Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 11

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 1, 2017

This is my 16th installment to a now-ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections (see Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.) And this is also my 11th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and with many already deeply concerned as to his competency for holding office – and at just 72 days since his swearing into office, counting January 20, 2016: his inauguration day as his day one as president. Many, in fact have held deep reservations as to Donald Trump’s capabilities from even before he was elected too.

I began explicitly offering my own assessment as such, as to Donald Trump’s capabilities for effectively serving as a president of the United States in Part 15 of this overall series, and in large part from a mental health perspective. By comparison to what I have focused on more recently and particularly in that installment, I discussed mental health diagnoses in general terms, in Part 9, and how these mental health assessments would be arrived at and used in a succession in office proceeding. I add that I have just as actively explored and discussed the issues of Trump’s apparent malfeasance in office and in his campaigning leading up to that, that might rise to a level of significance so as to justify impeachment proceedings and removal from office on constitutional grounds. And I have discussed something of his failures in offices to effect change as he would dictate that too. Then at the end of Part 15, I stated that I would turn here to consider “the changes that Trump has been able to advance, including but not limited to his attempted reversal of decisions to stop the Keystone pipeline from being built, and his effort to repeal net neutrality and online personal information protection and personal privacy regulatory controls, as put in place under president Obama and his administration.”

I will in fact delve into those and other issues and into the question of who is actually doing and attempting to do what there. And I will address all of this in terms of a set of basic decision shaping criteria, with explicit consideration of:

• Why a specific action would be contemplated and pushed forward,
• Who would arguably gain benefit from it,
• And who would arguably pay any cost resulting from it.

Understanding who would actually do and want to do what of the initiatives that I will discuss here, means understanding and parsing the proposed decisions and actions themselves as they would variously benefit:

1. Donald Trump himself,
2. Members of his administration, such as Steve Bannon who have their own personal agendas too,
3. Members of Congress and particularly members of the ultra-conservative and alt-right elected wings of the Republican Party there,
4. Lobbyists and special interests that provide major campaign funding for politicians who promote their causes,
5. And last and in most respects least, members of the general public, including members of the ultra-conservative and conservative movements, and yes the alt-right conservative voters who elected Donald Trump and who put him into office and who can keep him and other Republican officials in elected office – and who are marketed to in all of this for their continued support.

And I will address all of this in terms of concerns over Donald Trump’s mental health and in terms of his possible involvement in impeachable malfeasance and in terms of his more general competency as well, as that arises as an issue separate from the first two. But ultimately, I will discuss all of this in terms of the Trump presidency and Donald Trump himself, and how other stakeholders as just listed here would relate to and impact upon it and him. Donald Trump seeks to be the effective and compelling center of his universe and at all times. I will humor him on that request here. And I begin by briefly and selectively listing some of Trump’s change agenda goals, and who he would actively work to support through them. I begin that by considering his priorities list for who he would in fact genuinely actively support on anything.

• First and foremost, Donald Trump seeks to advance and promote the cause of Donald Trump. And he actively seeks to build himself up by tearing others down. There are no win-win or build from others’ success strategies in the Trump lexicon or mindset. So as a general goal and as a particularly important case in point of how that is shaped, president Trump seeks to tear down and destroy anything and everything that he can that could in any way be seen as a positive component to a president Obama legacy – and just because he is the president now and Obama no longer is and can no longer stop him. Trump proclaims that he hates specific laws and executive orders that went into effect while Obama was in office and that Congress enacted during those years. And he repeatedly proclaims that he can do tremendously better, “trust me.” But mostly, and certainly in aggregate, Trump wants to level and demolish the legacy of his Democratic Party predecessor in office, and because he sees that as making himself look bigger and stronger as much as anything else, and because he sees this as strengthening his hold on his base that elected him into office in the first place too – and that would or would not vote for him for a second term too. (Note: I just invoked the above listed least important stakeholder constituency here, and in its natural setting – that of Trump considering what promises would be thrown to his rank and file voting supporters to get them to continue to support the first and most important [to Trump] stakeholder on that list, Donald Trump himself.)
• And second … give him time. Trump has only been president for 72 days now so he is still working on number 2 for this type of priorities list. Up to now, he certainly appears to be taking the Republican members of Congress for granted, as automatically owing him fealty and with little if anything tossed to them in return. So they are not even contenders here.
• As for what president Trump is actually attempting to do for the members of his base, let alone for the United States as a whole and its citizenry, I will at least briefly discuss that here in light of the specific areas of activity and the specific initiatives that he is pushing for. But I will leave any general conclusions as to what that might mean for the general public and for Trump supporters, for readers to decide upon. I will simply note here that the same last place stakeholder group in my above numbered list: Trump’s voting base and the public in general, are at the bottom of the list here too, and a group that is largely taken for granted and tacitly assumed to owe loyalty for being included at all. And the general public as a whole with its Trump detractors included, rate even lower in his eyes than his supportive base does, putting that larger demographic below the bottom of the list here.

Let’s begin with Trump and what he has done, and certainly as his first steps in building his image burnishing legacy. He has issued executive orders and in large numbers. He has selected Cabinet and other high level appointees to work with him who would happily limit and even dismantle the governmental agencies and departments that they would be brought in to lead. And he has made one really large scale, reputation committing effort to push a major agenda item through Congress as new law.

• Some of his highest profile executive orders, and certainly his attempted immigration ban have been blocked and forcefully so by the courts and repeatedly now – but president Trump does see this approach to governance as a way for him to take action more unilaterally and without having to gain (or politically pay for) action or support from others.
• He has faced some real public and political opponent sourced push-back in his appointments and he has faced the embarrassment of seeing a senior member of his team: his first attempt National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, being forced to step down from office. But Republicans in Congress have in general seen their supporting the president on who he wants to work with, as an easy and pain-free way to curry possible future favors from him too – and yes I phrase this in an intentionally negative light but when members of Congress simply go along with approving appointees who want to destroy the departments that they would run and for entirely partisan political, ideologically based reasons, that phrasing might be justified.
• And Trump’s one big legislative push to date has backfired and on both him and on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and on the Republicans in Congress in general: his attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

It should not surprise anyone that when that happened, Trump immediately began issuing a new flurry of hastily drafted executive orders again, to reinforce the image that he is still in charge and that he still holds real power and authority in government. And he immediately, of course also started proclaiming that he was still going to kill off the Affordable Care Act: Obama Care too and that he would push through a new bill to do that as soon as possible. And he is still saying the same thing about his banning Muslims from entering or staying in the country unless they are already US citizens, with promises to try enforcing an immigration ban against them too.

What is president Trump actually accomplishing out of all of his effort, and what is he at least moving forward upon in all of this? Let’s set aside his attempted immigration reform and healthcare law repeal and replace efforts which he is still calling major goals, and look to other matters, some of which have only really just begun to gain significant widespread public scrutiny and particularly given the flood of attention-demanding news revolving around those first two issues. And I begin with one of his more specific infrastructure initiatives:

• Reversing any work stoppage efforts for completing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines as were put in place under the Obama administration.

Donald Trump does not believe that human activity causes or even can cause environmental harm, at least of any significant extent. And he adamantly opposes any claims to the contrary and any scientific research that might even just suggest that human activity might be contributing to adverse climate change as a plausible factor. So he sees no possible downside to pushing for these pipelines to go through and even if that means, for example, specifically violating treaties in place with Native American tribes, whose land these pipelines would cross and against their will. I will come back to more fully consider the rights of others in the Trump agenda later in this discussion after at least briefly discussing some more example issues here, and simply note this detail for now as an important consideration for when evaluating president Trump and his actions attempted and taken in general. And I note this here in light of my stakeholder priority comments as offered earlier in this posting.

Trump is vocally pushing for these pipeline completions, on the publically stated grounds that they would create jobs – fulfilling one of his campaign pledges. And together these two projects would create a few thousand short term construction jobs that would then end with dismissals from employment as initial construction is completed. The analyses that I have seen indicate that a completion of the Keystone Pipeline would create on the order of 35 new permanent jobs total – assuming this pipeline was designed and constructed effectively and as a long-term stable structure that would not require ongoing repairs, and with the possibility of recurring emergency repairs definitely included in that assessment. I have not seen comparable numbers for the Dakota Access Pipeline, but to be charitable here in Trump’s favor, let’s assume 100 new permanent full time jobs for the two projects combined, making the Dakota Access Pipeline about twice as good a permanent job creator of the two. Even together, these two construction projects would not significantly create jobs and certainly in any numbers that would positively impact upon the people of the communities that voted for Trump, where he said he would bring back their jobs en mass and their dignity again. And besides, most of these new jobs would require specialized training and work experience that any prospective hire for them would be required to already have – leaving Trump’s base in exactly the same position that they are in now as their old jobs disappear and as they lack the skills and experience to move on into new work opportunities.

Let’s consider Donald Trump’s supporters in more detail there, and particularly with regard to people like coal miners from states like West Virginia who he likes to talk about – who have seen their livelihoods disappear as the mines that they and their fathers and grandfathers worked in, close and permanently. Trump has promised that he will bring those coal mines back and all of those jobs and all of the communities that those people live in. So he has decided to issue executive orders that would lead, if successful from his perspective, to opening up national lands including national parks to coal mining. This leaves me with a question:

• If he succeeds here in this, would that mean president Trump allowing and even actively supporting the right of private business mining interests to practice mountain top removal and large scale open pit mining of the type routinely practiced in states like West Virginia – where the miners who he claims to so actively support live?

I do not know how to definitively answer that so I simply note that Trump has never voiced any objections to this type of land surface obliterating, massively polluting mining practice when it has been carried out elsewhere in the country: West Virginia included. And Donald Trump and as both candidate and president has made it clear that he sees the national parks, federal wildlife refuges and other special places now under governmental protection to be underutilized exploitable resources: readily available resources that should give way for their interests, when competing with his vision of growth in the country.

President Trump has loudly stated that if has his way in this he will create hundreds of new coal mines, across the country. There are a few problems with that, and even if you set aside any air or water pollution or climate change issues that might arise from this mining itself and from burning all of that coal: low quality bituminous coal and even lignite and particularly polluting high sulfur content coal included. And while we are at it, let’s also set aside the detail that those mines would not for the most part be in West Virginia or other currently affected areas of the country for this, where those communities are and where all of those particular Trump voters live.

The mines that failed and went under, closing for good did not close because they ran out of coal to mine. They closed and were shuttered because no one wanted to buy the coal that they were producing, and certainly not at the price points that their owners had to ask for, per ton if they were to stay in operation – and even when they used cost-savings approaches such as mountain top removal mining. And where coal mines have remained open, they have become more and more automated too, reducing both the number of workers needed, and the proportion of them kept on who do not have specialized training in managing and running all of that new equipment. And the traditionally trained and experienced, mine-by-hand coal miners who lost their jobs from this loss of a market for coal, were not given the support that they would need in order to retrain and move on into new opportunities where they could find stable employment and a return to opportunity for joining and staying in the middle class and yes, the return to respectability that Trump says they have lost but that he will bring back to them. How would president Trump address this need for retraining that they so pressingly face?

• Donald Trump chose a secretary of education: Betsy DeVos who is fundamentally opposed to public schools and the public school system as a matter of ideological principle. And his proposed federal budget would cut a huge amount of funding from education, and for both the nation’s schools and for adult retraining as well – with that directly impacting on the people living in those once-coal mining communities who would need effective retraining opportunities to move back into the workforce and into new work opportunities that are available there.

But Donald Trump says and has been saying all along and from early in his run for the Republican Party nomination, that he will restore jobs and rebuild communities that have been left out of the benefits of change that more adaptable communities have benefited from, and that he will restore dignity. Just don’t ask when or where or how on any of that. He does not discuss the details – except to promise to dismantle the system of resources that the US Federal Government could provide or at least significantly contribute to, that would give these people a way out and up again.

Who would benefit from all of this? President Trump would and certainly if his ongoing promises and gestural actions taken, lead to his retaining voter support and both in any 2020 presidential reelection bid and in his being able to maintain pressure on Congress and in the State Houses and on state governors to follow his bidding. And the fourth numbered stakeholder group in the list that I offered towards the top of this posting would benefit too, and is already doing so: lobbyists and special interest groups. DeVos has to qualify as a veritable gift from heaven for the for-profit schools industry, and their maintaining and even expanding their presence and their profitability in what has traditionally been the public education sector. And other special interest groups have similarly benefited and see prospects of more of that to come. First Donald Trump gave us Trump University. Now he has decided to take that approach, or at least one very much like it and expand it out nationally. And to add one more detail to this puzzle piece, when DeVos testified in her confirmation hearing for being approved as Secretary of Education, she explicitly and repeatedly refused to answer the question, no matter how asked, as to whether she would hold for-profit charter or other for-profit schools accountable to the same standards as are required by law for more traditional public schools. And many such for-profit schools have in fact been rocked in recent years by scandal from failing to perform and from failure to fulfill their contractual obligations to provide quality education. So this is a real cause for concern.

DeVos and her agenda to privatize education along a for-profit model, and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to education as a whole, would effectively move essentially all adult retraining for those who need new skills to return to the workforce, into these unreviewed and unaccountable private sector hands, with their priorities set more on their own profitability than on meeting the highest possible educational goals for their students. One again, think in terms of Trump University here.

And with that noted, I turn to my next working example here, which is also regulatory in nature: financial services reform and the rolling back of both statutory and regulatory oversight of practices followed.

• Trump, and I add a number of members of Congress who are bankrolled for their election campaigns by leaders in the financial industry (among others), actively seek to cut back or even repeal the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, and in fact essentially all of the control mechanisms that were put in place since 2001, to safeguard public interests in the face of possible short-sighted predatory business practices.
• And tellingly, one of Trump’s specific goals here is to repeal a change requirement that the Obama administration put into effect that would require investment brokers and advisors to assume a fiduciary responsibility towards their clients – and act in their clients best interests and not primarily in their own when offering investment advice or making investment decisions.

This second point offers what might be one of the clearest conflict of interest issues that has come out of the Trump administration since its beginning, here pitting the interests of special interests (the major shareholder owners and executives of the largest privately held financial and investment companies and their brokers who get paid on commission, who do not want to be encumbered by regulatory oversight) against the interests of the general public. And this definitely includes an emerging and growing conflict between those special interests that president Trump so actively seeks to champion, and the interests of his own supporters where they have managed to invest life savings for future needs and at even just modest levels. A legally mandated, regulatory requirement for these professionals to take fiduciary responsibility towards their clients was supposed to go into effect before the end of 2017, giving these businesses time to review and adjust their practices to insure their compliance. President Trump has decided to lift that burden from their shoulders.

• And remember in this context that predatory and reckless financial institution practices that significantly included the production and sale of toxic investment “opportunities” to unsuspecting clients, significantly contributed to the creation of the Great Recession – and a requirement that financial advisors be legally mandated to hold to a fiduciary relationship with their clients was pushed through because of that.

And this brings me to the last of the sample list of issues that I said that I would address here at the end of Part 15 of this series (Part 10 of this post-inauguration portion of it): president Trump’s effort to repeal net neutrality and online personal information protection and personal privacy regulatory controls, and not just as put in place under president Obama and his administration but in general.

• Net neutrality simply means that internet service providers cannot play favorites in how they allocate bandwidth and online access availability to different content providers – and by extension to the audiences that would seek them out. This has been pushed for, for a great many years now and was formally established as a governing policy and requirement for all internet service providers in the United States, as a matter of regulatory oversight by the US Federal Communications Commission rulings, on February 26, 2015, under terms of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications act of 1996.
• President Trump, acting on behalf of the owners and executives of some of the largest internet service providing companies in the country, issued an executive order repealing that decision and its consequential actions.

This decision also significantly reflects the pitting of the interests of the American public against those of corporate entities that have come to bankroll elections in the United States, and certainly since the US Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision gave wealthy corporate and individual donors, legally sanctioned approval to provide campaign funds at whatever levels they would want to offer. Think of this and other, comparable changes in regulatory oversight as paying back a campaign support debt owed too.

And I end this narrative with the Trump administration’s assault on personal privacy and on the protection of sensitive personal information. This is a complex and multi-faced challenge that I will only begin to address here, with one specific example: personal healthcare information that an employer could in principle hold against their employees as indicating increased possible health risk and increased possible healthcare expenses that they might face.

• One of the provisions of the failed healthcare repeal and replace effort that the Trump administration tried to push through in recent days: his American Health Care Act of 2017, would have allowed employers to require all employees to enter into and participate in preventative healthcare programs, which on the face of things would not necessarily be problematical. But the way this provision in this law was set up, all employees would be required to join employer managed preventative programs as they are set up and offered by or through them. And all of these employees would be required to turn over all of their medical records to their employers through these programs for their review and for inclusion in their personnel records – including any and all generic screening and other health risk data that might indicate increased possibility of healthcare expenses for the employer.

It would still at least in principle be illegal for an employer to dismiss an employee because of information so revealed, or for them to sidetrack their careers there for this. But this new knowledge would give employers clear targets to dismiss or sidetrack for any other reasons that they might be able to arrive at, and financial incentive to do so where they saw specific employees as problematical for their increased likelihood of raising their expenses. President Trump is actively seeking to roll back personal privacy protections on multiple fronts now, and with no regard for the consequences that this raises and either for members of the general public or for his own supporters, or for businesses for that matter and certainly when that means loosening the restrictions on who can access what customer information, and when those businesses seek to do business with customers in other countries where privacy protection laws are more restricting.

This last example highlights both the conflict of interest issues that I have been focusing on here, where differing stakeholder groups are pitted against each other and with favorites always prevailing there in Trump’s thinking. And it also highlights the matter of lack of foresight and of failure to consider consequences and in all directions.

I could have picked a completely different set of working examples here in this posting. And between that possible same-sized list and the list of initiatives that I did make note of, I would still have only scratched the surface of what Trump seeks to do. I am going to conclude this posting here on that note, only adding that I am going to add another next installment to this narrative in a few days, where I will more fully consider what other stakeholders besides Trump himself are doing in all of this. And I will at least attempt to address the issues of finding a way out of the mess that I have been writing about here in this series, that the United States has found itself in as a nation and that the world as a whole is actively experiencing too.

Early in this posting I raised the issue and challenge of how, and even whether the Trump administration actually respects the rights of others. I will of necessity address that there too, where this set of issues raises a fundamental question as to who Donald Trump actually seeks to be president of and for. In anticipation of discussion to come, I would argue that he does not see himself as working for or on behalf of the country as a whole, with its full range of diversity. And I would argue that president Trump does not actually seek to be president of his own political base either, and certainly if that means actively working for them and even without regard to his own personal interests where a conflict of potential interests might arise.

I have written in this series of 25th Amendment and Article 2, Section 4 succession in office resolutions to the chaotic challenges that we face, as those options are laid out in the United States Constitution and clarified by historical precedent. But these are only short-term solutions at best and would not address the underlying issues that made our current impasse in governance in the United States possible. I will at least attempt to look beyond that level and time frame of resolution in my next series installment, as well as considering those shorter-term fixes for our more immediate here-and-now.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

A brief addendum note, as added on March 31, 2017:
I was planning on ending this posting with the above note but circumstances and events have promoted me to extend this blog entry a bit further with some breaking news. The more ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party could and probably should be natural allies to a Donald Trump presidency and certainly if he were to make even a modest effort to court their support. But Trump takes others for granted, and as either supporters who he sees as simply owing him support and fealty, or as enemies to whom he would show no mercy. This, apparently includes ultra-conservative members of Congress, and of immediate interest here the ultra-conservative members of the House of Representatives who belong to Freedom Caucus there. He lost their votes in his attempt to push through an Affordable Care Act repeal and replace. But instead of reaching out to them to find common ground in anticipation of a next attempt on this and in pursuit of advancing the rest of his agenda – he declared World War III against them! See, for example:

‘We Must Fight Them’: Trump Goes After Conservatives of Freedom Caucus,
Trump’s Threats Against Freedom Caucus Cause Few Shivers of Fear and
Trump’s Biggest Obstacle to Policy Goals? His Own Missteps.

I have written on several occasions now in this series, about Donald Trump’s more self-destructive impulses and he still keeps reminding me how deeply he in enthralled in them. His attacks on the gatekeeper group, members Congress that he most actively needs support from, and with attacks on resistant Senators sure to follow those made against members of the House, may prove to be an historical turning point in his administration and on a lot more than just the long-term prospects of his changing healthcare insurance coverage as he seeks to do. Never underestimate Donald Trump’s ability to self-destruct and completely avoidably, gratuitously so.

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