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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Summarized hyperlink notes:
- On his brand: What’s in a name? For Trump, it could be $3.3 billion [*At least, according to him.]
- On his oversized ego: The problem with being Trump is the same thing that explains the enormous fame and success of Trump: a naked neediness, a certain shamelessness, an insatiable hunger to be the largest, loudest, most honkingly conspicuous presence in any room… Contented people, well-grounded people, people at ease inside their skin, just don’t behave the way Trump does.
- On his business leaning abroad: Mr. Trump’s companies have business operations in at least 20 countries, with a particular focus on the developing world, including outposts in nations like India, Indonesia and Uruguay…
- On not being shy… : In both Monday’s debate and since, the campaign has offered an at-times-brazen and sometimes-more-diplomatic defense [of not paying taxes]: It’s just “smart.”
- … of gaming the system: How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions
- On Trump being OK with using office of President for personal gain: President-elect Donald Trump said Tuesday the law protects him from possible conflicts of interest with his sprawling business empire. “The law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” he told The New York Times, according to a transcript of the interview.
- On the motivation of his presidential run: Donald Trump’s Presidential Run Began in an Effort to Gain Stature
- On outlining his approach to getting attention long ago: Donald Trump, of course, truly does believe that “all publicity is good publicity.” It’s how he’s conducted his entire career. “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal in 1987. “If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
- On how his time with Celebrity Apprentice — and the mainstreaming of reality TV — made his presidential run possible: Ever since Donald Trump first appeared in the 1970s, he has seemed tacky, an archetypal Ugly American in an ill-fitting suit. […] For years, he was a footnote skulking around the edges of American culture, showing up in episodes of Sex and the City and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He was such a cartoonish presence… […] In the early 21st century, reality TV has moved from a genre relegated to daytime programming or interspersed between music videos to the prevailing form of entertainment. In 2015, 750 reality shows aired on TV, compared to 409 scripted shows. Along the way, the format became legitimized.
- On the media not being able to help themselves: “Trump doesn’t force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting. Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings — and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain.” and ‘The dirty little secret is that the vast majority of [super-PAC] money is going to these media outlets, so they’re making money hand-over-fist in advertising and making money with ratings.’”
- On Trump’s campaign being modelled after reality television: “If the 2016 election seems to be more like a reality TV show than an election, it is for a simple reason: it is. I should know. I spent years producing reality TV, and this one is a ratings winner, even if it is a disaster for the nation.”
- On Trump’s plans to parlay the coverage into his own TV network: In June, Sarah Ellison reported, “according to several people briefed on the discussions,” Donald Drumpf was exploring “the possibility of launching a ‘mini-media conglomerate’” after the election. and …according to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the “audience” currently supporting him. He has also discussed the possibility of launching a “mini-media conglomerate” outside of his existing TV-production business, Drumpf Productions LLC.
- On Trump’s audiences strongly resembling reality TV talk show audiences: [video via Wall Street Journal]
- On how Trump immediately began capitalizing on his captive audience: Donald Trump Used Campaign Donations to Buy $55,000 of His Own Book. Sure enough, delegates in attendance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July were given canvas tote bags, stamped with the Trump slogan, and filled with copies of Crippled America.
- On Trump possibly cutting deals with Russia before the election (particularly in context of now-proven Russian election meddling): more here, and brought to my attention by “Reuters reported (in great detail) how 19.5% of Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, has been sold to parties unknown. This was done through a dizzying array of shell companies, so that the most that can be said with certainty now is that the money “paying” for it was originally loaned out to the shell layers by VTB (the government’s official bank), even though it’s highly unclear who, if anyone, would be paying that loan back; and the recipients have been traced as far as some Cayman Islands shell companies. Why is this interesting? Because the much-maligned Steele Dossier (the one with the golden showers in it) included the statement that Putin had offered Trump 19% of Rosneft if he became president and removed sanctions. The reason this is so interesting is that the dossier said this in July, and the sale didn’t happen until early December. And 19.5% sounds an awful lot like “19% plus a brokerage commission.”
- On Trump not actually believing he would win: “Drumpf told Christie in 2015 that he didn’t expect to make it past October — at which point he would endorse Christie, according to a Christie adviser who asked not to be named in order to speak about behind-the-scenes maneuvers,” according to the book, written by CNN’s Thomas Lake with reporting from Jodi Enda, Susan Baer and CNN’s political team.
- On Trump perhaps getting his own TV network (paid for by the public), after all: Buried on page 1,404 of the National Defense Authorization Act that passed last week is a provision that would disband the bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent U.S. agency that includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks. […] That change, combined with a 2013 legislative revision that allows the network to legally reach a U.S. audience, which was once banned, could pave the way for Trump-approved content created by the U.S. diplomacy arm, if he chooses to exploit the opportunity.
- On Trump’s love of admiration and adulation:
- On business leaders trying to curry favour immediately: Indian Business Partners Hope to Exploit Their Ties to Donald Trump
- On Trump’s cabinet picks not having any experience: President-elect Donald Drumpf brags he’s picked “the best people” to serve in his Cabinet. But as the billionaires, business leaders, and other nominees started their march through the Capitol for confirmation hearings, it’s clear many don’t have one quality: expertise in the departments they’ll run.
- On Trump needing the banks (RE: appointing Goldman Sachs exec): A Guide to Donald Trump’s Huge Debts — and the Conflicts They Present — “All of Trump’s top properties — including Trump Tower, the Trump National Doral golf course, and his brand new luxury hotel in Washington, DC — are heavily mortgaged. That means Trump maintains critical financial relationships with his creditors. […] The troubled German bank is Trump’s top lender and has been for years. When the rest of Wall Street essentially abandoned Trump years ago, apparently frustrated by his business tactics, Deutsche Bank stuck by the celebrity developer. Well, not all of Deutsche Bank. In 2005, Trump borrowed $640 million from a group of banks, including Deutsche Bank, to build his Chicago tower.
- On Carl Icahn bailing out Trump: During the campaign, Trump suggested Icahn could be treasury secretary. Icahn acquired the bankrupt casino, one of several Atlantic City gambling halls formerly owned by Trump, in 2015.
- On Trump appointing the richest cabinet in history: Last month, the Politico news website speculated that the combined wealth of the cabinet could top $35bn — though this depended on the inclusion of oil mogul Harold Hamm as energy secretary and includes a claim by Mr Trump that his wealth exceeds $10bn. Quartz subsequently pointed out that the $35bn figure exceeded the annual Gross Domestic Product of Bolivia.