Please, Pres­i­dent Trump, take a real va­ca­tion

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - DOYLE McMANUS doyle.mcmanus@la­times.com Twit­ter: @DoyleMcManus

Dear Pres­i­dent Trump: It’s time you took a real va­ca­tion. You’re at a golf course; go out and play a round or two. We’ll for­give you. Have the grand­kids over. In­vite some friends for din­ner. Sit down and read a book. Not much of a reader? Fine, watch a movie. This “work­ing va­ca­tion” thing isn’t work­ing — for you or any­one else.

Al­ready, in only a week, you’ve threat­ened to at­tack North Korea with nu­clear weapons, re­peat­edly. That knocked the fi­nan­cial mar­kets off their all-time highs, and it didn’t make the rest of us feel safer ei­ther. You at­tacked Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, your most im­por­tant ally in Congress, as a slacker. You praised Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin — sar­cas­ti­cally, your aides in­sisted — for ex­pelling Amer­i­can diplo­mats from Rus­sia.

If this is your idea of a va­ca­tion, we can do with­out it.

Yes, we know you mocked Barack Obama for the time he spent on golf cour­ses and the va­ca­tions he took in Hawaii. We know you promised that you’d work so hard for your vot­ers that you’d never take time off.

But we’ll let that go. It was a dumb prom­ise when you made it.

Know who was the cham­pion va­ca­tioner among modern Amer­i­can pres­i­dents? Ron­ald Rea­gan. He aban­doned Wash­ing­ton joy­fully ev­ery sum­mer to ride horses and chop wood at his ranch out­side Santa Bar­bara, some­times for six weeks at a stretch. The me­dia made fun of Rea­gan’s long Cal­i­for­nia so­journs, but his pres­i­dency turned out pretty well in the end.

The key word may be “joy­fully.” You may be the only pres­i­dent who ever man­aged to look re­sent­ful about tak­ing your va­ca­tion — a pause you in­sist was re­quired solely be­cause the West Wing is get­ting a new heat­ing sys­tem. (If that were true, you could have sim­ply moved your of­fice across the street, but never mind.)

“Work­ing hard from New Jer­sey while White House goes through long planned ren­o­va­tion,” you tweeted de­fen­sively on his first day at the coun­try club. “Go­ing to New York next week for more meet­ings.”

Here’s what you get wrong that Rea­gan got right: Va­ca­tions are good for ev­ery­one, even pres­i­dents. Decades of aca­demic stud­ies have shown that work­ers are more pro­duc­tive when they get time off — real time off — for sev­eral weeks a year.

Henry Ford, not a slacker, was one of the first in­dus­tri­al­ists to re­al­ize that giv­ing em­ploy­ees breaks could make them more ef­fec­tive. Ford no­ticed that as­sem­bly line work­ers were less pro­duc­tive af­ter they had clocked 40 hours a week.

More re­cent stud­ies have sought to ex­plain a rid­dle: Em­ploy­ees in France and Ger­many take much more paid va­ca­tion each year than Amer­i­cans, but they’re more pro­duc­tive dur­ing the hours they spend at work.

The cause, re­searchers have con­cluded, is that peo­ple who know they have va­ca­tion time avail­able be­come more ef­fi­cient when they’re on the job.

“It’s not that tak­ing a break will re­fresh your brain and let you get more done,” Jack Zenger and Joseph Folk­man wrote in Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view. “Spend­ing less time at your desk forces you to waste less time.”

Rea­gan’s ver­sion was homier. “There’s noth­ing bet­ter for the in­side of a man than the out­side of a horse,” he of­ten said.

It’s good for any­one, even a Type A mogul, to break out of the cy­cle of non­stop meet­ings now and then to carve out time for long-term think­ing. Trump’s not do­ing that on his non-va­ca­tion. He’s hold­ing plenty of meet­ings with aides, on opi­oids and Afghanistan as well as North Korea. He’s watch­ing lots of ca­ble news; on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, he retweeted five items from “Fox & Friends” be­tween 6 and 6:30 a.m. Af­ter his meet­ings, with fewer staff around, he’s hold­ing im­promptu news con­fer­ences; he took more ques­tions from White House re­porters in two days last week than the en­tire month be­fore. (That’s how he sur­prised his staff with that un­scripted threat of “fire and fury” against Py­ongyang.)

“When you put this guy in a cage and think you’re con­trol­ling him, things like this hap­pen,” a Trump con­fi­dant told the Wash­ing­ton Post.

I was on a work­ing va­ca­tion last week too, at a cabin on a lake in Canada. No “Fox & Friends”; no tele­vi­sion at all, in fact. I did have ac­cess to the In­ter­net — but I stayed off Twit­ter. That turned out to be a wise de­ci­sion, es­pe­cially last week.

Here’s what I got done: I swam across the lake with my daugh­ter. I helped a 10-year-old take her first solo ca­noe ride. I re­paired a sag­ging wooden dock.

No meet­ings, no con­fer­ence calls. But I did read four books and watch two movies. I even man­aged to write a news­pa­per col­umn.

I had the lux­ury of un­plug­ging from the world, at least partly; a pres­i­dent can’t do that com­pletely, even if he wants to. But Trump, and the rest of us, would be bet­ter off if he spent more time on the golf course.

So, Mr. Pres­i­dent, take some time off, please.

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