Friday, January 20, 2017

Our best hope for Trump years is that he does nothing but what he does best: Brand & rebrand

I’ve sat in front of a blank screen for the past hour trying to grapple with the enormity of what has happened: An ignorant, autocratic, erratic, irrational, racist, misogynistic narcissist has assumed the presidency of the United States and with it control over a vast rule-making administration.
Erratic though he may seem, Trump’s cabinet speaks to a consistent agenda: lowering taxes on the wealthy and making it easier for a handful of large businesses in a handful of industries to operate while turning the federal government into one giant business-making machine for cronies. Trump’s cabinet promises to take national the disastrous Kansas experiment under Governor Sam Brownback—starving government to the point that it can’t even deliver basic services such as public education. We’ve seen how this approach to governing has failed not only in Kansas, but in states around the world.
Since Trumpty-Dumpty has made the same deal with the devil that other economic rightwingers have made since at least the middle of the 19th century, we will also get a large dose of nativism and racism in how we pursue social and economic policy. Besides the dangers created by cutbacks to funding, the harsh administration of justice and more voter suppression laws,  minorities, immigrants and women also face the ire of Trump’s “basket of deplorables.”Reflecting Trump’s own loose-tongue explicitness, this latest generation of hate-mongers seems ready to become more overt in both word and deed under a Trump presidency.
I believe that, despite voter suppression laws and the rise of the militant white power movement (AKA the alt-right), history, demographics and the facts are on the side of social democrats. Eventually the demographic majority in favor of the left’s platform will turn into a voting and electoral advantage on the state and national levels.  I am, for example, convinced that even if Trumpty-Dumpty survives the next four years without assassination or impeachment voters will sweep him out of office, perhaps even denying him the Republican nomination.
But unfortunately, Trump, Jeff, Betsy, Paul and their cohorts could do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time.
One of any of a large number of actions that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have threatened to do would be disastrous:
·       Ending the current healthcare system without putting in place either a single-payer system or a system that looks like the current one down to virtually every detail.
·       Lowering taxes on the wealthy, with or without gutting safety net and other government programs.
·       Installing a Supreme Court that will continue to grant rights historically reserved for human beings to corporate entities, while constraining the rights of actual individuals.
·       Replacing our public education system with a voucher-based system good for either assembly-line, for-profit charter Mac-schools or parochial private schools.
·       Turning our back on the Paris Accord and promoting the development and use of fossil fuels instead of moving towards alternative fuels.
·       Walking away from international trade agreements and creating barriers to trade except for those related to the environment, safety and compensation for workers.
Like he does with his bankrupt companies, when Trump leaves office, either in disgrace or in a cloud of gilded faux glory, he will leave it to others to fix what he has broken.
But that’s the way of the world. Who suffered when Athens decided to go to war more than the slaves and hoplites who had to do the fighting? It is the poor and the innocent who suffer in wars, not the rich old men (and now women) who send them to fight or order others to attack and plunder their lands.  Who suffers when a Chief Executive Officer, driven by ego and blinded by his (and now sometimes her) ignorance does something stupid like expand too quickly, take on too much debt or borrow money to pay bonuses? The CEO walks away with a golden parachute and the workers lose their jobs and sometimes get shorted on their pension. (Anecdotally, years ago I observed a president of a Fortune 500 company fueled by a cocaine habit drive his company into a chapter 11 bankruptcy and massive layoffs; when he was fired, he walked away with a large severance package).
It’s also not the first time in world history that a large population has fallen under the spell of a mendacious charlatan. Nor the first time that a society has lived by a series of lies or myths.  I would assert that since World War II, we in the United States have based our society on a few wrong-headed ideas that turn out to be based more on ideological belief than facts:
1.    All emotions, rituals and human relationships can be reduced to commercial transactions.
2.     The suburban lifestyle built on cars, malls and few public spaces is superior to the urban lifestyle built on diversity, mass transit and lots of public spaces and institutions.
3.     The free market provides better solutions to social needs and challenges than government does.
4.     There is something suspicious, antisocial and/or uncool about intellectualism, intellectual endeavors, learning and science.
Celebrity culture represents the logical endpoint of the confluence of these false beliefs, and Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of celebrity culture a failed businessman who plays a successful one on TV, someone who is famous merely for being famous, gallivants from one expensive place to another acting out his inner demons in front of a national audience. Entertaining to some, but not the way to run either a business or a government.
While ignorant, bullheaded, self-centered, vindictive and crass, Trump also has a genius in one area—branding, which on an operational level consists of making people want something more than they should by attributing to the thing values and meaning that go beyond its use value. “More than they should” is the important concept here, because in the case of an end to the Affordable Care Act or the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico, the average person should not want to see it happen at all. This one skill Trump has may prove to be the salvation of the country during his years in office.
My best case scenario for the Trump rule is that he focuses on branding and nothing else. For example, the entirety of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act could be replaced by itself but with new names—the exchange could be called a “Freedom Market.” The standards that insure that no one will buy a worthless policy could be called the “Patients’ Bill of Rights.” The individual mandate could be relabeled a user fee—those who go to expensive hotels and vacation resorts should be used to user fees for something they don’t use!
In a similar way, the Trump Administration might rightfully conclude that the cost to modernize our stock of nuclear weapons is too expensive and instead institute a program that pretends to modernize but really decommissions hundreds of our unneeded thousands of nuclear warheads. Trump could call it “Peace through Strength.” The Donald could also very easily do nothing to change our immigration intake process and still call it extreme vetting, wait six months and declare victory in the war to protect our borders, using statistics that reflect the Obama years. Same with crime.
Our best hope, then, is that Trump remains true to his inner Barnum and spends his time in office doing nothing but bullshitting people (and engaging in feuds, of course). Maybe his family and friends will cash in, but we survived Jackson’s, Grant’s, Harding’s and Bush II’s gang of thieves. We can survive a little more kleptocracy and an administration full of empty slogans.
Gridlock never looked so good.

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