerful job on earth, and remarkably ineffectual. This enrages and frustrates him. The question is whether this bold experiment in empowering the citizen politician will, over time, prove to be such a failure that we will look again to the people who actually know the rules and master the trade to govern us again.

It is also fair to say that Trump is facing an unprecedented violent assault, from the media and from inside the government, and that the nation is descending into civil war. He is not facing a normally loyal opposition. Yet, he does not know enough about the ways of Washington to manage the situation effectively—assuming that it can be managed. Everyone agrees that Trump's habit of tweeting on the fly has aggravated the situation. When your opponents despise you, you do well not to fuel the fire.

One understands that bureaucrats have the long knives out, but one also understands that a very large number of senior administrative positions have gone unfilled. In many cases the government is being run by Obama holdovers. One can see that however well Trump’s skill set, especially in communications, worked in the past, it is not working in the present. For example, since Trump spent most of the presidential primary season insulting and belittling his Republican opponents-- to the delight of many-- why do you imagine that these same opponents would jump on the Trump train and provide him with quick legislative victories?

Somewhere in his book on the Art of the Deal Trump said that skilled negotiators negotiate with their gut. I have often suggested that his view, shared by no small number of people, is wrong. Perhaps a real estate developer who has spent his life building buildings can rely on his intuition. But that simply means that his knowledge is so deeply ingrained that he does not need to think through every step.

Yet, if your gut has made you a great developer or a great investor or even a great television personality it does not necessarily make you a great president. Great presidents are experienced politicians. They are so experienced that they seek advice. They accept that they do not have all the answers. And they know better than to go with their gut.

We all hope that Trump’s a quick study, n’est-ce pas? 

11 comments:

James said...

I disagree with this analysis. If Trump had decided to fight DC in the old fashion way he would have been long gone by now. His way of doing this has been a success. Though correct in that you say he is alone in this fight as far as conventional allies (ie Republicans) I think that is part of how he is going about this. This does not assure he'll be successful in the end, but he's accomplishing something that is unheard of until today.
Trump cannot completely save the country that must be done by the country itself, but he has done a wonderful service in that he has broken the propaganda spell of the opposition. It is now okay to talk about the issues, yes the opposition to this is becoming more strident, but I believe this is what Trump was going for in the first place, to bring these people out in the open flying their true colors for all to see and this is Media, Democrats, Socialists, Deep State, Republicans, etc, all of them.
It looks bad, of course it does, the opposition controls virtually all of the Media, but the more they squawk the more it tells me they are losing.
People who have lived under totalitarian regimes will tell you that it is really hard to lose the trust of the people, but it is even harder if not impossible to regain that trust once lost. The DC establishment has lost that trust. Oh they may win battles in the short term, but in the long run they have lost and don't even know it.

James said...

I would add that many people are comparing what's happening to the last days of the Roman Republic, but Trump is neither Pompey, Crassus, or even a Caesar.

trigger warning said...

"We all hope that Trump’s a quick study, n’est-ce pas?"

Not all of "us", if what is meant by "quick study" is anything Peggy Noonan would approve.

trigger warning said...

And, as an aside, comparing Trump and Macron is like comparing Mike Tyson and "Caitlyn" Jenner.

Sam L. said...

Regarding those tweets, I have said before and will say it again, i think of Trump as a one-man flash-bang grenade thrower, like a magician who directs your attention elsewhere so you don't see him doing the tricks.

Ares Olympus said...

The experiment of nonexperienced government in the US has certainly shown the limits. Maybe Macron will do better?

I'm skeptical of Sam L's assertion that Trump's tweets are clever distractions and there are wiser things elsewhere. That certain did successfully suck all the air time up from all the other dozen candidates, but I see no purpose once you have power. So I'd call it habit more than strategy.

I think of Trump's entire brief presidency as one big shiny thing that keeps spinning around. Trump did say somewhere he likes to throw many balls in the air, knowing most deals fall through, so there is a method to his madness, if success is like baseball where a 300 average makes a great hitter. But if the 70% losses mean real people are being hurt by Trump's policies, then his "most deals fail" approach to success is more like collateral damage.

I don't see Trump learning anything, quick or slow. Sure, a child can run around a factory floor pressing buttons and knocking things over, but eventually the adults get a hold of him firm, and his fun is over.

If there are adults left in DC, they are circling to contain the child. And the leaks keep coming, and the courts keep halting Trump's action. It's only a matter of time. It's hard to see how, but most likely outcome is Trump resigning before 2018 elections so Pence can settle the party sufficient to hold a republican congressional majority, assuming that's what they want.

At least the Right got Scalia's seat back, so that's a nice feather for Trump's hat.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"From my perspective the Trump administration’s problems have derived from inexperience, not from some rarefied psychological disorder."

He was experienced enough to beat the Clinton machine as a candidate, and select Neil Gorsuch as POTUS. Not sure what more you want from the guy. Where did the reasonable, respectable Republicans get us? I'd rather have a president who's a bit raw and talks to me straight than some polished politician whose entire curriculum vitae is based on duplicity and self-preservation (the Bushes, the Clintons and Obama).

Yeah, wow, and that Obama guy... he had all the experience in the world, didn't he? His political career started in 1997 as a senator for a soon-to-be bankrupt state, and didn't even finish his first term in the U.S. Senate. Depth on parade.

"He does not know how Washington works. He does not know how the executive branch works. He does not know the political system works."

Yet Podhoretz, Kristol, Will, Krauthammer, Hayes, et al do know how it works. And they (the self-proclaimed "conservative" intellectual vanguard of NeverTrumpism) have been ineffectual for the better part of 30 years now. Perhaps the horror of ObamaCare has shown middle America how Washington works and how it doesn't work for the rest of the country? We're not talking about some grave Constitutional threat here, as I haven't seen tanks outside the Supreme Court or monarch-like legislation promulgated by Trump. So please tell me, o sages of the District of Columbia, how does Washington work? It seems the Separation of Powers stands strong, certainly stronger than it did under Obama. Trump is not foisting one-sided responsibilities on State governments, which helps federalism. In this manner, it seems Trump does not follow the ways of Washington as seen over the last 30 years of bipartisan chumminess with corporate lobbyists and single-issue activists, all at the expense of the middle class economic opportunity and social stability. Washington looks at middle America and says "#$&% them." They thought they has all their bases covered with Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Clinton until Trump wrecked the spending and regulating orgy that strengthens the establishment (GOPe and DNCe). Trump does not genuflect to the supposed wisdom of the "conservative" intellectual giants. It would seem their cherished customs, perquisites and insider advantages are vanishing, or at least diminished for the next four years. A setback, to be sure... so why do we expect these guys to LIKE Trump? He's wrecked the soiree. For that, I am glad. Anymore "free markets, free speech and free society" libertarian "limited government" theoretical nonsense, and we'd have lost America. Those ideas weren't helping the American people, they were enriching a select few insiders. I gave up on that crowd in 2009 when they wondered "Why do we need a domestic automobile industry?" And then there are the lunatics who would open our borders in the midst of an economic depression. Fools! The rest of us out here have to engage in honest work.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I'm not looking for Trump to be magical or enchanting. Doing nothing (or very little) at the Federal level would be a great leap forward for the good of the country, giving life to the Constitution, federalism, and opportunity for a free citizenry. There are times where someone saying STOP is a good thing.

As for the "Art of the Deal" and his business dealings, he invested in real hard assets. A phantom economy isn't his background, but he knows what it looks like. For him, capital is a tool -- not the foundation of our economy. Capital alone is not creative enterprise. Only people are creative -- not things, not digits, not laws. We must have free enterprise and economic mobility, and we must make things.

Manufacturing builds wealth. Entrepreneurs are the source of new wealth creation. Government can't help to create entrepreneurs, but it can help by staying out of their way. You can't have a solid service economy without a solid, expanding industrial economy. If you try, you'll be borrowing and borrowing and borrowing until there's no more left to borrow. That's why unending deficit-spending is a harbinger of bad days to come.

We need to start making things again and end the elite insider game that rewards the clever, connected and cerebrally conceited, who have given us... Climate Change.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: You can't have a solid service economy without a solid, expanding industrial economy. If you try, you'll be borrowing and borrowing and borrowing until there's no more left to borrow. That's why unending deficit-spending is a harbinger of bad days to come.

That appears to be our predicament, and while we have globalization, imports will always underprice domestic production, and the only way domestic industry competes is automation which means few jobs for middle class workers to raise a family.

I don't see any evidence Trump is against big borrowing. Sure he complained when Obama was president, and republicans always complain when a a democratic is president, and then when they get a president in, they try to reduce tax rates on the top, do some pennywise-poundfoolish cuts and borrow like there's no tomorrow to cover the shortfalls when things don't work as expected.

I do think 2008 was the harbinger, and the current deficits will explode by demographics alone, as boomers retire and try to sell their assets to a next generation that doesn't have the wealth to buy them. The lucky ones are selling now, and the rest of us must find ever more risky investments to try to get meager returns, until the next crash when all tradeable assets lose 50%.

People like David Stockman said we should have let the economy crash in 2008, and then we'd have a chance to rebuild an honest economy that isn't based on debt. It's easy to believe that when you're not getting blamed for it, so only a dictator really can do such things.

There was enough anger in 2008/9 to let the banks crash and burn but the elites have too much wealth to let that happen. I don't see "billionaire" Trump in Stockman's camp. Trump wants to be loved, so he'll give unlimited billions and trillions to other billionaires when the SHTF, in hopes of stimulating something.

Surely the earth's first trillionaire can't be too far away, even if it'll be the inflation after the asset deflation that makes it possible.

Anonymous said...

Pieces like this by people like Podhoretz are funny. He's from Fabtasy Island. Look at the other candidate we had to choose from. Given her whiny, wine chugging post election behavior, we're doing pretty well with a president who tweets in the morning. At least he's not moping around in public feeling sorry for himself. Good lord! If Podhoretz is such an erudite critic, maybe he should've run. But the critics never put themselves at risk, do they? That's why AO is here and not writing his own blog anymore.

AesopFan said...

Macron was not an outsider, he was a re-branded politician. - per Wikipedia.

Macron was appointed Deputy Secretary-General in Fran├žois Hollande's first government in May 2012, having been a member of the Socialist Party from 2006 to 2009. He married Brigitte Macron in 2007, who is 24 years his senior. He was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in 2014 under the Second Valls Government, where he pushed through business-friendly reforms.He resigned in August 2016 to launch a bid in the 2017 presidential election. In November 2016, Macron declared that he would run in the election under the banner of En Marche!, a centrist, pro-European political movement he founded in April 2016, and won the election on 7 May 2017.