Lately I’ve been considering why it is that I find it fairly easy to understand President Trump’s actions. Today I realized that we are both builders who are the sons of builders.
My dad, Benson Eschenbach, was an architect, a developer, and a builder. After WWII, he moved the family out to San Diego, California. There, he and a couple of partners developed one of the first architect-designed subdivisions where the houses were not just cookie-cutter boxes. He was instrumental in developing what was called the “San Diego Style” of architecture. Not all architects are builders, but he loved to work with his hands.
Of his five sons and three daughters, my two younger brothers and I have all made our living as builders. But every one of Dad’s kids can build at some level. We learned the game as Dads private workforce, brothers and sisters alike. He’d buy some old building, and then go to work fixing it up with us kids pitching in depending on our skill levels. We also helped him build two houses that he then lived in and eventually sold. In the process we all learned to build houses from the ground up. And I mean we learned everything, from architectural concept, reading blueprints, staking out the foundation, mixing and pouring and finishing concrete, through the framing, the plumbing and electrical and the services, the finishes, the flooring, shingling the roof, and ending up by ticking everything off the final punch list of items. What I mostly learned was how you get a building built. Want to know the secret? It’s simple.
Once you start out on the path to the finished building, you stay focused on the finished building, ignoring everything else, and you do whatever it takes to get the building done. In other words, it’s all about the building first, the building second, and everything else is a distant third.
One of the most recent buildings I built was a villa in Fiji. I was the Construction Manager for a multi-million dollar resort project. This was the model villa, 4,000 square feet (400 square metres) of luxury.
I was in charge of all phases of construction, from ordering the materials, to hiring the subcontractors, to settling labor disputes, to sourcing materials from Fijian villages for the thatch roofing and local stones, to quality control of all aspects of the project, to hand-holding the architect and the investors and the interior decorators. Everything to do with the building landed on my desk.
So … care to know what I thought about the Fijian building trades unions? Was I in favor of unions, or was I opposed to them?
If and when the union leaders helped get the building finished they were my best mates. If and when they got in the way of the building, I hated them.
Care to know what I thought about some unpleasant materials suppliers in Suva? I loved them when they sold me building supplies, and I hated them when they got in the way of me finishing the building, and I never let my personal dislike for them affect my business dealings with them.
Care to know what I thought about the project architect? When he’d allow me to build a part of the villa the way it should be build, he was the man. When he proposed unbuildable things, as architects who are not also builders do from time to time, or when he put “TBD” for “To Be Detailed” all over the plans and then was slow providing the details, I hated him.
Now, nobody was in any mystery about where I stood at any instant. You might have noted that I’m not exactly shy about revealing my thoughts about a situation. Nor am I a man to suffer fools in silence. But it was business, and businessmen understand other businessmen. I might have gotten angry when the load of supplies didn’t show up on time, and I might have hollered at the contractor.
But builders are eminently practical men, we’d work it out. Builders can’t afford to get stuck in arguments or disagreement. We have them, no doubt. We might even lose our cool at times … well, actually we’re pretty much guaranteed to lose our cool at times.
But at the end of the day, we don’t burn bridges, because everything revolves around the center, the axis of the spin, the reason we’re there, what pays the bills—the building.
Builders can’t afford to get all butt-hurt because somebody said something mean to us, for one reason—the building. We can’t give up on anyone, for one reason—the building. Yes, someone might oppose us today and we might get angry at them … but tomorrow they might just be able to help.
Not help us, of course, but help the building get finished. And for that, there are no absolutes. There are no limits. There are no permanent enemies and no eternal friends. If Vladimir Putin can help the building get built then he would be my friend, but if he stood in the way of the building I would oppose him with all I’ve got. The media folks find this mystifying, but it’s how builders get things built.
Short version. There is only the building. What helps the building today may hurt it tomorrow; and if so, I as a builder will support it today and oppose it tomorrow without even considering that to be the slightest contradiction.
And to circle back to where I started, after I’d fully developed this idea and had it half-written I turned on the TV. After watching a while, there was the Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, discussing the now-infamous Southern Wall. Sean was asked if the President intended to stay involved with the project … clearly the person asking was never a builder. A builder is incapable of NOT being involved in a project that they’ve started. If you don’t get so obsessed that you consider every detail and can’t let the project go even after someone else is in charge, you’re not a builder.
In any case, what the Press Secretary said was:
On the wall, I mean, the president’s a builder. He understands and I think he’s gonna make sure that as this project moves forward he’s gonna stay in touch with Secretary Kelly to make sure that it fits his specs. But he takes enormous attention to detail and he wants to make sure it gets done right. So I would expect that a project of this magnitude and one that is this high in his priority list will get the necessary attention from the president.
I cracked up.
So if it’s not clear why the President is doing something at some point, consider just what it is that he is building at that given moment … and then look at his actions through the right lens—not the lens of the builder, but the lens of the building. You’ll see that he does what he does because he thinks it will move the building forwards. Now, he may be wrong, it might not help, it might hurt … but that’s why he’s doing it.
Finally, this mindset of a builder may lead to some curious consequences. Consider that the President is now in essence building a dozen or more buildings at once … and that some of what is good for Building A will assuredly be bad for Building B …
I’m sure you can see the problem.
However, having said that, the President is a builder, and that’s the kind of puzzle that builders live for.
Will he make mistakes? Assuredly. Will there be a million issues? You bet. Will the President blow hot one day and cold the next? If the building requires it, sure, and the media will assuredly excoriate him for being “wishy-washy” or for “flip-flopping” … flip-flopping? No problem, he’d do handstands if it helps get the building over the finish line.
But none of those is the important question. The important question is, will the building get finished?
In most cases, assuredly, and maybe even on time and under budget. Buildings. It’s what builders do.
Best to everyone,
My Usual Request: If you are commenting please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS THAT YOU ARE DISCUSSING, so we can all understand your subject.