When this country was founded, serving in Congress and even being the President of the United States were never seen as “career moves.” Why? Well, first of all, they didn’t pay all that much in relative terms. Many of those who served were lawyers, accountants, and career professionals full time, and made a hell of a lot more money in the private sector than they ever would in public service.
Many of those who served were lawyers, accountants, and career professionals full time, and made a hell of a lot more money in the private sector than they ever would in public service.
And public service it is. Congress and the Presidency are hard jobs, or they are supposed to be, and the people in those positions are supposed to represent the people from their districts and from the country in general. They aren’t supposed to be there to push their own agenda, or that of a particular corporation in their district.
Of course lobbyists, Super Pacs, and other organizations have changed this dynamic. Redistricting has changed who represents who, and instead of being for the good of the people, it is about a game. Payoffs and bribes are still illegal, but there are ways around such rules, and if you aspire to congress or God forbid the presidency, you will bend those rules, because you have to.
Campaigning is big business, and without money to get your name out there, you won’t get the recognition you need to get into office. When you get there, for sure you owe someone, somewhere, a favor for getting you there.
Why are bills passed in both the Senate and House with hidden riders, attachments that serve one special interest or another? Why is is that a health care bill contains thousands of pages that almost no one has read in its entirety, let alone understands? Because they are written that way on purpose. Why are they not simpler?
Because a simple, clean bill designed to actually get something done is harder to pass. To get one group to support it, you have to add one thing, to get another’s you have to reword that one thing and add another. Before you know it, 25 interests have 25 parts in a simple document designed to keep essential services running.
Before you know it, 25 interests have 25 parts in a simple document designed to keep essential services running.
So is it any wonder that President Trump, a businessman with no political experience, finds this job much more difficult than he did his “previous life?” He told a reporter from Reuters this week: “I love my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life,” Trump said. “I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a … I’m a details-oriented person. I think you’d say that, but I do miss my old life. I like to work so that’s not a problem but this is actually more work.”
Personally, I think as a businessman, this is not harder work than he thought, it is just different. Because of his lack of experience in this area, he thought working with Congress would be like working with any other business group. Here’s what I think happened.
You Aren’t Really the Boss
In every other situation he has been in, Trump has been the boss. Someone does not meet expectations, or their numbers fall short? He’d just utter the famous phrase “You’re Fired.”
You can’t do that with elected officials, especially ones that have been there for years. The new president cleaned house in the White House staff, something normal for almost any CEO taking over a company: you surround yourself with your own people. Other presidents have done it as well, but usually with others experienced in politics or diplomacy. Often appointments were even to satisfy some group to make it easier to pass legislation or get things done.
Almost everything is about compromise and making someone or some group happy. It isn’t, and can’t be just about doing things that make you happy. Because you have hundreds of other people with their own agendas: agendas they feel are very important. Behind them are millions of Americans who expect or at least hope those representatives will work in their best interest as well.
Behind them are millions of Americans who expect or at least hope those representatives will work in their best interest as well.
And hundreds of companies send lobbyists and representatives to make sure their voice is heard as well. Washington D.C. is a noisy place, and it is hard for even the President to be heard above the noise. Unless something he does or says quiets the noise for just a few moments, and those interests allow him to take the spotlight.
Instead, every foolish decision is magnified. There have been plenty of them. Many would even be excusable for a new CEO or manager, but not the leader of a major world power.
Did you hear that all of you out there who wanted a President who is not so political, is more like the everyman? I have never wanted a president who is like me. Hell, no.
It’s not that I am not smart, or don’t have some good ideas, but I have no idea how I would be able to implement those ideas at any level of government. Unless you have been there, neither do you. If you think you are just going to walk into a room of ivy league educated lawyers, spout your form of common sense and street smarts, and they are going to bow and cave to your wisdom, you are sorely mistaken.
You need to know how to talk to them. You need to know their interests, and the way to get things done around them and with them. Not by just coming against them with a declaration about how what they do and what they want makes no sense at all.
Politics is about finesse. Getting the other side to not only see things your way but to think your ideas are theirs in the first place. Ever see House of Cards? Frank Underwood is a scumbag, but he plays the long game, knowing that the short game does not work in politics. Ever.
Making it to the White House with no experience is a short game. Why did Obama struggle his first two years even with the Democrats in control of Congress? Because even though he had some experience, it wasn’t enough, and by the time he got his feet under him, the Republicans had taken back the majority and everything was a battle.
Frank Underwood is a scumbag, but he plays the long game, knowing that the short game does not work in politics. Ever.
Many fear what Trump might get done, or what the Republican party might be able to get him to rubber stamp. Turns out, neither one is happening. Why? Because neither side knows how to work with the other. They have no experience together.
Off Balance Should be the Norm
Congressional terms were meant to be short term. Presidential terms were limited. Why? So no one really had time to learn how to game the system. The constant churn of new faces and non-career politicians would ensure that everything was constantly in a state of flux.
Then representatives and presidents would have to turn to the people, those who elected them, and ask what they wanted. The dynamic quickly changed and that is simply not the case anymore.
So experience in a field where everyone was supposed to be inexperienced is now essential. What was meant to be an off balance experiment has turned into a place of delicate balance, and with the recent vilification of compromise, once the cornerstone for getting anything done in government, it takes weeks, months, even years to get simple things that would benefit everyone done.
So of course, Mr. Trump. Governing is hard. It is harder than your previous life, a real estate and brand management company in New York. The world is involved this time, and more than a few American’s watching on Sunday nights care about who you fire, what you say, and what you mean when you say it.
The business of being President is not like any other business. You would do well to remember that.
Also published on Medium.