As Donald Trump campaigned for president, much was made of his business success and the prospect that he would bring a CEO's approach to the nation's highest office. Many Americans, especially those of a Republican frame of mind, like to talk about "running government like a business." While some business principles can be applied to governing — efficiency and cost containment come to mind — Trump's own approach has been nothing short of disastrous.
There are two kinds of CEOs, because there are two kinds of big businesses: Public companies governed by boards of directors who hire a CEO and answer to the company's shareholders, and privately held companies, which are sometimes led by a CEO who answers to no one. Trump's business operation was the latter, and he is finding out that the United States government does not work that way.
The president, as Trump has discovered to his frustration, must deal with Congress, which may or may not do his bidding even when his own party controls it. He must contend with the courts, a third branch of government with the power to strike down executive orders. And ultimately, he answers to the American public — the shareholders, if you will — who want to see that their investment of tax dollars is returning the kind of government they want.
Even within his own executive branch of the government, the president's power is tempered by traditions of independence, such as in the Justice Department, which may be called upon to investigate the actions of administration officials. Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, while within his power, raised questions about his motivation that still have not been completely answered. Reports that he demanded a pledge of personal loyalty from Comey and that he asked Comey to drop the probe of national security adviser Michael Flynn, if true, indicate he neither understands nor respects those traditions.
Trump's decision to reveal classified information from a strategic partner of the U.S. to Russian diplomats during a meeting in the Oval Office — first denied by White House officials but then confirmed by Trump's own tweets — is, again, within his power as president, but hardly likely to inspire the confidence or trust of this country's allies.
Trump's standing with the American public isn't great, either. As of Monday, the Real Clear Politics average of all polls showed Trump with a 40.9 percent approval rate and a disapproval rate of 53.8 percent.
In the business world, when a CEO loses the confidence of the company's shareholders, the board of directors can remove the CEO. In government, it's not nearly that simple. A loss of confidence alone is not enough to force a change of leadership.
But even some of Trump's most fervent defenders are beginning to question this president's actions. And his presidency is only 117 days old.