What can we learn locally from the national election?
Whatever your personal opinions, facts should have the last word. Donald Trump is the President-Elect because enough people supported him to pass the 270 Electoral College votes even if not the popular vote. What can we expect from a businessman taking over the toughest job in the world?
To begin with, he wouldn’t be the first. Since 1900, there are at least eight bona fide entrepreneurs who became presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes. (Prior, Entrepreneur 2/15/16)
If we go back further, we can find many others who were farmers and traders, in short, plantation (and slave) owners. Perhaps not a qualifying measure for political success, but the engagement in commerce should not be considered an impediment.
Second, our university system endorses the view that we can train leaders (to organize their companies and communicate well), and that once they climb high enough up the corporate ladder they can serve in political offices. We can think of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, our very own governor John Hickenlooper, and the two Romneys as governors of Michigan and Massachusetts.
Third, if we appreciate our political system as pragmatic rather than ideological, it makes sense to appreciate the skill-set of businesspeople when applied to the affairs of the state (or city). Governance, in short, is about finding out what people want, compromising on the means to accomplished these wants, and then proving one’s mettle with results.
To be sure, for all the greatness that business-leaders can bring to politics, there are many critical assessments over their success. David Davenport (Forbes 6/22/16) explains that context matters, that measuring short-term success is different from long-term policy consequences, and that after all ideology does inspire the popular imagination.
We’ll have to wait and see whether President Trump will be successful or not. Only time will tell what he can accomplish in an environment where one’s whims don’t translate into law, and where the complexity of the decision-making process is a bit more overwhelming than when running your own casino or hotel.
It’s worth noting that when the economy is doing well, credit can be given to the business community, so in those times business leaders seem attractive as political leaders: if they can do it for their companies, they can do it for the rest of the country.
Likewise, when the economy is not doing well, as we have seen in the aftermath of the Great Recession and its steady but slow recovery, we look for billionaires, from the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet to Mark Cuban to offer solutions to our ailing economy. This mindset surely helped propel Trump to the presidency.
Whether the economy is booming or bust, salvation in the hands of entrepreneurs is believed to be the only way to heaven on earth. Does it work well in small cities, like Colorado Springs?
The first “strong mayor,” Steve Bach, was lauded as a businessman who would approach the city’s dormant economy as a marketing guru, bringing jobs from around the country and revving the economic engines of the city.
After four years, Bach accomplished little on the economic horizon; he’ll be best remembered for the acrimony he fomented between the Mayor’s office and City Council. With this in mind, the wisdom of the day was to elect John Suthers as an experienced lawyer/politician who will bring harmony, if not economic progress.
Instead of economic stimulus, the current mayor’s personal views about the legalization of marijuana—a Constitutional Amendment that passed, no less—have overshadowed both our cherished democratic principle of majority rule and a pragmatic approach to the economic benefits of legalizing pot (as seen in booming Denver).
Regardless of how you feel about pot, isn’t it awkward that the highest-ranking official of the city travels outside the state (Arizona) to speak against the legalization of pot instead of traveling there and elsewhere to bring businesses to the city?
Bach the commercial real-estate broker was unqualified to manage a large city operation like ours; Suthers the politician seems too beholden to an ideology to listen to the people and make the city less “lame,” as some millennia call it.
Perhaps what we need is people who are not military retirees who find politics a nice hobby, but entrepreneurs who run large companies and have the experience of solving complex problems. The only two in CS that come to mind are Philip Anschutz and Perry Sanders.
Between the two, Sanders seems to care more about the well-being of the city and should therefore be recruited to become the next mayor of his adopted home; he has a proven track-record!
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com