The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is running America just like his businesses — right into the ground

President Trump shakes hands with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
President Trump shakes hands with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Throughout the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly pledged that if elected, he’d run government like a business.

“If we could run our country the way I’ve run my company, we would have a country that you would be so proud of,” he promised during one debate.

Well, he was half right. Trump has definitely run the country the way he ran his company. But, no, this is nothing anyone can be especially proud of.

That’s because the president is running the executive branch less like a “Six Sigma” efficiency machine and more like a crappy family business that went bankrupt six times.

Consider Trump’s personnel choices. In both private and public enterprise, he has loaded up the payroll with incompetents, self-dealers and family members — categories that are not mutually exclusive — whose top qualifications are ethical pliability and unwavering devotion to the boss.

President Trump, for the first time, said that Michael Cohen represented him in efforts to silence Stormy Daniels in an interview with "Fox & Friends" April 26. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

In the Trump Organization, this meant elevating his children and people such as Michael Cohen. By whom I mean: a guy who would never get a job at a respectable, well-run company, given a past checkered by business associates who ended up disbarred, disciplined or convicted of crimes.

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In the White House, Trump has likewise surrounded himself with sycophants, fixers and telegenic attack dogs. People unrelated to the patriarch by blood have been expected to pledge loyalty to the president personally or (like former FBI director James B. Comey) be fired.

President Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, has brought discipline to the White House, sometimes to the frustration of Trump. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Despite the president’s alleged business savvy, Trump’s hires are not exactly selected for their experience or expertise. I don’t even mean technical expertise, though Trump’s disdain for scientists, economists and regional specialists is no secret.

It’s become increasingly clear that our supposed manager in chief doesn’t care a whit about management expertise.

If he did, he would never have nominated White House physician Ronny L. ­Jackson to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jackson oversees the tiny White House Medical Unit; with a staff of 385,000, VA is larger than Target, General Electric or Starbucks. Even if accusations of drinking on the job, workplace hostility and other misbehavior hadn’t caused Jackson to withdraw, he clearly was not qualified for the job.

So why did Trump anoint him in the first place? Well, presumably all those flattering things Jackson said on TV about the president’s fabulous genes.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is reportedly on the outs with Trump not because of his abhorrent decision to shield an alleged wife beater, but because his efforts to bring management structure and discipline to White House operations have gotten under the president’s skin.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, running the government like a two-bit family business has also meant using the company like a personal piggy bank.

Trump himself has charged taxpayers and political groups millions for golf-cart rentals, Trump Tower leases, legal fees, event rentals and the like. But he’s hardly the only one skimming the till. To date, at least seven current or former Cabinet members have been accused of misusing taxpayer funds to pay for extravagant travel or redecoration.

Some, such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, have simultaneously doled out taxpayer-funded jobs and raises to buddies and business associates, including (once again) those with zero experience relevant to the high-level posts they have been awarded.

Asked about some of those questionable decisions during a congressional hearing Thursday, Pruitt pleaded ignorance and fobbed off responsibility onto underlings — another tried-and-true Trump business strategy.

Trump’s private-sector experience has also taught him that there’s little downside to reneging on deals or baiting-and- ­switching. Repeat business or reputational costs are rarely a consideration; whether with the many vendors and workers he stiffed, or thousands of Trump University enrollees he scammed, our C-suite Svengali has always assumed an unending supply of new suckers.

He has taken that faulty assumption to Congress and international diplomacy, alas.

Trump has been threatening to claw back a spending deal he signed just last month — a process known as rescission — apparently without thinking through the consequences this might have for future congressional negotiations. His administration has likewise failed to recognize that withdrawal from international pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal could affect other nations’ willingness to trust our word in future pacts.

If a man’s word is his bond, Trump’s (and perhaps soon the country’s) would surely be rated junk.

To be clear — despite politicians’ frequent declarations to the contrary — the skills required to run a business well don’t necessarily translate to those needed to be president. But even less relevant? The skills required to run a business poorly.

Read more here:

Catherine Rampell: Trump’s America may be open for business. But will anyone shop here?

Max Boot: The Trump administration is in an unethical league of its own

Catherine Rampell: Trump’s economic team needs to grow up — fast

Richard Painter and Norman Eisen: Just when you thought the Trump ethics disaster couldn’t get worse, it did