Pretend you’re Trump. Then You’ll understand all of his cabinet appointments.

Just like any other person these days, I’ve been dragged into countless conversations about The Donald. When it comes to his conflicts of interest, I find it strange that everyone obsesses about the micro, rather than the macro. Trump’s personality, history, and actual statements paint a pretty clear, consistent, end-to-end picture. Here’s the little thought experiment I have in mind. Hyperlinks summarized at bottom.

Let’s pretend you’re Trump for a second.

You’re a businessman with a global network that relies significantly on the cachet and recognition of your name. TRUMP. You’re also notorious for how much you enjoy the attention that brings you. The future of your businesses — no matter what you say about bringing jobs back to America — is also leaning heavily abroad. Finally, you’re definitely not shy of gaming the system.

Trump.com via AFP

Well, is there any more high profile, internationally recognized position in the entire world than President of the United States? No. Is it illegal to use it for personal gain? Not really. To top it all off, a run for President might make those jerks in Washington take you seriously. So:

Step 1: Run for president and let the publicity — which there will guaranteed be a lot of (imagine the headlines!) — wash over your businesses — again, tied directly to your name, TRUMP — like a wave of cash. You literally can’t go wrong. You even spelled this out in your book, The Art of the Deal: the more controversial you are, the better. It’s time to channel the cliché drama you mastered on Celebrity Apprentice. You’re going to dominate the news cycle: publishers — even the ones that don’t like you — won’t be able to help themselves. You’re bringing ’em eyeballs, after all. So now what? Take over those eyeballs. Run for president and parlay this all into your own TV network. Having your own show was great, it’s time to step it up. These people at your rallies are indistinguishable from the crowds at reality TV talk shows. Capitalize. Maybe you can even cut some deals with foreign governments. This is all leverage.

Step 2: Win the presidency!? You didn’t see that one coming! This is amazing. You now have that ultimate, highest profile, ultra visible position for your empire of name-driven businesses! Perfect. I guess scrap the TV network thing… for now.

Step 3: Well, you’re not just some former executive, like Cheney. You’re not a politician first like — God love ‘em — the Clintons. No, this is YOUR business. TRUMP. It’s your baby, everything you’ve got, and now your kids are actively involved in it, too. Sure, your businesses will stand to benefit from being president, but the really smart thing to do would be to leverage this influence to get cozy with every ultra high profile person. How cool would that be? Don’t you love feeling important and admired? Time to cash in. No way are you giving any of this up. Celebrities, CEOs, Presidents, your influence is limitless. It’s the ultimate business coup. You can call up literally anyone, and they will not only respond, but they’ll probably be desperate to make a good impression with you. Heck, you haven’t even had to try, they’re already coming to you.

Step 4: Think carefully. Every cabinet position represents a chance for you to build a one-of-a-kind, deep relationship with somebody incredibly important — one that can give you tremendous business influence at home and abroad. As long as they have even a remote shot of doing the job, this is your chance to curry some major influence long-term. It can take your businesses to the next level. See who’s interested. Go ahead and entertain some career politicians, maybe throw ’em off the scent with some wildcards. Heck, for some of the irrelevant things — like the environment — pick an actual politician (‘bout time somebody nixed that climate change nonsense). But when you choose the positions relevant to big business, here and abroad, choose wisely. This isn’t about experience. These are great opportunities for you and your kids. Let’s see…

Secretary of State: this is your chance to snag some big-time global influence. Try for the Exxon Mobil CEO.
Treasury Secretary: you’d have the banks in your back pocket if you put in one of their guys (and, boy, do you need ‘em!). Go for the gusto: tap the President of Goldman Sachs. (People picking on them for their role in the financial crisis? SAD!)
FCC: the next best, most powerful industry to banks? The Telecom industry. What if you could sneak in a guy that would really help ’em out? Go for it!
Education: the daughter in the DeVos Amway family is big on that stuff. And their son is behind Blackwater, too. Their influence is invaluable.
Labour: the hospitality industry is central to your empire. How about the CEO of Carl’s Jr’s and Hardee’s?
Commerce: this is a chance to slide in a big-time billionaire. The one you have in mind is worth $2.5B, and he’s an expert at turning around struggling businesses. Useful! Too bad you only have one of these slots. Create some advisory roles to maximize the opportunity. Give one of those to the one and only Carl Icahn (some call him a “vulture capitalist”, but, as you know, that’s a good thing.)
Energy (EPA): it was a good start with Rex from Exxon, but just in case, you should bring on a point-man for the fossil fuel industry.
Small Business: get some entertainment folks involved —like the former CEO of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)
Chief Strategist: keep it rolling with a conservative media mogul that has your most ardent, radical supporters in the palm of his hand.

… This is going great.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters, via Quartz

People don’t suspect a thing. They’re still stuck on your individual conflicts of interest. In the meantime, you’ve already successfully set up a meeting with Tim Cook, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Page, Satya Nadella, and Elon Musk. No matter what they said before, they won’t say no now that you’re President-elect.

They say you’re like a playground bully — but look at you now! You’re in the teacher’s lounge with all the teachers and parents desperate for your approval.

Donald and Hobbes, via imgur

Now stop pretending you’re Donald Trump, because you’re not. One is enough.

Think of this from the perspective of a business-driven individual in politics. We have a name for people like that: lobbyists. Their aim is to sway political decisions and appointments to the benefit of the businesses they represent. Thus, in the U.S., the ultimate coup would be for a lobbyist to gain the highest seat of power — the Presidency — and make all decisions with their business in mind.

Trump is unlike any president in the history of the United States in terms of the ongoing, forward-leaning, direct relationship he has with his businesses. He is not benefitting generally and after-the-fact — he is benefitting in a very direct, visible, calculated way. Trump is not a lobbyist, but he may as well be.

He represents the self-styled Trojan Horse in the White House for Corporate America.

Trump is draining the swamp and turning it into a luxury mall.

You can guess the mall’s name.

Paul Noth for The New Yorker

Related recommended reading:

I don’t go into it above, but it’s important to note that this kind of relentlessly self-serving approach leads to much bigger problems — e.g. the runaway consolidation of power — when coming from an insecure narcissist surrounded by radical yes-men. For example:

Trial Balloon For A Coup? Analyzing the news of the past 24 hrs

The Immigration Ban is a Headfake, and We’re Falling For It

How to Build An Autocracy

History Tells Us What May Happen Next With Brexit and Trump

Summarized hyperlink notes:

via NYTimes

Rethinking the attention economy and wonder wandering.

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