First, maybe I should explain: I am a life-long, bleeding-heart liberal Democrat, but this article is not about politics. This article is about collaboration.
President Donald Trump welcomed the Clemson Tigers football team to the White House on Monday, January 14th, 2019 to celebrate their recent national championship victory. Due to the government shutdown that was taking place, much of the White House staff had been furloughed and there was no one available to prepare and serve a meal for the guests of honor. So that the event did not have to be canceled, President Trump personally paid for a buffet of fast food hamburgers, pizza and fries instead. Cardboard boxes containing food were carefully arranged on silver trays. Candles were lit.
On one hand, President Trump should be commended for finding a creative solution so the Clemson team could enjoy an honor they so richly deserved. On the other hand, I can’t help but to wonder what this celebration might otherwise have looked like had President Trump been more collaborative in working to find a solution.
Let’s work backwards.
The Lunch: President Trump must have weighed the optics. Cancel the lunch, and remind everyone that under his watch and during his presidency the country has stopped working. The White House can’t even host a group of college kids for lunch. Alternatively, he could utilize his very best business and leadership skills and develop a solution himself. Write a check. Host the lunch. Make everyone happy.
The Problem: Creative though President Trump’s solution may have been, it was not thoughtful, strategic or visionary. What else could have been done for the football team? How might a number of different problems been addressed at once?
One option could have been rather than paying $3,000 for fast food, pay a little more to fly Clemson nutritionists to the White House, and provide a healthy lunch. Not only would everyone have eaten, but there could have been a valuable teachable moment about the importance of education and nutrition.
Alternatively, President Trump could have worked with other Republican leadership to pay for the food. At a time when Republican leadership was working to find a solution to the shut down, they could have created a moment of positivity and a sense that work could get done. Together, they could have personally raised the funds to pay for the lunch, appear in a photo-op together, and generate some good press for themselves during a very troubling time for the country.
Even better, work with Republican and Democratic leadership together to pay for the food and host the team. That would have been a great way to show the country our leaders can work together without getting mired in the politics of the issues causing the shutdown. Perhaps the Democrats would not have wanted to hand President Trump an opportunity for such positive press, but maybe there would have been enough good press to go around for everybody.
The Shutdown: However, had the government never been shut down due to disagreements about border security in the first place, they would have been able to serve the Clemson team a proper lunch with no trouble at all. Throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump announced repeatedly that he will build a wall along the southern border, and that Mexico would pay for that wall.
He will build a wall. He will serve lunch. He will take care of everything. For his entire adult life, Donald Trump has been CEO of a company that bears his name. A March 2016 article in The Guardian about Trump’s business leadership practices quoted a former employee who said “…he did everything.” He was in charge, and collaboration at his company was most likely exactly what he wanted it to be, just as is the case with CEOs at many privately held companies.
The United States, however, is not a privately held company, and it relies on cooperation and collaboration between branches of government in order to operate well. Donald Trump lost all opportunity for collaboration when he said “I will build a wall.”
He did not say “I would like to build a wall.” He did not say “I look forward to working with Democratic and Republican leadership to build a wall.” He did not say “We need to strengthen border security, and together we can find a way to get that done.” He simply said, “I will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it.”
A Better Way: Nobody ever said collaboration was easy. Collaboration requires us to admit we don’t have all the answers. We need to let go of our ego, and we need to recognize that great things can come when we are generous, transparent and open to new ideas. Collaboration means sometimes letting someone else have the win. It can get messy.
Sadly, more collaboration in Washington D.C. is unlikely. President Trump does not want to be seen as failing to fulfill his key campaign promise. He does not want to give credit to anyone else for a wall he promised to build, and does not want to give the Democrats any opportunity for a win.
At the same time, though border security in concept may be a fine idea, Democrats cannot be seen as supporting Donald Trump’s wall in any way. Although they have supported the idea of building a border wall before, in the eyes of the Democrats, collaborating with President Trump in 2019 only serves to make their chances of a 2020 Presidential win that much more challenging.
It’s too bad. Together, we can do so much more that we can do separately. It might take more time and more effort, but the benefits would be a country that gets more done, a country that is better to our citizens and our neighbors, and a country can serve a bunch of college kids a healthy lunch.