By Faroll Hamer From The Washington Post
April 8, 2016
Faroll Hamer retired in 2014 as director of planning for the city of Alexandria.
I spent 30 years as a city planner in the D.C. area, and a big part of my job was meeting with developers. Over time, I created what I called the Developer Profile to entertain my staff. If you want to understand Donald Trump, start here. Of course, I would never say all developers are like this. (But they are.)
They have short attention spans. They’re terrible listeners. They come to meetings to negotiate the fate of a project and can’t sit still — they rock and jiggle while you talk to them, waiting for you to finish, then say their piece and leave. There’s no dialogue.
They don’t read. Sending a letter or an email is useless. You have to pick up the phone and talk to them.
They view themselves as victims. They see regulations as getting in the way of what’s good for economic development and society as a whole, and believe governments exist to pick on them. Everything they do is for us, because they are building places for us to live, shop or work. And it’s true developers play an important role in the growth and revitalization of cities. So they’re not just victims, in their minds, but heroes, too.
Risk just doesn’t bother them the way it does other people. You can really lose your shirt as a developer. The good side of this risk tolerance is that developers are decisive and can take bold action. The scary side is that they sometimes brush aside legal obstacles to what they see as a worthy goal. They know the difference between right and wrong, but often they aren’t particularly worried about the letter of the law.
While tactically inventive, they are strategically unimaginative. They’re not people who enjoy creative thinking or the big picture; they’ll build the same building over and over, but they are endlessly flexible about achieving each project. It’s all about the next step. In negotiations they’re willing to get only part of what they want because they know they’re going to come back and get another part and another, until before you know it, they have it all. They’re into getting their nose under the tent.
Because they concentrate on immediate tactical goals, you can’t expect consistency of argument from them. They’re extremely pragmatic. They have no interest in ideology. They value loyalty over principle — you’re either in the circle or not — and they’re usually generous to loyal friends of every race and gender. The ones at the top are driven, expansive people. And since they identify their projects with the general social welfare, they tend to be a little megalomaniacal. Almost any attention you give them is good. They don’t mind being teased, but pointed criticism is unacceptable. That might sound contradictory, but it’s the way they are.
What does this tell us about what Trump would be like as president? The Developer’s Profile can give us a pretty good idea.
On those few issues he identifies closely with, such as trade and restricting immigration, he would be unrelenting and inventive. He really would build a wall. He can’t keep Muslims out of the United States or return lost jobs to the country, but he would do what he can and call it a success.
On many of the other issues that a president deals with, Trump is perfectly unqualified now and would stay that way. He is a quick study, but only about things that interest him. He would rely on staff, which is probably good, depending on who’s around him. In foreign policy, he would have little strategy. He would play the victim, be reactive and unorthodox. Being risk-tolerant, he may do things that are truly dangerous. Being willing to cut losses, he would be more likely than other presidents to leave allies in the lurch.
The positive side of having no strategy is that he’s not an ideologue. On many issues Trump would govern as a pragmatist. I doubt he’s a racist — developers don’t care if you’re black or white. But he has become the candidate of racists, which presents him with a problem: How does he satisfy this constituency without turning the rest of the country against him? This is the sort of difficulty you get into if you act for short-term tactical gain without principles and without knowing where you’re going. Multiply this problem by a thousand if you’re president.
And it’s when a developer encounters political resistance that his sense of victimhood really kicks in. Trump has called himself a “counter-puncher”; once offended, he reacts with little restraint. But Twitter insults are pretty trivial. The presidency is not.