Arrogant, Corrupt, Incompetent Trump Destroys America’s Mythology of Entrepreneurship

Until Donald Trump’s victory last November, America had never elected a businessman as president. It is strange that it did not happen earlier. No other country on earth has a popular and intellectual culture as saturated in the mythology of entrepreneurship. Businessmen are lauded as ‘visionaries’, ‘geniuses’, ‘heroes’; the market is described as ‘mystical’ and ‘enchanting’; The Great Gatsby is interpreted as a celebration, not a warning; Jay-Z raps about the glories of compound interest. With a zeitgeist as affectionate towards capital as this, a tycoon in the Oval Office was only a matter of time.

America had always nurtured a fantasy about an ‘entrepreneur-in-chief’. It was imagined that such a figure would float above the swamp of Washington. Party squabbles, bureaucratic fat, lobbyists: all would cower in the face of a tenacious ‘deal-maker’. He’d cajole and bully, he’d apply ‘know-how’, he’d run the country like America Inc. This was self-evident. Men like Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller and Donald Trump - their stories involved no luck, no privilege. They were of a different order: they were more driven, smarter and wilier than the rest. They were experts. Their ideas moved history, shaped the world. If you had any doubts, well just look at their bank balance. Any man - it was always a man - with that kind of success knew what he was doing.

The Trump campaign was the first to successfully tap into this deep reservoir of assumptions and ideas about the might of ‘the businessman’. Throughout his run for the White House, it was common to hear people laud his supposed pragmatism, brashness and success as qualities needed in Washington; Trump would ‘shake things up’.

It was also clear that this logic had a darker side. It ensured that his lies were dismissed as astute showmanship, his verbal assaults as dealer bravado, his displays of fragile narcissism as ironclad self-confidence. He was probably right when he intuited that he could probably shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. The businessman supreme could do no wrong.

it is possible for a businessman to be stunningly corrupt, incompetent, stupid or malicious yet still find protection in the hazy mythology of entrepreneurship

Trump’s period in office does not seemed to have weakened this conviction. It is still remarked that despite all else, Trump’s ‘success’ shows that there must be something to the guy. Yet, here we have the former head of a billion-dollar company - a man who was the poster child of American capitalism in the Eighties - who is demonstrably awful in all the areas businessmen are supposed to excel: he cannot manage people, ‘close the deal’, articulate ‘a vision’, offer searing analysis. In fact, his only near talent lies in self-promotion, in bullshitting.

Even in this regard he is far from impressive. He often sounds like he is regurgitating some hastily written self-help book - everything is ‘fantastic’, ‘the best’, ‘tremendous’, ‘spectacular’, ‘the biggest’. Many people, however, still buy into the notion that his business instincts will eventually shine through and fix the country.

Trump has been useful in this sense. His stay in the Oval Office demonstrates that it is possible for a businessman to be stunningly corrupt, incompetent, stupid or malicious yet still find protection in the hazy mythology of entrepreneurship. Trump is perhaps the most prominent and dangerous individual to benefit from this misguided perception, but he is joined by millions of others who operate in less public capacities.

Look no further, or recently, than the infamous Anthony Scaramucci. Sacked as Trump’s communication’s director before the registration forms had even landed on the porch, Scaramucci nonetheless once reached the upper echelons of Goldman Sachs and even ran his own hedge fund. Yet like his near-boss, Scaramucci is renowned for his protean and volatile character; nobody sees him as capable guy.

Or what about Steve Jobs, the toast of a thousand ‘get rich’ programmes. Certainly his strategic vision saved Apple in the early Noughties, but he was not the marvel that is often claimed. Jobs had no practical understanding of computers, he was a deeply unpleasant man to work for and his self-absorption rivalled Trump’s. On and on. In their offices, most people will have come across such ‘industry leaders’ whose abilities rank well below their reputations.  

In most walks of life, many of these figures would stand no chance of surviving. It was once possible to agree with this statement, while arguing that the turbulence of such figures was the trade-off for their genius. Trump exposes this argument for the lie it is, and this leaves one conclusion: that the Darwinian world of American business does not, in fact, route out talent imperceptible to most of us. Instead, it rewards bluster and atrocious character traits.

Trump’s election is the most visible manifestation of how dangerous this mythology can be. It is not its only demonstration though.

 Antony Sharkey

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