Now that Donald Trump has held himself up as an example of a corporate CEO, a nonpolitician who knows how to best run government, it’s well past time to examine his assumptions.
Big companies ruled by CEOs are top-down organizations, with little oversight except that provided by their own ethical values and government regulations.
Monarchies and dictatorships are also top-down governmental systems, in some but not all cases answerable to their own government agencies.
Conversely, the US presidency, the Executive Branch, was designed by the framers of the US Constitution to be a bottom-up system, deriving authority from the consent of the governed. Although capitalism is our economic engine, it is not our governmental system. And it appears Trump and like-minded fellow billionaires are trying to engineer a largely self-serving economic system that supersedes our basic democratic political values.
Nearly every war that our country has fought in the past 100 years has been against antidemocratic dictators in the defense of the principle of the consent of the governed. By design, governing in the US is a slow, deliberate process that, ideally, involves all the people voting for their representatives and being able to express their opinions to their representatives and the media.
In addition, the system of checks and balances among the government’s three branches (executive, legislative and judicial) works to safeguard our rights and make our democratic system even more deliberate. It keeps power diluted and out of the hands of a single individual and private entities.
CEOs don’t have to deal with a system of checks and balances. Much like kings, they issue orders and expect them to be followed by their employees without question. Business ethics, which are not always a consideration in some businesses, seems to be an oxymoron in many cases, used to rationalize the cutthroat way in which big businesses are actually run. Democratic governments are the opposite, held to account by the people (or board of directors) and their agents (the press) in deciding matters impacting the general welfare of everyone.
In our capitalist financial system, businesses compete against competitors for market share, thus creating a system of winners and losers. This kind of thinking, when applied to government, can lead and has led to discrimination by deeming some people more worthy than others by virtue of their wealth, age, race, gender and religion.
People who do not vote or look for someone to make their decisions for them are abdicating their responsibilities as US citizens. They are inviting takeover by a rapacious form of government that is much more akin to fascism than democracy.
Consider the many success stories of our present democratic government. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are three, just to name a few. These programs help keep many millions of seniors out of poverty and provide health care for those who otherwise could not afford to get sick. Such humane and compassionate treatment is rarely found in an economic marketplace dominated by CEOs and their business partners.
Other government success stories include the US Postal Service, still the cheapest and most reliable mail delivery system in the world. Locally, our very own Pasadena Water and Power Department (PWP) is a good example of public stewardship of a public program. The PWP, a municipal utility owned and operated by the city of Pasadena, has consistently outperformed its nearest competitor, Southern California Edison, which is a private, investor-owned utility run by CEOs and their minions.
Private businesses and their CEOs are by no means infallible. Remember Enron and Wells Fargo Bank? Talk about a lack of ethics and compassion. Enron went out of business, but Wells Fargo is still operating. Unfortunately, business leaders, unlike elected or appointed public officials, aren’t required to take an oath of office.
Let us not forget that some of our most valuable public servants — police, firefighters, librarians and school teachers — are all paid by our tax dollars, working for not-for-profit entities. They are not the products of CEOs and private business, yet these entities, like all of us, benefit tremendously from those services.
Certainly our current president, who has done everything in his power to dismantle environmental and educational protections, as well as scale back civil, human and voting rights in the name of saving money, eliminating waste and “protecting the public” — all the while allotting vital funds to one of history’s most expensive military buildups — is a prime example of what the leader of a democratic system of government like ours should not be doing to help his or her people.
John Grula and Louis Santilena are Pasadena citizens concerned about our democracy.