TRUMP: Like Driving in Boston

I live close to the city of Boston, Massachusetts, and I puzzle at comments about how bad Boston drivers are. Here’s the thing: You can count on a Boston driver to do whatever it takes to get wherever they want to go as quickly as possible. In other words, although you should expect anything and everything, it helps to understand that what looks like unpredictable driving almost always has the objective of expediency in mind. With this knowledge as my guide, I have little or no trouble with Boston drivers. (Now, some of the streets on the other hand… but that’s a different story.)

Like many people, over the past several months I’ve gone from being disdainful of the candidacy of Donald Trump to being amused by it to being flabbergasted by it to being confounded by it to being infuriated by it. But recently I’ve come to an altered state when it comes to this man and the positions he takes.

The worlds of politics and business have much in common, and their hallmarks are similar: strategy, understanding the current information, shifting tactics to gain or maintain advantage. There’s no question that Mr. Trump has remarkable business acumen, and it’s made him an extremely wealthy man.

But there’s one other necessary hallmark that’s harder to detect: planning. It could be that Trump is a great business planner; only a deep dive into his history is likely to reveal the truth. But we can see that when it comes to politics, he tends to shoot from the hip. And there's one critical difference he does not seem to have perceived: Business deals primarily in product; government deals primarily in people. Understanding this difference requires a competency that so far has not been evident in Trump’s campaign or his words: nuance.

As an author, I’ve decided to stop looking at the question of why his apparently erratic outbursts haven’t toppled him, looking instead at why he might have said them. At first blush, his statements (especially his recent Muslim-denying proposal and, even worse, his suggestion about killing terrorists' family members as a deterrent) are often racist and/or bigoted. His recent commitment to FADA (First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow LGBT discrimination in "religious liberty" situations), in my book, cancels any credit he might have gotten from his past moderately progressive position on LGBT discrimination issues. However, although he might in fact be a racist and a bigot, I’m not convinced that these characteristics are what’s driving him. 

So what's driving him? I think it’s Business. And, in Trump’s case, a lack of apparent planning and a lack of nuance.

Let’s take his proposal to keep Muslims from entering the U.S. as a case in point. A recent article in The Atlantic, “Donald Trumps Call to Ban Muslim Immigrants,” opens with this: “The Republican frontrunner demands a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.’”

This strikes me as classic business thinking:

  1. Mr. Trump has a "business" goal (keeping America safe).
  2. He believes safety is threatened by radical Islamists more than by anything else.
  3. He doesn’t know how to tell these radicals from peace-loving, law-abiding Muslims.
  4. America's “business” is bleeding "money/profits" (i.e., safety) from an identifiable if not completely understood source.
  5. To save the business, he wants to shut off whatever valves are allowing the bleed to occur until he can understand and eliminate the source/cause of the bleed.

The businessman Trump believes this bleed is happening because the screen we've used to filter out terrorists (in this case, radical Islamists) doesn’t have a fine enough mesh to catch people like San Bernadino terrorists, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. Trump knows we need to replace this screen with something finer, but he also knows it’s not a “just do it.” However, he lacks the planning skills and the understanding of nuance to see the following:

  1. We’re dealing with people and populations, not products.
  2. Any sudden, radical action is going to have consequences outside of the matter at hand.
  3. The consequences will affect some areas we can predict and some areas we cannot predict.
  4. The affected areas will be people’s lives.
  5. Making the line between the so-called Islamic State’s version of Islam and Western values sharper is playing directly into the hands of the terrorists. People such as Ted Koppel and others who have a grasp on nuance have said this already.

Change just a few words in the above approach, and it applies equally well to the preemptive slaughter of terrorists' family members.

Mr. Trump is not driving erratically because he’s and idiot; I don’t see him as an idiot at all. In fact, his driving seems erratic only if you try to see him as a politician. If you understand that he’s going to do whatever it takes to meet his business goals as quickly as possible, you can see that he approaches every issue as a business man. And if he were applying to be CEO of a business, he’d be a viable candidate. But his devotion to business at the expense of politics would be catastrophic to any country who elected him as their leader. When it comes to nuance and depth of understanding, Mr. Trump is a bull in the proverbial china shop, and he is not qualified to govern America.