Common Ground

What Will a Trump Presidency Mean for Business?

By Robert H. Rock

The Presidency of Donald Trump has raised hopes, concerns and questions in the boardroom.  Directors are hopeful that his administration will be pro-business, and his rapid fire repeal of rules and regulations, as well as his initial staffing of government oversight agencies, have buoyed business confidence.  However, many directors are concerned about his positions on immigration and healthcare, and they have questions regarding where he will come out on tax reform and trade.  Moreover, most are troubled by his demeanor and worried about his temperament, and all are loathe to get in his cross-hairs. 

To try to understand what the Trump Presidency will mean for their business, boards are calling in all sorts of experts, prognosticators and soothsayers who supposedly can help predict where Trump’s programs and policies will end up.  But the deviation in their potential outcomes makes any predictions uncertain and therefore unreliable.  Furthermore, directors are having difficulty addressing the Trump Presidency among themselves because such discussions often descend into rancorous debate.

At a recent board dinner, my fellow directors initially focused our discussion on the tumultuous early days of the Trump administration, but after a few contentious volleys, we quickly pivoted away from politics.  In the past, our dinner time conversations had often centered on politics, discussed in an open and civil debate.  But now, any discussion of politics gets heated very quickly, and in order to salvage our collegiality and save our friendships, the topic has generally been avoided.   Of course, political commentary is never completely left unsaid:  Those directors who lean to the right seem incapable of avoiding references to “media bias,” “the deep state,” and “we won, get over it;” while those on the left seem incapable of avoiding references to “crazy tweets,” “Russian meddling,” and “we won the popular vote.”

Our country has been spiraling further apart, riven by partisanship promoting diametrically opposed political ideologies and social philosophies.   The anger and mistrust between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, frequently seem bitter and often hateful.  More worrisome, we have grown so accustomed to this divide that we no longer flinch at the brazen attacks no matter how patently false. 

The current state of our political dialogue seems to be nothing less than civil war by less violent means.  There is insurrection on the left comprised of the main stream media, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and liberal democrats, and insurrection on the right comprised of talk radio, the alt right, libertarians, and tea-party republicans.   The term civil war derives from the Romans who spoke with utter horror of “bellum civile,” a conflict among enemies who are really brothers.  It is the savage, suicidal turning of a civilization on itself. 

A recently published book by HBS professor David Moss entitled Democracy: A Case Study serves as a reminder that political conflict is a constant and necessary force in maintaining a healthy democracy.  Moss explains that “in nearly every pivotal moment of American history, people thought democracy was about to break, but in only one instance, the Civil War, were they right.”  Although his book fails to fully elucidate when political conflict tips from productive to destructive, it does provide comfort that our democracy will survive.

We must remember that there is much that binds our nation together.  Our common ground derives from the ideals and principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and codified in our Constitution.  We embrace the political proposition that “all men are created equal” and have the freedom to live the way they want in “the pursuit of happiness.”  As Americans, we are all the recipients of America’s blessings:  its ideals of equality and justice, its principles of free speech and religious tolerance, and its belief in family and country.  Coupled with some customs and traditions, these ideals, principles, and beliefs make America, America.  At my next board dinner, I will remind my fellow directors of what unites us.   If we can remember our common ground, perhaps we can engage without rancor in political debate that promotes “the general welfare” and helps create “a more perfect union.”