Chairman of the Board Trump

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 April 13, 2017|
Print Friendly

 

With the rise of the modern corporation, we have come to see the corporate CEO as the paradigm for leadership. We expect that Trump, the first president whose entire experience of leadership is in business, would work as we imagine today’s CEOs work, or especially the most visible CEOs, the heads of large technological companies like Apple or Microsoft. We expect a President Trump to operate like CEOs Elon Musk, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and to formulate and revise projects, products, and plans and see them put into execution.

Though a business leader, Trump does not seek to be the CEO of America, Inc. As his former campaign manager Paul Manafort said in May 2016, “President Trump sees himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.” So if we want to try to understand what President Trump is trying to do, we need to understand what a chairman of a board of directors actually does. At the same time we must keep in mind that a business corporation has very limited ends: not merely the single purpose of making money, as some armchair capitalists tell us, but still only the double purpose of making money for the shareholders while providing meaningful work to its employees, offering products or services in which the employees and management can take pride.

So what can we expect from “Chairman” Trump? First, he sees his role not so much as making or shaping policy as hiring and firing those who will make or shape it. Trump has appointed department and agency heads of extraordinary experience, and talents, such as Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Ryan Zinke, and James Mattis. Each of them has a vision for their departments. These visions may not cohere completely, and Trump will make no effort to ensure that these visions cohere in a single partisan ideological vision. Trump’s role, as he sees it, is to do what he can to enable them to implement their vision, as long as they seem to be doing so successfully.  This may mean selling their policies to Congress or to the country, or using their talking points to sell them to foreign leaders. If his subordinates  fail or forfeit his trust, he will send them off without fuss or ceremony.

Trump’s way of running his administration is far from modern. It is not the “responsible party government” that President Wilson attempted, or the weaponization of every layer of bureaucracy, (from the IRS to the NSA to the ATF to the Customs Service) for partisan ends which President Obama and his men and women perfected.

President Trump’s mode of leadership most resembles, in fact, the pre-partisan presidencies of Washington and Adams.

Second, Trump does not have, nor does he feel the lack of, a partisan vision or platform to impose on his administration. Thomas Jefferson knew how every aspect of government should be run to reflect his views and his party’s interest, whether it was substituting gunboats for frigates, opening West Point to bring new men into the Army officer corps, or making the lower Mississippi Valley safe for slavery. Indeed, no president since was more successful at getting his agenda through Congress and seeing it executed, for better and for worse. Ronald Reagan came to power with an agenda that covered everything the federal government did; in practice, the domestic portions of that agenda were frequently sacrificed to hold together the coalition of movement conservatives, country club Republicans, and cold war liberals long enough to defeat the Soviets.

All Trump wants, as he has told us over and over, is to “Make America Great Again,”– or in business talk, to turn America around, as D. Hawthorne has written. Trump’s political vision is far from the checklist orthodoxies of today’s right or left. Trump is a Republican more than a conservative, and even as a Republican he rejects the free trade dogmatism and hostility to private sector unions that characterized the postwar Republican party. Trump’s signature issue, immigration, was made his own only after he noted that both parties had been captured by special interests that sought to render inconceivable the notion that a president might simply seek to enforce the immigration laws passed by Congress and signed by his predecessors. As such, it has more to do with fulfilling the proper constitutional functions of Congress and the presidency than it does to do with any particular policy itself. He sees it as his job to carry out the immigration laws as they are duly enacted.

Conservative Trump appointees will be given a chance to succeed or to fail, but so will the others. The Atlanticists have the president’s mandate to do what they can with NATO, and the China hands, with the PRC. Bombing a Syrian airbase may not sit well with those who see Putin and his boy Assad as America’s co-belligerents in the long war against Islamism, but those who wish this president to greenlight their actions will always have the easier sell than the nervous Nellies.

Trump’s way of running his administration is far from modern. It is not the “responsible party government” that President Wilson attempted, or the weaponization of every layer of bureaucracy, (from the IRS to the NSA to the ATF to the Customs Service) for partisan ends which President Obama and his men and women perfected.

President Trump’s mode of leadership most resembles, in fact, the pre-partisan presidencies of Washington and Adams. Washington let his Treasury Secretary Hamilton take the lead on fiscal policy, his War Secretary Knox on dealing with Indians, and granted his Secretary of State Jefferson remarkable space to act on his pro-French sympathies. When war with Britain loomed in 1794, Washington sent Jay to London armed with instructions drafted largely by Hamilton to see if America’s most vital interests in the West and on the high seas could be secured by negotiation, and sent Jefferson’s ally James Monroe to Paris to explore the possibilities of alliance if war came.

Trump’s way of doing things may simply fail. Perhaps there are good reasons why for more than 200 years presidents have taken more personal roles in the formulation and execution of policy than Trump thinks necessary. Perhaps the formulation of policy can no longer be left to trusted subordinates or to Congress.

There is something rejuvenating, however, about a U.S. president who feels that what was good enough for George Washington is good enough for him. President Trump, like President Washington, has the power to demand an accounting from his subordinates and to dismiss them without explanation when they fail. Maybe, just maybe, these powers will suffice.

About the Author:

Michael S. Kochin
Michael Kochin is Professor Extraordinarius of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He received his A.B. in mathematics from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He has held visiting appointments at Yale, Princeton, Toronto, Claremont McKenna College, and the Catholic University of America. He has written widely on the comparative analysis of institutions, political thought, politics and literature, and political rhetoric. Kochin has published two books: Five Chapters on Rhetoric: Character, Action, Things, Nothing, and Art (2009) and Gender and Rhetoric in Plato’s Political Thought (2002). He is currently working with the historian Michael Taylor on a book on the rise of the United States from independence to great power, entitled An Independent Empire: Diplomacy & War in the Making of the United States, 1776-1826.
  • Kenny A

    “Trump is a Republican more than a conservative”

    And a Democrat more than a Republican.

    • RAM500

      Trump most resembles the near-extinct species, Northern Conservative Democrat. Back in the day, there were many more.

      • Kenny A

        Trump most resembles Rodrigo Borgia. Right down to the banquet of chestnuts.

    • colleenaplin

      Yep, I’m sure a Democrat would have lifted all those regulations.

      Idiot. Stop being brainwashed by Mark Levin, he’s an out of date dinosaur (along with “checklist conservatism”).

  • RAM500

    FDR liked to have key aides at odds with each other.