The dangerous mind of the CEO president
I wrote the first draft of these piece while trying not to scream during a corporate meeting. And the reason for that suppressed primal howl at the expense of my career, is also the reason why I’m terrified for my country.
My career since 2004 has can be summed up as installing, supporting and explaining multi-million-dollar computer systems to doctors, nurse, managers and healthcare executives. Basically, if software or a device I supported failed, there was good chance that a surgery or some other complex medical procedure would stop. My first job literally was life or death. Its aggravating and stressful, but I have a knack for it and frankly, I’m a little too old to change the career rapidly.
One of the most frustrating things about my job is simplifying the explanation of what I’m doing for the sake of stakeholders. A major pain point is that most mid-tier to senior executives don’t like to sweat the details. In fact, they abhor details, which stinks for IT professionals. I’m often admonished for being ‘too technical’ and ‘talking over people’s heads’ when such details are the difference between several hundred thousand dollars in savings or simply avoiding some government agency having uncomfortable conversations about security and Medicare overruns with a CEO.
So, the next question is, “Great CL, we know what you do for a living, what does this have to do with Trump?” Well, my answer is “A lot.” If you hang around enough corporate big wigs, guys like Trump aren’t all that uncommon. He’s a corporatist in its most naked incarnation.
Donald Trump isn’t just a narcissist, a sociopath and, as I’ve stated in a previous blog post, a nihilist. No, Trump is the culmination of great American experiment on the Right – the election of a CEO President. Donald John Trump is running our government the way that he ran his (highly unstable, possibly criminal) corporate enterprises and his farce of a TV show. And that should terrify anyone with any sense.
There have several reports linking the behavior of high level executives with the behavioral indicators of antisocial personality disorder. But saying Trump is a sociopath is akin to saying he’s a fat old white man. What’s more interesting is that Donald Trump, like many CEO,’s, isn’t particularly hands on. Whether big or small, so-called captains of industry don’t get bogged down with the day to day minutia of running their company. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos are exceptions, not the rule, in mahogany row.
The CEO’s and senior C-Suite executives are focused on “the Big Picture”. They hate sweating details or worrying about the ins and outs of parts of their organizations. There’s a good chance the Rex Tillerson didn’t realize that his company left behind a toxic waste land in Nigeria, let alone cared. Beyond the innate racism and classism that one would expect from a rich old white Southern, you would expect from the real life J.R. Ewing to know? Tillerson ran a company with a higher GDP than many Caribbean nations. He had senior vice presidents, vice presidents, portfolio managers and layers of other decision makers before such things would ever get to him. I know that Ferron Cousins from the Ring of Fire radio show loves to bemoan this, but I’m not surprised that Ivanka Trump isn’t championing to rid her (gaudy) business clothing line of sweat shop labor. First, it’s cheap and its legal, even it’s completely unscrupulous. Ethics are secondary in cutthroat corporate dealings. Second, typically Trump wouldn’t be that involved in the floor level production. That’s what the COO or senior Vice President of Production does, not Ivanka.
It’s the reason why I often felt like banging my head against a wall explaining to the director of cardiology and chief of surgery that it’s probably not a good idea to give every nurse in the operatory suite the same computer password. She didn’t care, so long she doesn’t get sued for violating HIPPA. She hired an underling like me to sweat the small stuff. And then she will be more than willing to fire said underling when a mole hill becomes a mountain. CEO’s often don’t care about the consequences beyond the bottom line, because they’re neither trained nor expected to care.
This doesn’t excuse the actions of corporate executives. In fact, it shows the kind of unhinged creeps who often sit at the head of corporate boardrooms. It explains why guys like Weinstein and Cosby could prey upon starlets in Hollywood for decades without recourse and why Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly used Fox News as their personal bordello. It takes a special kind of dispassionate narcissist to allow senior executives to molest and rape subordinates while scaring colleagues into silence with non-disclosure agreements, perpetual unemployment and hush money. But it’s also the dispassionate narcissism of executives that allowed these predators to exist in plain sight. These men couldn’t exist without their network executives, fellow producers and other colleagues turning a blind eye to their horrible predilections. For those corporate suits, ending the third quarter in the black was worth black marks on their souls. So long as the network’s top moneymakers didn’t let their compulsive depredation get in the public eye, why mess up a good thing?
The culture of the CEO explains Donald Trump’s overall approach. He has never had any work outside of the corporate board room he has controlled since the mid 1970’s or his career in television. Donald Trump’s admiration of dictators like Duarte of the Philippines, until recently Kim “Little Rocket Man” Jong Un of North Korea and of course, Vladimir Putin. Autocracy appeals to our current President, because corporate executives are often innately autocratic. CEO’s don’t make deals or talk the underlings –they give orders. Though far different in personality and temperament, Donald Trump and George W. Bush are both incurious corporate suits who are more comfortable getting five page executive summaries over detailed spreadsheets. It also explains why he, like George W. Bush before him, Trump is utterly terrible at his current job.
Donald Trump, a man whose life of privilege, breeding a world of greed and narcissism, and training has bred him to an unscrupulous business mogul, now finds himself in a job where the ambivalence to minutia common among industry titans and his panache for quick decisions over deep analysis work against him. Precision and continuous learning are required to a leader in a democracy and that’s not a skill rampant among captains of industry.
A perfect example of Trump’s CEO style failing to translate to the office of the presidency is ongoing feud over Trump’s callous comments to the widow of Green Beret La David Johnson. This is typically the role of Comforter in Chief, but why would a CEO even known about the empathy Americans citizens demand from their leader? Why would Donald Trump call a Gold Star widow, or even know the fallen soldier’s name? The man was a low-level employee who died in a work accident. When he was merely the CEO of Trump Industries, if a guy died on a construction site, getting a call from the Donald would be a big deal, not a merely an expectation. Sending sympathy cards was usually a job left to the employee’s supervisor and maybe a division head. Trump’s usual concern is to make sure the death benefits don’t cost more than a year’s salary.
It explains why Trump is in constant fights with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Simply put, the idea that there are people in an organization with as much power as a CEO and that he can’t threaten, or fire is an anathema to Trump. He must treat these two weirdos in Men’s Warehouse suits as his equals? Also, why would the CEO need to get involve getting two division heads to finish a project? Trump, a man who has never worked for anyone other than his family interests or himself, doesn’t understand working with people as opposed to barking orders at them.
It explains why his entire White House is in disarray. The man stacked his cabinet with other industry captains, military generals, deranged ideologues like Bannon or demented sycophants like Omarosa Manigualt-Newman and Kellyanne Conway. You either end butting heads with utter alpha male pricks who are used to barking orders at toadies, lining the pockets of their corporate paymasters or more interested in fawning over the dear leader than protecting the interests of the American people. Guys like Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson would likely golf together and may agree to a hands-off investment deal together. But work together? These two billionaire assholes? The world’s not big enough the amount of dick measuring that must go on between the President and the Secretary of State.
It also provides a framework explain his policies. Trump’s slash and burn economics is simply following his brand of barely legal, shady real estate business ventures – make money for himself and few of his buddies before the bill comes due and the creditors come knocking. And if you’re too broke to be a 1-percenter, sucks to be you. This is, in principle, no different than Mitt Romney made his fortune in vulture capital (though, to be fair, Romney likely didn’t come close to violating RICO).
How else could you explain Trump’s tax policies, or killing of important parts of Obama Care. That shit is costing his golf memberships, dammit! Puerto Rico? Virgin Island? Why the heck should Trump care about some random vacation spots in the Tropics full of S** and N**? Isn’t that Ben Carson’s department, N** Shit? And climate change? CEO’s typically don’t plan for anything beyond 5-10 years, let alone 20-30. It is little surprise Trump and his cronies brush it off as a globalist hoax. All that tree hugging shit is getting in the way of making quick cash in the coal and oil exports.
And let’s not even get into the international stage. In business, there only three types of entities that exist in your world, clients, suppliers and competitors. Cooperation for mutual benefit? Who the fuck does that, outside of a monopoly? If a competitor in real estate or cable TV went after Trump in his old life, he’d bury the son of a bitch in lawsuits and a media smear campaign. For the Donald, threatening to blow up North Korea is no different than threatening a corporate buyout. And Russia? Who would turn down leverage over a corporate competitor and for the low-low price of dismantling NATO with a buzz saw? Like I said, cooperation for mutual benefit is an anathema for Trump, so the Western Alliance being dismantle with a metaphorical chainsaw means nothing to him. Relationships are only transactional. Cooperation is for hippies. Much like the buffoonish Harry Ellis from Die Hard, Donald Trump negotiates million dollar deals for breakfast, he handle this Eurotrash.
It’s no mistake that the most successful Presidents of my lifetime, Clinton and Obama, who eschewed silly international conflicts and made the most strides for a stable economy were classical liberals who were also lifelong public servants. It is also no mistake that the biggest failures and most corrupt administration in my near two score lifespan, Bush the Lesser and now Trump, are men who’s minds, training and spirits are more like Don Draper than Atticus Finch.
I know that people like to ballyhoo the term “corporatist” for any moderate or pragmatic liberal politician who doesn’t parrot Bernie Sanders’ unicorn platform. But it is a great disservice to both these public servants and the English language. Almost every Democratic politician, and certainly every Democratic president in my lifetime valued government and its importance in protecting people. Corporatists, in the modern understanding the term, aren’t simply looking to foster a business-friendly environment. They’re more rightly understood as looking for business to usurp the role of government. They believe that money is a sign of knowledge and skill. A corporatist doesn’t think like Obama, Clinton or Carter. The corporatist thinks like the Bush family, Reagan and now, Trump.
Trump is exactly what the GOP claimed that the country need since Ray-Gun Ronnie shuffled off the political scene (and ducking his own charges of treason and corruption), a CEO to run the business of America. Except, well, as liberals have been saying for decades – the government isn’t a business in either form nor outcome. And we need no further evidence than our current President.
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