Business Lessons I’ve Learned from the Trump Years

Photo by Aubrey Hicks on Unsplash

One of my recent NSFW columns for WorldatWork (A Trip Down COVID Lane) discusses the things I’ll miss when we’ve been able to put the pandemic in the rearview. I wanted to write a parallel piece about the Trump years (for Medium, as politics are, ironically, not safe for NSFW ), but after 24 hours of coming up empty, I decided to go a more conventional route and list the things I won’t miss, not even for a second.

I hasten to mention that I’ve studiously avoided politics in my NSFW columns, on my Work in Progress podcast, and in business dealings in general, though it’s long been a deep and abiding interest. I enjoy reading political bios, histories, books and articles on policy, etc., and will argue with friends and frenemies just short of pistols at dawn. But even when a business colleague or associate or general business acquaintance foists his/her, uh, opinions on me, I try my level best to deflect, even though it can take every ounce of discipline to keep my tongue — and open hand — in check.

If you’re detecting an anti-Trump bias, yes, guilty as charged, but when Trump came into office, I wasn’t entirely opposed, at least not to the concept — I did have hopes.

For years, people would argue the merits of a President with business experience — someone who knows how to read a balance sheet and negotiate foreign policy and trade with the steely eyes and brass knuckles of a captain of industry. I looked forward to putting this long-held proposition to the test, if only to conclusively rebut what I always thought a misguided notion. Only there were two problems: we already had a successful businessman President in Herbert Hoover, and we know how that turned out; and, two, Trump is not exactly the model businessman, unless you’re basing it entirely on his sleekly stage-managed star turn in the Apprentice and not his serial failures as the head of what’s essentially a small family business run out of a gold-plated home office. Speaking metallurgically, he was always more brass than steel. So I guess this is less a dashed hope than a flawed experiment — but still, give me points for being hopeful!

My second hope was that the patent absurdity of Donald Trump — Donald freaking Trump!* — as President would become so apparent and he’d be so polarizing, that it would, at some point, bring people to their senses and help bridge the divide that has made it near impossible to achieve consensus on issues big and small. If anything, the divide has widened. I’ll confess, there were many a times over the past four years that I fantasized about what it must be like being a Trump supporter and, per the late, lamented William Buckley, standing athwart history yelling Stop! Being angry can be cathartic, and when properly channeled, productive, and there are times I’m glad there was no one around to see me screaming at the TV like a complete maniac. Unfortunately, today’s highly evolved service economy has become incredibly adept at knowing what each of us wants, what each of us needs, and it turns out that stoking anger and organizing people around their shared contempt is great for business. It’s ultimately not so much a question of being “captured” by Trump or Trumpism, as it is becoming slave to algorithms that get smarter with each purchase we make and link we click, with a finger forever poised over our over-exposed hot buttons (if that sounds obscene, good, because it kind of is!). With or without Trump, it’s only gonna get worse.

I could go on and on listing all the things I won’t miss, starting with the impossible to avoid, never-ending tweets on matters of state to whatever “loser” commanded the President’s attention at any given moment. But foremost among the things I won’t miss is having to worry which good friend or trusted colleague went full MAGA. I completely understand that you, dear reader, may have experienced the same trepidation and dread from the other end of the spectrum. Passion is inseparable from politics — healthcare, equal pay for equal work, the climate are serious issues that give rise to serious, legitimate, often heated debate. Politics have always been personal, but I don’t think it’s ever been such a defining aspect of one’s public identity. Yes, there’s a fine line between what you believe in and who you are, but here’s hoping, as the Trump administration disappears over the horizon, that our politics revert to being private articles of personal faith, or, like simmering disagreements in a long marriage, are suppressed unless or until you have no choice but to get the lawyers involved.

*For perspective, I’d probably feel similarly if 80+ million people voted for, oh, I don’t know, Alec Baldwin…but Donald freaking Trump?

Tech, Workforce and Healthcare PR, marketing communications, bus development.

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