The “Because I Said So” Presidency
Much gets written about the lack of coherency in the Trump presidency. Not so much, in fact, for policies do fit within labeled circles. Anything Obama did, I do the opposite. Science means nothing, if the people disagree. Afflict the afflicted—even if they support me—and comfort the comfortable. (I’m sure there are more, so comment away.)
In the foreign policy realm, “because I said so” explains much. Many (most) of us have known (or been, or both) the parent who believes his or her status, alone, justifies everything. Or the boss, dealing with an underling. Or anyone else in a power situation who thinks power, alone, suffices.
That Donald Trump adopts this ethos should surprise no one. In his pre-presidential life prior life—wait, what, Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America—only the bankers had the power to hold him accountable. No board of directors. No shareholders. And, in the starstruck world of America circa the last 50 years, no one else.
“Because I said so” fails leaders in at least three ways. First, it gives someone the opportunity, easily accepted, to skip the steps associated with making good decisions. If I can do what I want without explaining myself to anyone else, I don’t need to gather facts. Think. Plan. I can simply go with my gut. (POTUS told the Washington Post, on November 27, 2018: “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”)
Second, the inherent arrogance associated with “because I said so” shuts down any opportunity for further dialogue. How does someone respond to those four seemingly innocuous words?
Finally, the response depends for success on having the necessary power. In the parent-child situation, at least in the short run, the response works for a while. (Used too often, it likely affects the child adversely.) But, when the child is ready to peek behind the curtains, like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, it’s all over.
In the world in which we live, President Donald Trump has repeatedly, and almost exclusively, depended on “because I said so” to justify everything. The Iran nuclear deal? “The worst deal ever.” Tariffs? “Paid for mostly by China, by the way, not by us.” Paris climate accord? “Draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” On these and many other positions adopted by the Trump Administration, there has ever been any real analysis. Any attempt to think through ramifications. And, as the last few days have demonstrated, no focus on what happens next. “Because I said so” will have to suffice.
“Because I said so” only works for so long with children. Employees don’t put up with it if they have options, either. Other countries? Well, over the past few decades wealth has shifted. That happens, for no country has ever remained at the top of the heap forever. Those countries with which we must share this planet, like Toto and our children, have looked behind the bluster and figured out how to play us. Not always, and not completely. But often enough, and with plenty of skill.
Grownups—real grownups—don’t depend on “because I said so” as a mantra. They gather data, listen, think, and plan. Not so much, with our Commander-in-Chief. And, unless and until the man grows up, prepare for uncertainty and bad times.