Government is not a business. The purpose of a business is to make money. Governments have many purposes, such as to establish justice, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare, to name a few. Generating profits and enriching shareholders are not the goals of government and are often not congruent with serving the people.
President Donald Trump claims to be a businessman in addition to a politician and former game show host. Indeed, many people voted for him because of his perceived and stated business acumen. They probably did not eat a Trump steak or fly on Trump Shuttle, although it’s possible they won money at one of the casinos formerly owned by Trump while he was doing his best Fredo Corleone “I’m going to learn the casino business” impression.
Businessman-candidate Trump said he’d hire the “best people,” yet many of his former campaign and White House employees are going to have trouble finding employment at any place that asks applicants to disclose arrests and convictions.
Pres. Trump showed his business-first approach in his downplaying of the coronavirus pandemic. He stated in a recorded interview by Bob Woodward on Feb. 7 that the virus was deadly and then admitted in another interview, recorded by Woodward on Mar. 19, that he “always wanted to play it down.” Additionally, in a March 31 press briefing, in response to CNN’s Jim Acosta, he said that “I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible and I knew it could be maybe good,” while also saying that he wanted to be “a cheerleader for our country.” That explains why he tweeted on Feb. 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
The motivation behind the president’s downplaying of the virus is pretty obvious. He valued the performance of the stock market and other economic statistics, increases of which he credits to his own performance and uses in his own campaign, over public health and safety.
History is replete with businesses that chose their profits over the health and safety of consumers and the public. In the 1970’s, Ford produced and sold the Pinto despite knowing that the car could explode if it were hit from behind. It chose not to fix the problem because the parts would have added two dollars to the cost of each car’s production. Explosions, deaths, lawsuits and recalls followed.
Tobacco companies knew about the addictive nature of nicotine and the harms of cigarette smoke for years yet covered them up and marketed cigarettes to young people. Profits, illness and death followed and so did judgments and penalties.
Yet another executive who put profits over people was Stewart Parnell, formerly the CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America. In 2006 he knew that peanut butter produced by his company was contaminated with salmonella and ordered it shipped anyway. As a result, nine people died and hundreds of others became sick. Parnell was convicted by a jury and is now serving a 28-year prison sentence. There are many more examples, especially in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.
President Trump’s decisions to lie to the American people about the severity of the novel coronavirus likely led many other people, including state and local political leaders, to not take it as seriously as they should have and also delayed federal and state distancing measures that could have slowed the spread and probably also have saved thousands of lives. The economy is in worse shape as well.
The president is immune to suits related to his official acts and criminal prosecution for the mishandling of this pandemic or lying about it is not likely. But he could lose his job. Any executive that ran a business in the way Trump handled the pandemic would be fired. That’s business and politics. Trump the TV businessman even had a catch-phrase for it.
Christopher DeMatteo is a trial attorney whose firm DeMatteo Legal Solutions is based in West Haven. He is also a registered write-in candidate for Connecticut State Senate District 28 (Fairfield, Newtown, Easton, Weston Westport).