Is America Really A Business?

Shared Leadership Carol Anderson

Mr. Trump visited our fair city yesterday. Amidst the hubbub of hurricane recovery, he attracted a substantial audience, caused a traffic jam and said some things.  The local news captured a mother and almost-voting-age daughter for an interview. The mother told the reporter that she was a Trump supporter because this country has to be run like a business. The daughter nodded.

It wasn’t too long ago that I might have agreed. I’m a business person, have been for my whole career.  The stereotypes of “businesses get things done,” and “governments are all bureaucratic red tape,” resonated with me.  Over the past years I’ve watched a paralyzed government doing everything possible to throw in more red tape, to the point where I’m not sure we can survive in the long term. And it isn’t any one side – it’s both sides.

A business approach sounds good on the surface. You have a smart, talented, get-things-done CEO who makes decisions and moves forward.

Ouch. Well, I can’t really say that these days without clarifying “forward to what?” The CEO of Wells Fargo certainly had an objective – make money – and did so at the expense of his customers, his reputation and his career. Well, that ain’t what I meant by “moving forward.”

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric sounds good on the surface. Yes, we want to be great. Yes, we want to preserve our borders. Yes, we want to be safe. Yes, we want to move forward and no longer be paralyzed.

So, I’ve been thinking and reading about things, and I’ve had a couple epiphanies. The first epiphany is that the terms Democracy and Republic mean very different things, ergo, the philosophies of the two parties diverge as well.

Democracy favors the will of the majority.  A Republic, however, is a government that is constructed around a constitution that is intended to do the very best thing for the country.  Think about that for a minute.

The United States (my interpretation, so you may disagree – but do a little research – the definitions are quite interesting) is both. We have a Constitution that guides us, and a government that distributes power across the executive, legislative and judiciary bodies.  The inherent protection for us is that no one person can make all the rules. The challenge for us is that there has to be collaboration and respect in order to move forward.  We have obviously lost that; we are paralyzed.

We are also a democracy, and seem to become more so every day. It’s becoming a numbers game – how many constituents can you get for your cause, so that you can sway the decision to meet your own needs?  We are rapidly approaching the tipping point for the numbers game, where decisions will be made to accommodate special interests, rather than stepping back to consider the greater good.

And those who liked having the majority, who set up the government which for so many years housed the majority, yearn for old times. Make America great again.  Let’s not let “them” [insert whoever “they” might be] get control.

And so Mr. Trump emerges to give hope to the waning majority, and he’s grabbed the one thing that they can agree on….we need to move forward, and his way to do that is to behave like a business.

I guess that is my second epiphany. I don’t buy that one anymore. Our country is not a business.  It is a place, a home, a culture, a philosophy…it is far more than a business.  America is not here to buy and sell; we exist so that everyone has an opportunity to live life to the fullest, to thrive and to grow.

That means that there are no right answers. Every decision has an impact – positive for some, negative for others. We are far too diverse to naïvely think we can do what everyone wants and needs. We have to raise our perspectives to see what is right for the country and that will take honest, candid, open and clear communication, a willingness to see the other side, and the courage to explain why a decision that has been made is the right one for the country.

It seems to me that is what our founding fathers intended when they created our government – a government for the people and of the people.  Not individual special interests but for the people as a whole.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

That’s a tall order, but isn’t it a worthy aspiration? The foundations – safety, security, well-being, peace and freedom – really are what is important.

Have we achieved it? I’m not sure we’re even close.  There are people in our country who are struggling, impoverished, targets of bias, privileged, ridiculously wealthy….we have it all.

Now here’s an idea. The wealthy residents of Kalamazoo, Michigan are “promising to build a $500 million endowment to help the city cut taxes and attract more growth.” What do you think….we could get our financiers, sports figures, celebrities, tech geniuses and the like to actually help the country as a whole.

One way or another, becoming a business isn’t the answer, at least for me. We don’t need one individual who is so strong that they can make unilateral decisions based upon their own personal values. We need healthy dialogue, open minds and hearts, and a willingness to keep what is great about America.

How can we start a healthy dialogue? I hope we’re not past the point of no return.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Congratulations Carol for such a thought provoking analysis of the dilemma the country faces today, in the absence of a truly Great Leader emerging out of the Primaries. Given a choice, one can only choose the ‘Lesser Evil’ whoever that be!