Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may appear to be very different personalities, but the longer and harder I look, it seems they are cut from the same cloth.
Businessman Snyder stepped onto the political scene in 2010 marketing himself as One Tough Nerd with a humorous and entertaining commercial. The setup in the commercial came from a deep, sonorous voice-over reminiscent of actor Morgan Freeman. It said that "we've tried career politicians. We've tried happy talk, and we're 50th out of 50, dead last."
Then the visual cuts to a large room with Snyder sitting in a chair in the background. As the camera tightens on him, his whiney voice emerges with: "It's time for a nerd." It was entertaining enough to garner media attention across the nation. Fox News, MSNBC, newspapers, blogs, and pundits all chimed in on the commercial. The coverage was priceless.
It seems that Trump was paying attention. Trump is no nerd. His blustery, confrontational personality seems the exact opposite of Snyder's. But the lesson is that if you entertain well enough, the media attention will come, and to hell with the details.
Snyder's commercial touted: "His plan for Michigan is so detailed that — well, it's likely no politician could even understand it." And he offered no details to the public in his message. Why bother? No one can understand it. That's kind of the nerd credo; we know things that you don't. His assertion that Michigan is "50th out of 50" didn't say what we were last at. Was it jobs, life expectancy, quality of life? That was lost. The real goal of the message was to denigrate traditional politicians and to entertain.
Businessman Trump does the same from a different perspective. He assails career politicians in the same manner as Snyder. Trump is similarly as vague as Snyder on how things are going to get done. There are no details about the near 2,000-mile wall he says he plans to build on the Mexican border with Mexican money. News reports have shown that many Trump supporters don't really believe most of the candidate's stated plans will be done — they just like the fact that someone is saying them.
Trump spent very little on his primary bid because he knew that if he was entertaining enough, news outlets would give him all the publicity he needed. When his hot-button pushing about Mexican rapists got stale, he switched to Muslims, saying he would ban them from the country. When his offensive remarks go too far for other Republicans, he stands pat — sometimes even doubling down on the insult. As he told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show last year, "I never apologize because I'm never wrong."
Snyder does the same thing through his relentless positive action shtick that never requires him to address anything negative. Bring up a problem, and he'll tell you that he is all about positivity and he's not going to talk about that negative stuff.
Maybe that's why it took him so long to admit there is a problem with the water in Flint. And he eventually did apologize, while spreading blame across three levels of government and a few state agencies.
Both politicians have that businessman's urge to get what they want without having to go through the democratic process or reveal their actions to the public.
When Michigan voters ran a successful initiative to reject the first emergency manager law enacted by the legislature and signed by Snyder, representatives just rewrote it and tied it to an appropriation to make it referendum-proof under state law — despite the will of the people. And by the way, Michigan state law already says the governor's office is protected from the Freedom of Information Act. So Snyder pretty much doesn't have to reveal anything he doesn't want to about his communications and private meetings.
Trump actually admits that he lies, because that's how you get deals done — which begs the question of how much lying he will do as he makes his "great deals" for us. He claims to be worth near $10 billion, although most informed prognosticators say he is worth perhaps $3 billion at best. At the same time, Trump refuses to publicly release his tax returns, a time-honored tradition among politicians, but something that makes a chill run down the backs of most business people.
When it comes to the press, neither man is particularly convivial, although both have depended on media to forward their agendas in nontraditional ways. Trump is absolutely offensive when discussing the press, calling reporters sleazy, unfair, and dishonest — "they're terrible."
Rick the Nerd is less combative with the press, but at the recent Mackinac Policy Conference, he said media is too negative and focused on the past. He added that speaking with reporters was like "talking to Eeyore," the gloomy, pessimistic character from Winnie the Pooh.
That's one way to dismiss the press — as a children's book character.
At least Snyder doesn't vocally display hatred of any culture that isn't European and Christian the way Trump does. In the past few weeks, Trump has made negative headlines for saying the judge in a lawsuit regarding the defunct Trump University shouldn't hear his trial because he is of Mexican descent.
But while Snyder doesn't speak openly about ethnic groups the way Trump does, the negative effects of his policies have fallen overwhelmingly on communities of color. Time after time, when Flint residents complained about the poisonous water that came out of their faucets they were ignored because they didn't matter. Residents were told the city's water was fine at the same time that bottled water was being given to state employees in the city.
The state takeover of Detroit Public Schools has been a disaster from both a financial and educational perspective. Even the state bailout stinks of sneering and condescension from the legislature.
Trying to run a government like a business is a big mistake. They are two different creatures, with different needs and approaches.
Snyder is a mildly entertaining businessman who has brought the pain with his spreadsheet-driven, bottom line approach to government. Before the Flint water crisis came to public attention, Snyder had aspirations to run in this year's presidential election. Instead, Trump, a vastly entertaining businessman, has stepped into the breach with his bluster, denigration, and racism.
Snyder has brought terrible disaster to Michigan with his business approach. I shudder to think what kind of disasters Trump would bring to the world stage with the same approach.
Sometimes it's hard to tell just where Detroit is going, but I heard some positive things from Mayor Mike Duggan in the speech he gave at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Gov. Snyder stood more in the shadows, while Duggan played the star. During his address to the conference, Duggan spoke about three specific neighborhoods where the city is focusing development. West Village, the Fitzgerald community, and the area around Clark Park on the southwest side should see a lot of development action in the next couple of years. Each of these neighborhoods is adjacent to areas that already have something going for them. West Village is near the upscale Indian Village; Fitzgerald is part of the Live6 community development initiative and the neighborhood most in need of attention of the three; and Clark Park is near the Mexicantown restaurant district.
It seems to make sense to build out from where we are seeing some success in the city and not spread resources too thin.