A Businessman in Government

Author: Gary Hart

Practically everyone who has held office in the national government has heard, usually more than once, “why can’t we run the government like a business” or “let’s put a business person in the White House.”

Well, now these critics got their wish and, so far, it isn’t working out so well.

The current occupant had no national security, intelligence, or foreign policy experience.  He has let many State Department and U.S. Embassies stagnate.  He wants the Defense Department to organize parades.  He doesn’t have time or interest for intelligence briefings that are prepared by professional experts to bring him up to date on developments that affect our security.

Aside from a massive, deficit and debt-ridden tax cut for the wealthy, he inherited a growing economy and at least has stood aside to let it continue.  Otherwise, he has shown no tolerance for complex fiscal and monetary issues.

But all this is far from the worst part: he continues to work with family members to operate Trump, Inc., his private real estate business.  And there is every indication that intricate associations in Russia and Saudi Arabia may be tilting U.S. foreign policy in the direction of benefitting that business.

Bad enough to have a businessman who doesn’t understand the operations of government.  Even worse to have one who looks after personal business matters and uses his high office to do so for life after the White House.

Two sons, a daughter, and a son-in-law, at the least, have one foot in the White House and the other foot on Fifth Avenue.  No wonder he has wanted Robert Mueller to disappear.

You don’t have to be an expert in high finance to know the basics of real estate.  You borrow huge amounts of money to buy or build an office building or hotel.  All’s well until financial markets drop, revenues decline, and loans come due.  What a convenience to have friends in high places in Moscow and Riyadh.

But oligarchs and authoritarians and their retinues want something in return for massive loans, and that something can be much beyond dinner in the White House.  There may be very highly classified intelligence to share…all in the interest of U.S. national security, of course.  And then the U.S. might find it convenient to side with lending sovereign funds against neighboring antagonists such as Iran, for example.

Genius is not required to imagine how the vast power of the U.S. Government can be used to further the private businesses of presidents who refuse to set them aside.  However,  “…no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Article I, section 8, clause 9, the U.S. Constitution.

Even if Mr. Mueller has not looked into this, perhaps the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York or even the Manhattan District Attorney might choose to do so.

If foreign governments, or those working for them, are lending money to troubled Trump, Inc. assets, somewhere there is a written record of it.

The short answer to the original complaint is that government is not a business.  It provides public services for the national good and not for profit.  Despite a wildly off-the-mark Secretary of Education, public schools should not make a profit.  They should educate citizens for participation in our Republic.

National Parks and recreation areas may charge reasonable access fees to help cover the costs of maintenance, but not so the National Park Service can operate a bank.

Why, after two and a third centuries, these basic observations are required to be made is a mystery and the result of an often-demented conservative crusade to destroy the national government…except, of course, for the Pentagon.

Decades from now, investigators and scholars will sort through the wreckage of the current Administration for evidence of selfish and self-interested private dealings, the price of handing this businessman the keys to the White House.

5 Responses to “A Businessman in Government”

  1. Brian McCarthy Says:


    Your blog reminds me of a (probably apocryphal) parable of a liberal, reformist candidate who sought election in a clannish district.

    He met a woman who asked, “well, you must have many family members working in government?” And the candidate said no.

    “Well, but you must have a parent or grandparent who is somebody who is bankrolling you?” And the candidate said no.

    “Maybe your uncle is someone in the State House?”, she continued, and the candidate said no.

    “But if you did get elected, you’d surely find a job for your brother or cousin?”, she asked.

    Indignant, the candidate replied, “absolutely not, madam!”

    The woman replied, “well, if you wouldn’t even help your own brother, I won’t vote for you.”

    I agree one foot in the White House, one foot on 5th Ave is a problem. I’m not sure we aren’t in the minority in thinking so.


  2. John Dedie Says:

    The sad part about this is it reminds me of my experience at Citi. No one questions what the boss is doing (Republicans) Behind the scenes people will privately question the boss and the decision making (Sept 2019 NYT oped) but no one will publicly speak up. The good people leave and the bad ones stay.

  3. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Ever since I became interested in politics, which was in the mid-60s, conservatives have been claiming that we needed a businessman in the White House. But when it has happened, the results have not been good. And the failures, though different as a matter of degree now that Trump has come along, have been bi-partisan.

    Jimmy Carter, a businessman, was a very smart, principled and nice man, with verygood ideas. He also was not a very good politician. He had a Congress controlled by Democrats and still could not get a lot accomplished. And he lacked optimism, which Americans require in the leaders. He could not inspire and therefore could not lead.

    George W. Bush, a businessman, was a terrible President. The Iraq War was his signal failure. But the economy also tanked on his watch and he outsorced far too much of the job to Cheney and the right wing. Only the fact that Trump arrived has saved his reputation.

    Trump, a businessman, is a disaster. A pathological liar, lazy, uninformed and unwilling to become informed, I am not even certain business people would agree he is one of their own; they would more likely call him a trust fund baby who played with Daddy’s money all his life and then tapped into America’s darkests impulses to become, more or less by accident, the President.

    Anyway, the businessmen as President model has not succeeded. Whether it can is, perhaps, an open question. Michael Bloomberg was a good Mayor of NYC and might have been a good President. But, however difficult the job of running NYC, being President is harder. Congress is not the City Council.

    At their best, polticians are a sub-class of thoughtful and skilled doers, with as much EQ as IQ and an intimate familiarity with the workings (administrative, legal and cultural) of government. They routinely are called upon to square circles and get people to do what they otherwise do not want to do. And to either like it or tolerate it. In the words of Mario Cuomo, they campaign in poetry but govern in prose. In other words, they live in a sort of schizophrenic world, whoch is a reality not easily managed and not managed at all by most of us.

    The best Presidents, prior to taking office, have been old-fashioned lawyers, like Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Perhaps that is because old-fashioned lawyers do the same sort of things politicians do — they cajole; they resolve; they fight; they settle; and the best are very smart and not remotely lazy. Indeedm, even the good ones we have had recently (CLinton and Obama) were lawyers.

    And, lest my friends on the other side think this rant too partisan, the better recent GOP Presidents — like Reagan and Bush Sr. — were not businessman. Reagan was an actor and a union President before becoming Governor, and Bush Sr. had a decade and a half of government experience before becoming President. In other words, the former wasn’t a businessman at all, and the latter overcame the fact that he had been.

    Gary Hart would have been a very good President as well. Author, Senator, poltical operative, thinker . . . and lawyer.

  4. Michael Says:

    To be fair, Trump isn’t a businessman. He’s a con artist (who hopefully pulled one con too many when he ran for president.) Bush and Cheney were businessmen, however. And they crashed the global economy. One can hope that both catastrophes would finally end the fetish many Americans have had for businessmen in government. But I’m not optimistic.

  5. JD Kinnick Says:

    I’m not 100% opposed to a business person as POTUS. Is a wide brush to feel any business leader would make a bad president. I believe Mitt Romney had a great business acumen and would have made a good president. Even Madeliene Albright recently apologized to Sen. Romney admitting that he was correct on Russia. I remember when Pres. Obama ridiculed Mitt for his comments on Russia – now it turns out he was the naive one. I certainly don’t want someone who has never worked in the private sector and has always been on the govt “trough” to be president.

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