While Donald Trump may have been a political neophyte, he was no stranger to business. As a hard-boiled New York City real estate veteran and entrepreneur, his efficacy at navigating politics and transacting successful businesses is built either on his intrepid intuition or his bombast, depending on who you ask.
After the first few weeks of Donald Trump being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, it was clear that he would be bringing this particular attitude and a post-modern approach to politics in Washington D.C.
As a result of the “domestic emoluments clause”, which states that a President could not “profit from ordinary market transactions”, Trump announced that he would extricate himself from the day-to-day operations of his business to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest and to focus his attention on governing.
It may be argued that both politics and business are transactional industries. In both, nuance is an integral ingredient.
In American politics, everyone understands that deal-making and negotiating are part of the political process but as long as it remained largely invisible, most don’t care. In other words, no one wants to see “how the sausage was made.”
In American business, Donald Trump liked to proclaim he was the master dealmaker, even co-writing the best selling book called “Art of the Deal”. Trump was able to convince the American electorate this was true and he promised to bring his negotiating and transactional business savvy to Washington D.C.
And the rest of the world.
The first indication of his prowess was In December of 2016 when lobbyists funded by Saudi Arabia spent over $270,000 booking 500 rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. Shortly afterwards, President Trump announced that Saudi Arabia would be purchasing 350 billion dollars of military arms from the United States over ten years.
While largely a ceremonial gesture, Trump also used the occasion to announce that Saudi Arabia would be the first country he would visit as President.
Above the bi-partisan outcry of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, Trump assured American citizens and lawmakers that $110 billion would be purchased immediately. Saudi Arabi has since become one of the biggest arms purchasers from the United States. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute America supplies the Kingdom with 70 per cent of its arms.
However, despite their upswing in arms purchases from the US, as of October 2018, Saudi Arabia has only purchased about 14.8 billion dollars, if not less, of arms from the United States.
When considering Trump’s approach to foreign policy, his transactional approach can be found in the current trade war with China. Despite claiming a great relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping, the trade war has been punitive to both countries with President Trump refusing to exercise nuance.
Although the friendship has cooled after President Trump referred to President Xi Jinping as “the enemy” in August of this year.
In any event, it was recently announced that the trade war with China may be easing; a war that has just begun to impact countries from Iceland to Japan. These ongoing negotiations resulted in the idea of rolling back the tariffs that the US and China have placed on each other. While the idea has been embraced by representatives from both countries, it’s been met with resistance within the Trump administration.
Aside from money, the most valued commodity driving President Trump’s foreign policy is respect. A few months ago he abruptly cancelled a visit to Denmark, a longtime NATO ally. Before his visit, President Trump had mentioned an interest in purchasing Greenland. When the Danish president baulked, Trump felt slighted and responded by saying, “Respect must be shown to the United States.”
This particular “disrespect” had two significant impacts. One, it soured a relationship with an ally. Two, it spoiled any discussion about the purchase of Greenland which has been considered a strategic purchase for America for numerous presidents.
President Trump has also had minor confrontations with both Canada and Mexico.
Where he may sense disrespect with some allies, President Trump appears to both respect and feel respected by two of the world’s most notorious leaders, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong-un of North Korea.
With Putin, Trump has had five personal meetings and nine phone conversations with him since his election. Including a private two-hour conversation attended by only their respective translators which has caused much speculation. President Trump also has publicly questioned American security agencies’ results detailing how Russia interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election.
Also, after withdrawing American troops from defending America’s Kurdish allies in Northern Syria, President Trump proclaimed the arrival of Russian troops in the area as a “victory.”
In October of 2017, President Trump took to Twitter to chastise his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for wasting time talking to the “Little Rocket Man”, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Just a few months later, President Trump met with the “Little Rocket Man” himself to negotiate the dictators’ nuclear arms build-up (which the dictator ignored).
At their second meeting, Trump became the first sitting American president to step foot in North Korea.
Despite active American sanctions on both Russian and North Korea, the two strong-armed leaders have proven their respect to President Trump. However, they’ve done nothing to assuage worldwide tensions or fears about either country.
In August of 2019, CNN noted that President Trump’s “US foreign policy often looks like an extension of the family business.”
Just as his impeachment hearings were beginning in October, President Trump highlighted his view on foreign policy and business. He announced that next year’s G7 conference would be held at his own Trump National Doral Miami resort. Once again facing bi-partisan rabble, he changed his mind but not without referring to the emoluments clause as “phoney.”
President Trump appears to be running his diplomatic and foreign policy operations in the same ways he found success with his business. One, making every decision himself by relying on his “great and unmatched wisdom” and two, keeping it all transactional and unorthodox.
While it’s true that the line between business and American politics may be short. The skills required to find success in each may even overlap. However, the subtle differences in each do not always ensure that success in one will lead to success in the other.