Donald Trump never learned that pitting people against each other is a failing business strategy. Sad!

Immigration debate shouldn’t be off limits.
Immigration debate shouldn’t be off limits.
Image: Reuters/Monica Almeida
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Donald Trump has built his entire brand and reputation around being a businessman, and more, an entrepreneur. This has always served him well because America is the land of entrepreneurship—present Americans with an entrepreneur, and they will cheer loudly.

However, Trump is not truly an entrepreneur, nor does he exhibit any common traits of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are, of course, an immense and diverse group of people with members of all possible political perspectives. But there are a few key behaviors that unite this group. The biggest unifying factor is a strong disposition to view their initiatives as ongoing experiments. As such, the entrepreneur’s playbook demands entrepreneurs do whatever possible to discern the cold, hard facts, then act on them quickly to achieve success.

Entrepreneurs—that is, the good ones—do away with all aspects of “success theater,” as they know it will eventually steer them towards ruin. A good entrepreneur would never engage arguments about inaugural crowd sizes—this is wasted energy, and entrepreneurs have no energy to waste. Likewise, to true a entrepreneur, inventing off-the-cuff “alternate facts” to alter vetted facts would be absurd—this pursuit is antithetical to their goal of understanding and acting upon truths.

Entrepreneurs’ playbooks also include looking for win-win situations when possible, cultivating thriving ecosystems and partnerships, and communicating messages of inclusiveness. These traits help entrepreneurs successfully introduce new value to the world.

Trump does none of this, because Trump is not an entrepreneur. Trump, as has been said, is a dealmaker, with a playbook grounded solidly in conflict, division, and adversity, which he uses to get his way. This is how Trump built his real estate business, how he ran his reality TV show after his real estate business went bankrupt, how he ran his campaign for president, and how he is now running the country.

Dealmakers are very different from entrepreneurs—and employ fundamentally different playbooks.  

Trump’s playbook is simple, and it is the same today as it has been since the beginning of his career: Divide people against one another so you can negotiate (or renegotiate) a better deal. This playbook involves pitting groups against each other, making outrageous claims to throw people off balance, walking away from the bargaining table in a huff, reneging on deals you’ve already made, and lying at the drop of the hat to make your case. 

We’ve saw Trump do all of this three times on the political stage, in rapid succession.  

First, he took on the Republican party, who initially deemed him an invader and a divider and tried to fight him off, even going so far as to disrupt his nomination at the Republican National Convention. When the GOP failed, and Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy successfully earned him the Republican nomination, they reluctantly fell behind him.  

Next, he took on the fight for presidency, using the same playbook: Divide and conquer, lie to make your case, throw people off balance, and generally sow chaos. Again we saw failed resistance, this time from Democrats.

Now we see Trump quickly pivoting to take his playbook of division, lies, and chaos to the world stage. In one week he managed to polarize the world into “us” versus “them.”  Mexico, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Sudan are now “them,” the US is “us,” and everyone else is going to have to choose sides. 

This should come as no surprise—this how Trump has always operated, because it’s who he is. He is not an entrepreneur, he is a conflict-based dealmaker. And it’s exactly what we can expect from him for another four years. He will try to divide the world into us versus them, throw people off center, blow up agreements, walk away from contracts, and run his plays in order to get better deals (better deals for whom you ask? Well for Trump, of course.)