It would be hard to fashion a more exquisite snare for a man like Donald Trump than the modern, institutional presidency. Just five months into his term, he appears trapped by its constraints—and the harder he tries to escape them, the more thoroughly entangled he becomes.
On Thursday morning, President Trump again lashed out at the “bad and conflicted people” investigating him for obstructing justice. “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story,” he tweeted. But to take Trump’s charge at face value is to read it as an indictment of his own blunders. Trump is claiming that there was no underlying wrongdoing, but his decision to fire his FBI director sparked the appointment of a special counsel who’s now exploring whether it was a criminal act. This, he says, is a purely self-inflicted wound—or, as a senior administration official told The Daily Beast, “The president did this to himself.”
Trump is, in many ways, a man out of his time. He ran his business as he is attempting to run the presidency, as a 19th-century style entity, built around its proprietor. But the federal government has long-since evolved into a modern bureaucracy, an institution Trump appears to have neither the experience nor the patience to successfully operate.
Trump’s business empire sprawls into hundreds of LLCs and licensing agreements, but at its core, it takes a familiar form: the proprietary firm. Built around its founder, generally branded with his name, its reputation intertwined with his, and its affairs directly under his management—this was the dominant form of business in the United States until the final decade of the 19th century.