There are several things we could argue about the way our current president reacts to—well—everything. The thing is, the same things could be said of his career and his life. True, the mainstream media has made some of these same broad statements, and I actually hate doing so. I don’t pretend to know Mr. Trump or his family nor do I understand the inner workings of his everyday life and his mind.
What we can see for facts are his Twitter feed, his past business record, and what he has done so far in the White House. President Trump appears to be a reactionary.
How many of his businesses have gone bankrupt? How many times has he been divorced and remarried? Does it even matter? Not really. Because the root cause of all the marriage failures, all the business failures is the same thing: reactions instead of being proactive.
Which one of us is not guilty of reacting instead of being proactive from time to time? Nearly all of us have. However. Most of us learn from those mistakes, at least in one area or another. The reason is, usually those mistakes hurt. No one is cushioning the blow for us, and it takes time to recover.
Now President Trump had an advantage growing up in the business world: it was not that he learned business savvy from his father. No, the advantage was that he was born rich, and when he screwed up, his father bailed him out. Not once or twice, like some parents would, but over and over.
In 1978 and 1979, Trump reported huge income losses, ones that for most of us would have meant bankruptcy. However, in 1980 thanks to a loan from his father of 7.5 million, the young New York developer was back in the black.
The 1980 deal he made with Harrah’s in Atlantic City put his name on the map with casinos and financial institutions interested in gaming. He got greedy though, reacting to the fact that his name was not used enough in the marketing of the casino, and bought its competitor, renaming it Trump Castle. He then bought yet another casino in the same town, the Taj Mahal, and renamed it Trump Taj Mahal. The casinos eventually failed, in part due to a terrible accident that took the lives of three of his top casino managers. With Trump at the helm in an industry he knew little about, the ventures declined over time, finally going bankrupt in 2004.
Then there was Eastern Airlines sale of their Northeastern Shuttle, renamed what else but Trump Shuttle. Trump knew nothing about the airline industry and tried to appeal to a demographic that existed only in his mind, not in market research. Commuters wanted an affordable quick flight, not the luxury he proposed adding to the planes. It was a cost that could never be recovered.
Following the failure of the Trump Shuttle and the decline of the casinos that bore his name, Trump tried a new tactic: endorsements. He would put his name on ventures, hoping people would buy into his brand but have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations. When Trump Mortgage failed, he claimed he had nothing to do with managing the firm or the Trump Finance that followed. That venture also tanked.
GoTrump.com, Trump University, Trump Hollywood, Trump Ocean Resort, Trump Tower Tampa, the list goes on.
In each scenario, his response was a reaction to what went wrong. He was not proactive, did not go out and do research or make a wise business plan. His ego drove him to start competing businesses and to expect them both to succeed. It drove him to invest heavily in upgrading planes with features passengers did not want. Trump has always been a great self-promoter, able to draw a crowd but never able to sustain a venture over the long-term on his own.
Each time business failed, he found someone else to blame, something else to move on to, and some way to turn the failure into an ego boost for himself. More than once he has bragged about the amount of money he lost. He turned his debt into a way to show how astute he was at the comeback.
In some ways, it is true. We all love a fourth quarter quarterback who mounts an amazing final drive. However, this is business, not sports, and stockholders would rather see a business that holds value and grows over the long term. His self-promotion and ability to convince people he is something that he is not has kept the Donald in the limelight, and eventually earned him an office in the White House.
Love and Marriage
It’s not that in his own way, President Trump is not smart. It’s that he gets bored with the familiar. In business, it caused him to venture into industries he knew nothing about with no research and no solid plan for success.
In love and marriage, it meant he was always looking to what’s next. That’s a common characteristic for self-promoters like Trump, especially when someone else, like his partner, experiences success. Jealousy is one issue, boredom is the other. He seems to be a rescuer: Ivana was a model in need of a career boost that his name and money could provide. She stayed with him much longer than most women would have, tolerating near abusive behavior until the Marla Maples affair tipped her over the edge. Their divorce was a tabloid boon, with reporters like Liz Smith making a national name for themselves by reporting on it.
Marla was a model from Georgia, a good Baptist with success of her own, but with ambitions beyond her current circumstances. Theirs is love story that starts with infidelity: the rumors that she was his mistress long before he was through with Ivana turned out to be the fuel for that tumultuous divorce. Marla got attention, but not the kind she wanted, right away.
While the story was about his mystery mistress, Trump caused much of the publicity. “Donald overrode the P.R. people,” says Liz Smith, who has an antagonistic relationship with Trump told Vanity Fair. “He wouldn’t take any advice and he wouldn’t shut up.”
If Twitter had been a thing at the time, Donald’s Twitter Feed would have been full of the story. Do these words sound at all familiar? “Trump overrode the P.R. people.”
Still, the Marla Maples Trump story seemed to turn into a love story. Marla seemed to calm Trump, and was a fixture at his side, although she never could convince him to adopt her level of spirituality.
What happened with Marla? How did the Trump end up with First Lady Melania? First, Trump admitted that it was he, not Marla who wanted a divorce. He even acknowledged how difficult it must have been for her to be married to someone like him. In short, when he married her he was more in lust than in love according to an anonymous source close to him, and lust of course quickly fades. They separated around 1997, and divorced in 1999 just a short time before a clause in their prenuptial agreement would have awarded Marla a large portion of his fortune.
The Donald quickly moved on, dating the Norwegian Celina Midelfart for several months until he met Melania, a woman 24 years younger than he was. Trump claimed it was love at first sight, even though at first, she would not give him her number. He gave her his, all of them, and they’ve been together ever since, dating regularly despite critics who declared she was just with Trump for his money until their engagement in 2004. Trump has always praised how supportive she has been of him, and she continues to be in her new role as First Lady.
So far, when it comes to marriage at least, the third time is a charm. When it came to wife number one and number two though, Donald was a reactive. He reacted to success and to boredom with his traditional out: move on to something else.
Trump reacted to accusations during the campaign via Twitter and unscripted speeches despite the wishes of his closest advisors and P.R. professionals. Despite his unprofessional and off the cuff responses, despite unedited Tweets at all hours, or maybe because of them, Donald Trump became President of the United States.
His reaction to Obamacare? Repeal it. How? What was the next plan? The GOP did not have one, and neither did he. So the health care reform failed because many career politicians feared losing their seats if they supported such a move without a replacement for the controversial ACA. True, the plan has flaws, but it did something. The voters would stand for change, but they would not stand for doing nothing: health care needs fixing, and the ACA is so far the only thing we have.
This is not President Trump’s fault per se: the GOP has had nearly a decade to come up with some ideas, hell, any idea, of what to do next with healthcare. The focus on repeal of the ACA caused them to miss the replace portion, and they couldn’t agree on anything. Besides, who could have predicted a Trump win over Hilary or even Bernie? No one.
In some ways, President Trump seemed as shocked as everyone else. His reaction to winning the highest office in the land was to get to work on promises he made during the campaign.
“Build a wall!’ the cries came. What was the plan? How were we going to pay for it? Much to his chagrin, Mexico would not pay for the wall as he previously stated, and even the President of the United States could not make them. His reaction? Blame, and an immigration crackdown, even a refugee ban that didn’t win him any points with the media or the public regardless of whether you think it had merit or not. Why?
Because the action itself felt like a reaction. Whenever it was criticized the President reacted again, not with a firm stance tempered by compassion, but with frustration and anger. Why couldn’t anyone understand he was trying to do good? Why couldn’t they let him do what he wanted?
The wall didn’t happen. Neither did healthcare reform. Executive orders took over where Congress would not cooperate, and the GOP even changed the rules to try to pass more legislation. Trump needs something every self-promoting reactor needs: a win.
He hasn’t been without small victories. The rollback of Dodd-Frank and the changes to environmental regulation, an attempt to create jobs in “dirty” industries, have been at least moderately successful.
His foreign policy? A failure at best. President Trump stripped the State Department of key positions he has not replaced. Rex Tillerson is feeling restless and lonely, and many say he won’t stay much longer.
North Korea? Please. Such shouted, reactionary threats might work in a bar fight where you have a bigger group of friends than the other guy, and you have all the pool sticks, but it isn’t appropriate for a President. Even if a fight breaks out in the bar, someone on both sides will get hurt. In this case, it could be citizens of Guam and South Korea, along with thousands of soldiers. It’s not a game of big egos and who will strike first: it’s a matter of war.
Then there are the recent protests at home. In this case, a stronger reaction was warranted. You can certainly decry the violence on both sides: after all, violence begets violence, but denouncing white supremacy and neo-Nazism first would have opened that conversation instead of shutting it down.
Being reactive is not the right answer.
If a person never starts to exercise until their physician tells them they are obese and will die if they do not, there is a certain amount of damage that cannot be undone. Just like alcoholism and smoking, you can’t rebuild a liver that has been damaged for years, or repair lungs once they are full of toxins.
There is a limit to what reacting can do once a certain point has been passed. Some damage, once done, cannot be undone. There are no take-backsies in the business world although some would argue that Federal bailouts gave banks a mulligan they did not deserve. You can’t just delete a Tweet and repair the feelings of an entire group of people or appease a world leader.
A war, once started, cannot be stopped in an instant. A nuke, once dropped, cannot be taken back either. In fact, besides the radiation, the financial and political ramifications will last for decades.
The answer is proactive prevention. Why do we seek diplomacy first? Because treaties can be re-written, sanctions lifted. Soldiers cannot be brought back to life or their limbs restored. Reactions cripples. Being proactive has the potential to heal.
Do runners who have worked to be in shape their entire lives still die of heart disease or other chronic issues? Yes. Can a non-smoker who has never worked around hazardous chemicals or inhaled toxins die of lung cancer? Sure. But those are the exception rather than the rule. Those who are proactive and take care of themselves are much more likely to live longer.
Businesses with a solid business plan tend to last. Preparation sets them up for long term success, and anticipating setbacks helps the company weather them when, not if, they come. Wall planned businesses fail from time to time, but they again these are the exception, not the rule.
President Trump has not shown that being proactive is a quality he possesses or practices. When something happens, he reacts.
When the desire for fame combined with greed in Atlantic City, he failed because there was no sound business plan. When he failed to research his potential customer, his airline failed.
He thought business acumen would be enough in areas he knew mothing about, and when they failed, he placed blame elsewhere.
Perhaps in love like nowhere else, President Trump is self-aware. In his divorces, he did admit fault, at least in part. His craving for the limelight drove him to be much more public about both than he perhaps should have. Still, at least he did not lay the blame at the feet of Ivana or Marla, and seems to have settled into a workable relationship with Melania.
In the Presidency, though, Trump has responded much as he has in business over the years. When things don’t work, someone else is to blame. There seems to be no overall plan for the presidency-no theme, no overall goal that all the little actions he is trying to take support. Make America Great Again (MAGA) is too broad: it makes a great slogan, but leaves way too much open to interpretation.
If Charlottesville and much of the other division in the country are an indication, the slogan is not working. American is more divided than ever, the opposite of greatness.
The problem with Trump’s reactions is that they are just that: reactions. We can’t succeed as a nation with a reactionary President. Until we have a plan, a proactive agenda, America will struggle. Although we are still one of the greatest nations in the world, we are in a precarious spot.
Those who oppose Trump can’t fall into his trap. They can’t just react: that plays right into his hands, and makes our country look even more foolish to the rest of the world. No, those who wish to bring about real change need to be proactive. There needs to be a plan.
Also published on Medium.