Why do we Americans think business is good training for government?

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

My colleague Jamie Manson has a fine piece on how residual attitudes about gender continue to stalk Hillary Clinton. Manson recalled a PBS NewsHour segment in which David Brooks asked Clinton campaign manager Robby Mooks, "Could you give us an anecdote or two of her being nurturing, kind, surprising to the public image?" Manson rightly notes that one has a hard time imagining a male candidate's campaign manager being asked for an example of the candidate's acting in a "nurturing" way.

I am sure that sexism is behind much of the venom directed against Clinton, although not all. Brooks is an educated man, who works in a profession that has long had strong women outpacing men: Think Martha Gellhorn. On the hustings, and in more traditional parts of the country, I suspect the sexism is even more pronounced. But pronounced or not, and the unacknowledged sexism like the unacknowledged racism is the hardest to root out, it is still a part of our culture.

There are some feminists I know who have never warmed to Hillary and remain deeply critical of her leadership style with its heavy emphasis on personal loyalty, but who have come around and are supporting her candidacy in this election. In many ways, Clinton was the prefect first female nominee of a major party. A lifetime of experience has schooled Clinton in how to respond to sexism: Just as President Barack Obama can't really get angry without reinforcing a stereotype, Clinton knows she can't demonstrate weakness without confirming a stereotype, and no one thinks of Hillary as weak. No one doubts Clinton would, if she thought it necessary, send in Special Forces to take out a terrorist and that she is, in fact, more hawkish than the incumbent. It is telling that only yesterday, as the polls still show Donald Trump falling short, did he attack Clinton with an explicitly sexist charge, saying that "the generals" don't want to listen to her. Most especially, Clinton has not played the "woman card." Clinton has run based on her experience in high office and only infrequently mentioned the historic nature of her candidacy.

The same cannot be said for Trump. Far more than sexism has been a hurdle for Clinton, American culture's default pro-business bias has been a positive boost for Trump. The fact that a man or woman has been successful in the business world really does not tell us a lot about their aptitude for public service. It is not just that a businessperson does not need to be familiar with a range of issues that we would expect a candidate for the presidency to know something about, it is that there is a culture of leadership in the business world that is vastly different from that of politics.

Mr. Trump is most famous for his reality-non-reality TV show (who ever thought to call those shows "reality TV?") in which he would dismiss cast members with the words, "You're fired!" In the business world, a boss can do that. But, a president doesn't get to tell the Speaker of the House "You're fired!" A president can fire the attorney general, but that is always a risky political proposition, sure to raise suspicions: Think of Nixon firing Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and then his deputy William Ruckelshaus, when they refused to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. How did that turn out for Nixon? (How did it turn out for the creep who finally fired Cox: Robert Bork!)

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In the business world, negotiations are almost always about things that can be denominated. Not so in the political realm. There are constitutional and political limits to every political negotiation, many of which involve principles so vital to key constituencies that you can't buy people off with an alternative offer. The "Art of the Deal" is not one of the Federalist Papers. Another example: the skill set Robert McNamara brought with him from Ford Motor Co. did not serve the country entirely well during his tenure at the Pentagon. A third example: Treasury secretaries drawn from Wall Street banks tend to view their responsibilities through a lens that is overly focused on the needs of Wall Street and not the rest of the economy.

I do not mean to suggest that all businesspeople behave as Donald Trump does. But there is a kind of business that is essentially a brand built around the personality of the CEO, in which no one would dare to question that CEO. In Trump's case, whatever skills he brought in the early years to his deals, now his company is about branding, putting his name on the work of other people. Anyone who questions the man, questions the company. It is an invitation to narcissism, and it does not appear that Trump needed much of an invitation.

The Constitution sets only three requirements on the office of the presidency: The president must be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen who has resided in the country for 14 years, and he or she has to get 270 electoral college votes. That's it. You need to get more votes than the other candidate. Which leads to the deepest political challenge Trump has posed: Trump is not a cause of national division and cultural nastiness, he is a symptom. He won the GOP nomination, he did not buy it. Hopefully, next Tuesday, he will lose and return to his business empire and the American republic will be rid of him. But his voters will remain, and reaching out to them and trying to ameliorate their anger and frustrations will be the task of not only the next president but also the next Congress. Instead of stoking anger, they need to do what is right for the country, behave like grown-ups, and get some things done.

[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]


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