One of the greatest American myths, one that rivals that of the cowboy riding the range and dispensing rough justice with his six-shooter, is that of the big-hearted American businessman. He’s the virtuous hero of the economy, benevolent god of jobs, great generator of prosperity. Though this myth has thrived particularly in the last century, in the last forty years it has gone into hyper drive. The words “job-creator” and “entrepreneur” are now spoken in reverent tones, and business schools are viewed with the awe usually accorded to ancient temples of wisdom.
Given the strange reality of the 2016 presidential campaign, could there be a better moment to debunk this craziness?
Here is the truth of it: people in big businesses don’t give a rat’s ass about your job, your community, or the nation as a whole. People in big business (small business is a very different animal, mind you) are interested in one thing only: making money. Now if in that pursuit they hire and pay people to work, people who in turn go out and spend money, well, that’s great. But don’t think for a moment that if those business people could make their money without you–by using robots or by hiring people in another country to do the work (oh wait, this sounds familiar)–that they would do so in a heartbeat. Because–and please don’t miss this–business doesn’t care about you.
If you look at our history, you will note very quickly that those who have created and run the largest businesses in America are, in the overwhelming majority, a rum lot of rapacious maniacs who have had no time for family life or for civic duty. It has always been about the money. It HAD to be. How else to crush competitors and dominate markets? And were it not for government regulation and oversight, these people would, for example, build autos full of safety hazards. They would sell you items that do not perform as advertised; they would sell you foods that poison you. If you think this is fiction, I invite you to look back at the history of construction, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and other businesses. In the early 1900s, prior to government regulation, meat packers would mix floor sweepings–and God knows what else–with their products for sale to the public. Horrible, yes, but fantastic for the bottom line!
My point here is not that all big business people are ogres, but that shared prosperity–including your job–is a by-product of regulated business, and not what business would create if left to its own devices.
And so we come to Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. It is sick and insane, yes, but in light of the Mythical Big Businessman it makes at least some sense. You see, a large number of Americans, through their acceptance of the Myth, actually believe that someone like Trump has genuine concern for our society and its people. They see Trump as a hard-nosed but good-hearted guy who has always had his country’s welfare in mind. As a “deal maker,” they see him as just what we need to take on our country’s economic issues and it’s political ones, too, since he will knock some heads together out there in the world and get America some respect again. Reality TV as perfect training for high-level international relations.
Of course this is all pure luncheon meat. Anyone looking at his history can see what Trump is: a mentally ill egotist who is particularly good at manipulating our silent prejudices and irrational grudges. He has always been about money and about winning, by fair means or foul. Is this admirable? Maybe, if you buy into the Myth, and have not been personally victimized by his lying and cheating. But it is impossible to sell him as a family man and good citizen. Not only has he never demonstrated any qualities in those categories, but has shown himself to be quite the opposite: a thrice-married searcher for the next trophy wife, someone better at hype and manipulation of the system than at actual performance in business, and a guy who above all doesn’t want you to see his tax returns.
As we look at the polls and marvel at how much support he has, try being a little less amazed. Remember, along with our love of the Big Businessman Myth, we are a people more disgruntled than ever in the post-Recession, NAFTA economy; and we’ve had little or no help from a government that seems suicidally attached to partisan gridlock.
In this environment, for some, even Mussolini would look good. Hot tip: Keep your eye on Trump’s bottom lip the next time you see him speak.