• Trump the Democratic Leader?

    Politics, and democratic politics in particular, is a messy business.  There are multiple bottom lines to aim at, endless competing claims as to how scarce resources should be reconciled, differing views as to whose interests should take priority, and there are never any final victories – every battle has to be fought over and over again.

    It is a miracle that we bother with all those complexities.  But we do so because we know that it is better and fairer than any other system – particularly when the only real alternative is to allow the powerful just to grab what they want.

    But that does not stop critics from asserting that things would be better, if only we could hand the whole business of government over to those who know how to run things – and that sentiment often boils down to a simple wish for a “strong man”, usually a businessman, who will brook no nonsense and just get on with the job.

    That was in effect the pitch that worked for Donald Trump.  Put me in the White House, he seemed to say, and I will bring to the task of being President the experience and knowledge I have gained from heading a successful business empire.  I will cut through all the red tape, face down the agents of government and the elected legislature (which I will describe first as a “swamp” and now a “cesspool” that must be drained), sack those officials whom I do not like or who displease me, override the attempts of an independent judiciary to enforce the limits to my power prescribed by the Constitution, bemoan and attack the role of a free press.

    I alone will decide what is best for the country, just as if I were running my own business.  I represent in my own persona, in other words, all that is necessary to provide an effective democracy.

    But President Trump is not the first businessman to learn the hard way that the techniques that worked in business can creat an unholy mess when applied to running the country.  In business, at least in the Trump view, there is a very obvious single bottom line to aim for.  People, mainly employees, do as they are told if they want to keep their jobs.  The absence of even a scintilla of self-doubt is everything – if people don’t like it, they can lump it.  The only rules are that winners make the rules and that the market always prevails.  Ethical behaviour has no value in itself but is worthwhile only if it is rewarded by the market.  Success comes to those who can get away with as much as they can.

    Politics, though, is altogether more complex and subtle.  In politics, people do not leap to it when they are told what to do.  They need to be persuaded, cajoled; positions must be changed, other views accommodated, compromises reached, alliances formed and broken.  Lessons are learned and voices from all quarters are heard and listened to.

    And that is just as well.  Politics, democratic politics, is meant to be complex and confused.  If governing the country was just a matter of following the prescriptions of one person, or of allowing an allegedly value-free market always to decide how the dice should fall, then what would be the point of electing those who represent us?  Why would we bother to consult the people if each issue could be resolved by the decision of a single business leader or must follow the dictates of the market?  Why hold elections or debate policy issues if a Donald Trump or the like, convinced he is right about everything, can simply settle every issue for us?

    The whole point of democracy, in other words, is to ensure that important decisions about the society we live in reflect a wide range of interests and are not taken by a small handful of people, acting as though they were running their own businesses.  The legitimacy conferred by the democratic mandate is intended to offset and restrain what would otherwise be the overwhelming power of those who dominate the market place.

    If we allow that small number with real economic power to seize control of the political process as well, and bend it to serve their particular interests, we end up with a society that most people do not want. The last thing we need is the single-minded self-obsession of the profit-focused business leader – as the Americans are in the process of finding out.


    Bryan Gould 26 July 2017





  1. Patricia says: July 27, 2017 at 2:33 amReply

    But But But Bryan we have that now – a small group with economic power controlling the country. Any, all Countries. Look at the Lobbyists. Look at the media. Look at how you can buy power by there being no limit on the amount of money a person, a company can donate. I don’t think any country in the world is truly democratic. Some with referendums are more than others. Here in NZ we have an election this year. I still don’t know who I will vote for. Certainly not National, probably not Labour. What I would like to see is a Greens, Labour, New Zealand First, Maori coalition. But Winston, the so called Kingmaker, won’t state who he supports so might side with National and he wants a referendum on the Maori seats both of which, in my view are a real no no. So that puts him out. In my view Labour still tends too much to the right and still leans heavily towards neoliberalism. The Greens yes but they haven’t enough clout on their own. The Maori party ditto. I just don’t know.

  2. Steve says: July 28, 2017 at 4:41 amReply


    Absolutely spot-on. The Donald is finding out that the US Constitution, although not perfect, is there for a reason, and he doesn’t like it. Huh! Good job.

    By the time 3 November 2020 rolls around, it will be so clear to the American people that their president is not only not up to the job; that he simply doesn’t have the temperament for it; and, in fact, doesn’t really want it anymore – but his overarching pride won’t allow him not to stand again – that they will vote him out, quite possibly in a 1964-like landslide.

    Patricia. Please don’t despair. You only have one Party vote, so, whatever you do, it’s not going to have much impact on the outcome. The same for the rest of us. Therefore, just vote for the party that best reflects your point of view, values, etc. (as no doubt you have always done), and, on election night, just sit back and watch the votes fall where they may. It’s all any of us can do.

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