Think About It: Transactional … say what?

Transactional. My love of words and curiosity about their use cause me to ponder the fashion of using one word over another. Why is it one word sticks in media vocabulary and spreads like a contagion through commentators?

For example, several years ago, the verb “resonates” was used to say an idea, concept, description or the like strikes a positive strong chord with a segment of the public or public in general. Not surprisingly, the origin of resonate is music and harmony. We’re not hearing it as much anymore, which in my view has less to do with the state of our affairs than with the word being overused and, therefore, used up.

Transactional is a term that’s become fashionable in describing how President Trump works. “President Trump is a transactional President,” more than one knowing commentator has alleged.

I don’t know what it means — literally, politically, practically, or to the direction of the country. For all I know, having a transactional President is the best thing that ever happened. I’m going to find out while I write this column. Join me if you wish.

Word sleuthing

Transactional is the adjective form of the noun transaction. The dictionary (Oxford) definition of transaction is “an instance of buying or selling something; a business deal.” Synonyms include business deal, undertaking arrangement, bargain, negotiation, agreement, settlement, proceedings.

That sounds familiar.

All of us know what a transaction is. We have one nearly every day either when shopping for groceries in our town or online. Some of us buy and some of us sell. Transactions are between two parties in which one gives, and one receives or in which both give, and both receive through a process of negotiation.

Sometimes, it as simple as “you drive the kids to school every other week and I will on alternate weeks.” Sometime, it’s as complicated as the Iran Nuclear Agreement or the Paris Climate Accord.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Our world revolves around transactions. Aren’t business people transactional in their dealings? Aren’t we all in some way transactional people?

Applying transactional to our President, who defines himself as a dealmaker and a negotiator who gets things done seems accurate to me. He is, after all, a businessman whose work it is to produce through relationships with lots of people.

President Trump is frank in saying that his measure for his success is the amount of money he’s accumulated … billions. Much of it has been accumulated through buying and selling whether it’s his name for a residential complex — something he can sell more than once — or branding a university that promises to make students successful deal-makers.

We know that before he became President, he unloaded a Florida property at a hefty profit. He built huge buildings. He’s been into various products from ties to steaks. Some work, some don’t; that’s business.

President Trump had his share of business troubles but rose out of them by declaring bankruptcy and walking away from some deals he made such as bank loans or contracts to provide work on his behalf. He wasn’t deterred that American banks refused to loan him money. He simply went abroad, borrowed money and made deals.

By his measure and the measure of many others, he has been quite successful in business.

The question becomes: Can a transactional businessman be successful as a transactional leader of a country, specifically the President of the United States? Is that what we want?

TA of transitional leadership

TA … remember TA — or Transactional Analysis — that was popular last century? I don’t, mainly because it gives me a headache to try to sort through the psychology applied to relationships analysis that will lead to mental health.

TA was another one of those terms that was popular for a while and faded. Professionals still may be practicing it, but under another name. As much as I don’t want to think about it, I’m not above borrowing the term to further our understanding of transactional leadership.

I have pointed out in prior columns that our current party in power leans toward policies that benefit businesses. The party has a strong belief that thriving businesses supports its workers and both will spend money that will create more demands, hence jobs. So, anything that constrains business is bad and anything that frees business is good.

A recent deal seems to have been struck within the party in power that turned a formerly suspicious conservative party establishment into a supportive cheering section for our President.

A transactional leader, proven wealthy businessman is just the man for the job which has proven true given deregulation in just about every area of government and corporate tax cuts.

I should add that the President and the party also support a strong military border security. What the party in power shies away from are policies and spending that invests in individuals, such as education and health care.

However, they are willing to negotiate or barter with the minority party over its desire to invest in people, the most recent example being around DACA — Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, an action rescinded by the President.

The party in power alleges support to the DACA children but is using it as a bargaining chip to gain a wall along our southern border. I can’t help but see this particular transactional negotiation as akin to protection money, as in I won’t burn down your store if you give me money. An estimated 1-2 million children, some who are now established adults, are being held hostage to extort money.

But then, business is tough. Businessmen sometimes walk away in their own self-interest from promises made in prior negotiations, leaving the poor suckers who believed in their common interest.

This country elected a pro-business President and Congress. We shouldn’t be surprised at what we got. At least, we know what to call it.

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at

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