The Art of the Pill

Friday March 24th 2017 marks the end of the beginning for Donald Trump.

It also shows that politics is a far cry from corporate management—this was completely ignored by the voters who elected Trump, possibly because they never even considered the distinction, let alone understood it.

In late February 2016, when I predicted the current president would win, I wrote that companies are like friends, government is like family—Trump’s America is finding that out now.

Let’s have a look at the key differences between the two  in a democratic society.

Item Corporations Government
Policy-making Oligarchic: set by the board, and followed by the staff. Occasionally challenged in court Democratic: conditioned by electorate, approved by parliament as legislation, subject to judicial challenge
Decision-making CEO, alone or supported by a small team President or prime minister, following cabinet approval
 Employment Staff reductions increase profits, productivity and shareholder value Reduced workforce means higher social costs, unemployment, and social unrest
 Medical care Depends on contract terms, like other perks Part of a social package that includes rights such as education

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of running a country is compromise—and understanding that the ships of government don’t necessarily sail in the same direction.

In the corporate world, if the armada isn’t moving heads swiftly roll, right up to the very top—if your friends become your enemies, by definition they’re friends no longer.

Vertical structures can all be managed using similar principles—a successful CEO in insurance will often transition to a bank, or to a car-maker or pharmaceutical business, and do well. In the same vein, senior military personnel can fill key positions in logistics or transportation companies.

Democratic administration, on the other hand, is a balancing act that often demands the negotiating skills of a lawyer or a diplomat—this extends to world affairs in general, the balancing act of war and peace, involving multiple stakeholders.

This whole game of international relations is termed soft power, which is the part of the proposed US budget that Trump wants to cut.

The ‘repeal of the repeal’, or more accurately the withdrawal of the vote (known medically as votus interruptus) is a signal of the mental mayhem these first two months have been.

“It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated,” said Trump on Feb 27th, a month before pulling the vote. This is a comment designed to make normal people scream.

More worrying than that, many, many things are complicated—and bigly. And they’re all lining up in front of the man with the little hands. As Bill Maher said a few days ago, ‘the advantage of having small hands is it makes it easier to pull things out of your ass.’ And Donald will continue to do the pulling—in North Korea, China, Europe, Mexico, and Russia. And at home.

The degree of Russian intervention in the US election is open to question, the evidence of interference is not. Putin clearly saw that a US administration with strong business interests abroad would be far less supportive of sanctions—after all, the business of business is business. He also knows, just as Xi Jinping and the rest of the club know, that an idiot in the White House is a very useful asset—particularly if that idiot is also a self-obsessed buffoon with the emotional age of an eight year-old.

Warren Buffett put it this way: ‘if you don’t know who the fool in the market is, it’s probably you.’

A president who believes his country, and the world, can be managed like a hotel chain, is fundamentally out of his depth. Broad issues such as health care, education, environmental stewardship, financial stability, and geostrategic balance have occupied the minds of some of the planet’s greatest thinkers for centuries.

In this process, humanity learned terrible lessons, including devastating world wars, famines, epidemics, and environmental tragedies. A united Europe is the product of those wars, industrial agriculture and aquaculture have eliminated the word famine in parts of the world,  diseases like AIDS and Ebola are fought with science and passion, and people no longer die in scores in Europe and North America from cholera and other waterborne diseases.

If this is the end of the beginning, then we should reflect on what will lead to the beginning of the end. It seems clear that this president should not serve, but what’s the way forward?

The Republicans have helped shape that by inflicting a defeat without having to fight. The budget discussion promises to be a much messier affair, and it will come to a vote. Much of Trump’s braggadocio will either evaporate on that day, or come to a head.

Before the election I wondered whether this is a metaphor for the relative size of US challenges and the brain addressing them? Now I’m certain it is.

The GOP is looking at this and wondering how to salvage a four-year term from the ruins of the first hundred days.

Let’s review the stark choices. The president stays or the president leaves. The GOP very much want him to leave, providing Mike Pence with a clear path to the presidency—this is a rare occasion in US politics, where the vice-president is clearly far more presidential than the incumbent.

I wrote about the possibility of Pence taking the ticket in the pre-November run-up. It never happened, though I’m sure it was discussed behind closed doors, in wood-paneled rooms with overstuffed leather armchairs.

How can it happen now?

Trump can resign, either willingly (very much out of character) or if pushed. He may simply state he feels too much was stacked against him, and he wasn’t able to keep his promises to his base—they’ll believe him, and he’ll throw his tantrum and be done with it—his electorate will never know the man’s promises were bogus from the beginning.

Pushing Trump out may not be too difficult—he is already suffering the death of a thousand cuts, and he’s a man with plenty to hide, including his tax records. In his excellent book Supermob, Gus Russo tells the story of Sidney Korshak, one of America’s hidden power brokers. There are plenty of famous names in the tale, including Ronald Reagan and, of course, Donald Trump.

The other two exit routes are much less graceful: impeachment, or assassination. Arrogance and stupidity could never justify murder—in fact nothing can, in my view.

Whatever happens, from this inauspicious, but not unexpected, beginning, it’s inconceivable that Trump will serve a full four-year term. And the irony for the man with the Mexican wall may well be that all he can be remembered for are a boom in US satire and  a Canadian pipeline.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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