The Fantasy of the Non-Politician President

Political conservatives in the US may be more deeply divided than at any point in my lifetime. Ugly infighting over who should be the nominee is nothing new. The desire to overturn the status quo by means of a non-conformist, anti-establishment candidate isn’t all that new either.

What seems to be new is a combination of factors:

  1. Much higher levels of disappointment and frustration with “the establishment”
  2. Much lower awareness of the weaknesses of populist political thought
  3. A famously contrarian (to put it nicely) TV celebrity working the populist angle
  4. High polling numbers for a strikingly long period of time, fueling the feeling of inevitability

It’s probably obvious who I’m talking about, even without looking at the photo.

Item 4 has lost some weight since Cruz’s victory in Iowa Tuesday. But it may be back in place more firmly than ever if Trump is victorious in New Hampshire. That seeming inevitability alone has handed Trump some endorsements from leaders who usually show better judgment.

Item 1 has apparently brought many to such a level of desperation that they’re ready to do absolutely anything that seems different. And so, even in Iowa, many showed a willingness to do the political equivalent of “Let’s run full speed off this cliff and see what happens! That would be something different!”

Underlying this phenomenon is the fantasy of the non-politician President. The thinking is basically this:

  • The Founders never intended for the nation to be ruled by a professional political class.
  • Our problems (border-control/immigration, Obamacare, increasing gun control, lack of effective response to ISIS et. al., executive branch overreach, loss of religious freedom, economic stagnation, etc.) have been brought to us by professional politicians or those who caved to “establishment” pressure.
  • The solution to the mess we’re in is to elect a President who is not a professional politician/not beholden to “the establishment.”
  • Trump is not a politician.
  • Therefore Trump should be elected (regardless of anything else that might be true of him.)

This thought process is futile at best and may well turn out to be disastrous.

Politicians and Non-Politicians

Supposing for a moment that all the premises in that bullet list are factually correct, the chain of reasoning itself doesn’t work. The logic is basically that all P (politicians/”the establishment”) are C (causers of all our problems), therefore all non-P can are anti-C (curers of all our problems). Another leap or two on top of that brings us to the conclusion that non-P candidate Trump is the solution we need.

But this is like reasoning that since all cats are bird-killers, all non-cats are bird protectors. Tell that to the giant bird-eating spiders of the Amazon.

It takes a highly clouded state of mind to reason that if all “establishment” politicians are causers of what ails us, all anti-establishment non-politicians are curers of what ails us, so we should just latch onto the most famously anti-establishment/non-political candidate we know of.

What’s a Politician Anyway?

People associate all sorts of bad behavior with “politicians”—from reckless mudslinging to trading favors, promising action for dollars, outright lying, using the system to pad their own pockets, saying whatever they have to in order to get elected, and shady dealings of all sorts.

Whether or not it’s fair to view all politicians as guilty of all these things, it’s certainly easy to see why this sort of behavior is associated with those repeatedly elected to public office.

But which of these activities has Trump not practiced in the corporate setting—and bragged about later? Trump backers, wake up: the despicable behavior we associate with career politicians or “the establishment” is not transformed into admirable behavior when it occurs in the private sector.

The essence of politics is making deals and garnering support in order to win votes (whether ethically or unethically). And the corporate world also abounds in making deals and garnering support in order to win votes—by shareholders, boards of directors, and consumers.

Does anybody think that the successes Trump has seen have occurred without making deals and garnering support in order to win votes?

Trump supporters, I hate to break to you, but—Trump is a politician.

What Becoming President Does to You

The non-politician President is a fantasy because there is no guarantee such a man would make different policy decisions. It’s a fantasy because successful large-corporation leaders really are private-sector politicians. But there is third reality that kills the dream: Even if someone managed to become a nominee for President as a bona fide non-politician, the process of getting elected by the entire nation would transform him or her into a politician.

It’s pretty much part of the definition of “US President” that you have to make deals and garner support in order to win at least one really big vote.

So if he isn’t a politician on November 8, whoever wins is a politician when he wakes up on November 9. But the reality is that nobody even comes close to occupying the Oval Office without learning the arts of gaining the support of large constituencies long before Election Day.

But for those who want a non-politician President, reality is even worse than all that. Even if a non-politician manages to be a leader of the stature people would want to serve as President, and even if he somehow gains office without becoming adept at politicking, unless he sleeps through the next four years, he will have to become a politician in order to get anything done.

He will have to make deals and garner support in order to win votes.

What Being a Non-Politician Doesn’t Do for You

The remaining bit of faulty thinking in the “Trump is the non-politician leader we need” mindset is probably the worst of all. It’s the irrational feeling that if a man is anti-establishment and non-political this somehow makes all of his other flaws of no consequence. He’s going to be something different, something fresh, something contrary, so it’s okay that he utters something insulting, petty, or crude (often all the above) every other time he opens his mouth (or his Twitter account)? He’s anti-“establishment,” so it’s okay that he has openly bragged of multiple adulterous affairs? He has cultivated a reputation for being willing to do pretty much anything to get his way, but it’s okay because he’s “not a politician”?

Non-politicians are not guaranteed supporters of the causes we value. They are not found among the leaders of large corporations. They do not win nominations or become Presidents. They do not accomplish anything if somehow they do become Presidents. And they do not qualify as persons of admirable character while having all the same traits we despise in politicians.

8389 reads

There are 3 Comments

Jim's picture

I won't be voting for him: Either I will write in someone's name or vote 3rd party. But I predict (you heard it here first!) that Rubio will be the GOP nominee. 

Eisenhower and Hoover were effective Presidents and were not primarily politicians. (I know Hoover gets trashed because of the depression! - see Mississippi Flood

On effectiveness (my lifetime only): LBJ was very effective - Obama very ineffective. 



Aaron Blumer's picture


There have been Presidents who were relatively less political. Arguably also effective.
Unfortunately these prove nothing about Trump.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting that Hoover gets trashed because his policies--fairly relentless inflationary monetary policy and government spending hikes--were a milder version of FDR's, but without FDR's charisma.  

And Trump?  Talked with Bubba before declaring, historically holds positions that are carbon copy Clinton.  Do the math.  

But to the subject, a good leader must at some point be a good politician.  You simply have to have those soft skills that are required to reach people, especially when the psychologists tell us that a great portion of politicians score pretty high on the narcissism scale.  Now while I'm sure "The Donald" knows well from personal experience about narcissism, I think he's going to be less able to deal with narcissists at a more equal power level.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.