Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 12

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 5, 2017

This is my 17th 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 12th 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 76 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 have, and essentially of necessity been explicitly discussing Donald Trump himself and his still emerging presidential administration, since the start of my post-inauguration phase of this narrative with its Part 6 installment. But my primary goal for most of that progression of postings and certainly from that installment on, has been to offer a foundation for better understanding where we are now, how we got here and what might come next, and from a constitutional law and historical perspective and with relevant discussion as to how mental health diagnoses are professionally arrived at and what they mean. My goal in that has been to provide an essential background narrative for understanding our current situation and its specific context. And in the course of developing and offering that, I have addressed the issues of how our nation as a society is divided up into ideologically distinctive groups, and how they each variously view the Trump presidency, and Donald Trump as an individual. Collectively, those and related issues that I have added into this mix form a complex but essential story that we need to at least be aware of if we are to make meaningful decisions as we move forward, and certainly as citizens in a democracy.

I explicitly switched directions in the last installment of this series before this one: Part 16, to directly present my own views on Trump and his administration and presidency, as I have come to see them and both from following the news and from my research and writing effort in laying out the back story of all of this, as outlined in the preceding paragraph. And that has meant my considering the Trump phenomenon in light of a set of possible reasons for the chaos that he has created and that he continues to spread forth, and both from his pre-election campaigning and since then:

• Donald Trump might be mentally ill and in ways and in degrees that would render him incapacitated from effectively carrying out his constitutionally mandated duties of office as a serving president of the United States, or
• He might be so toxically entangled in impeachable offenses as specified in the Constitution as to justify and even demand his removal from office because of that, or
• He is so incompetent and so incapable of in any way growing into the job that he can never effectively function as president and even if he were to be proven mentally healthy per se and even if he were not involved in acts of impeachable malfeasance.
• Or he might be operating under some combination of these three dysfunctional causes.

My goal here is to continue the line of discussion that I began in Part 16, where I primarily focused on what Trump himself has done and on what he has sought to do, and directly. I intend to focus more in this installment on what others have been doing and seeking to do in the Trump administration, that could arguably at least align with the Trump vision.

I will in fact address that set of issues, but before I do I want to add some additional details to what I offered in my Part 16 posting, and particularly where I wrote about West Virginia coal miners and Trump’s pledge to restore their jobs, their dignity and their communities – when the mines that they and their fathers and grandfathers worked in were closed for structural economic reasons that he cannot change. I offered that case in point example of how he addresses the concerns and fears and hopes and dreams of his supporters, to highlight how and even whether he actually seeks to honor the campaign pledges that he made to them, that prompted them to support him with their votes. And I recommend you’re reviewing what I said there about these supporters and about what Trump is doing and trying to do that would address their challenges – and with much of that actually going against their interests. But for here, let’s start from a logical starting point to this narrative and with the coal mines that these people have worked at, and their viability in a changing marketplace and world. How viable is a proposed restoration of coal mining greatness in the United States and in states like West Virginia, here and now in this emerging 21st Century?

Why did those mines close? No one wanted the coal that they produced, and certainly not at the price points that their owners would have had to charge if they continued simply using traditional pick and shovel mining techniques and all of those laborers. And automation has in large part replaced traditionally trained and traditionally skilled miners where enterprises such as coal mines have stayed in operation in the United States. And the pace and reach of this type of automation has only continued and even accelerated in industries like mining. So even if there were to be a resurgence in coal mining in the United States, that would not mean a significant return to employment or even to employability, at least in that industry and certainly not for Trump’s supporters from the old coal mining industrial past.

Tellingly, as of this posting’s writing according to US Department of Labor employment statistics only some 5% of the West Virginia work force still works in the coal mining industry at all now. So Trump is addressing a nostalgic past in his reemployment campaign promises there, more than he is a viable reality when he proclaims that he will open the mines again. And as discussed in Part 16 of this series, he is doing so while shutting doors to possible alternative ways out of this unemployment crisis and into new opportunity for these supporters too.

Some and even a significant number of working age citizens of that state would in fact probably go back to coal mining if they could – if mines were to open in their state and their locals in it, and if those mines could be made profitable enough to stay open as competitive profitable enterprises and with manual labor doing virtually all of the actual mining again. And this would most certainly hold for those who have never found or effectively pursued opportunity to develop new skills for new types of employment in other fields. But that does not necessarily or even significantly likely include the young adult sons and daughters of still out of work miners, who are more likely to have at least attempted to move on to other areas of employment in other industries – and who are more likely to have succeeded in that than their older relatives.

With that follow-up note added to the Part 16 narrative, I turn to the issues that I said at that end of that posting, I would focus on here. And I begin that: this second step discussion of who is doing what and who is trying to do what in the Trump administration, with this reminder of the level of actual impact that many of these efforts and attempted efforts would actually have. That context is vitally important, when considering the who of this and their varying motives and agendas in all of this. And I begin here with Donald Trump’s inner circle and with his Cabinet officers and his senior appointed aides and assistants.

I began addressing this at a Cabinet position level in Part 16 when I wrote of the Department of Education and Trump’s choice to lead it: Betsy DeVos. She walked into that job with a clearly stated, openly acknowledged goal of essentially disassembling the public school system in the United States, and certainly insofar as that can be accomplished from a federal governmental level, with replacement of traditional public schools by for-profit privately owned businesses that offer less regulated and less accountable private school options. And she walked into that job with personal financial conflicts of interest entanglements in this too.

Donald Trump likes to talk about “draining the swamp” as if anything done by government and at any level was by definition toxic, and even when that means government support of areas of common public interest that have always seen significant government involvement. And he talks and talks about ending the “administrative state” and in the same vein as that, where in Trump-think and Trump-speak, public sector is automatically bad and private (and particularly unregulated private sector) is automatically good. Think of his new heads of high level federal agencies and departments as detail oriented enablers for helping him to realize his overall vision here, where issues of personal conflict of interest do not matter as much as their helping him to achieve this overall goal. But many of these people have their own agendas too, and that is where this narrative gets interesting. And this is also where conflicts of interest challenges really begin to enter this narrative too.

Let’s consider more of the participants in this group than just the one example already cited and discussed, starting with at least a few more of those Trump administration Cabinet level appointees themselves. And let’s start there at the top with Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. One of the most pressing and troubling areas of entanglement of interests that Donald Trump and his administration faces, stems from how evidence has been growing as to how the Russian Government, under Vladimir Putin, actively sought to influence and even suborn the 2016 US elections and both for the presidency and for members of Congress. Rex Tillerson, as board chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobile, was as deeply entangled in both Russian private sector and Russian government interests as anyone in the entire United States – and in reward for his support there and certainly to Putin’s government there, president Putin personally awarded him the Russian Medal of Friendship. This is the highest award that the Russian government ever gives to a foreign national.

Tillerson has stepped down from his leadership positions at Exxon Mobile, but the fact of his involvement there and the depth and reach of that – and the lack of transparency into most of this has to raise at least some questions, and particularly with regard to what Tillerson might see as his next, post-secretary of state career step. What bridges has he kept open and available and according to what agendas and whose agendas?

I do not know how to answer a question like that, and simply note it here as one that has to be considered, and particularly as more and more emerges as to how the Russian government sought to suborn United States elections, and as more and more emerges as to how at least other members of Trump’s team were in covert and quite probably illegal contact with Russian government officials during that period, and immediately leading up to it. That, I add, included direct contact with members of Russian governmental intelligence agencies that would have been directly involved in and even hands-on responsible for this election “influencing” activity.

Returning this line of discussion directly back to Tillerson again, even just within the United States his career path and at least some of the decisions and actions that he has taken raise further questions as to how he would contribute to discussion and policy planning related to business and environmental deregulation and a variety of other crucial issues. His publically stated and presented position as a corporate leader has been pro-business expansion and even when that has meant taking a strongly anti-environmental and anti-regulatory position and repeatedly and on essentially all fronts.

Trump’s pick for the secretary of the treasury position was Steve Mnuchin. He is one of an assemblage of Goldman Sachs alumni who have held senior positions with that American based, multinational financial firm who now hold senior positions in the Trump administration. And he built his reputation at least in part in how he has actively fought against essentially any regulatory oversight of financial industry practices, including the requirement that financial advisors hold to a fiduciary relationship with their clients: placing the interests of those clients first, and not just their own.

Both of these selections, both approved by a Republican led congress, raise what should have been seen as red warning flags and for both Democrats and Republicans during the confirmation hearings. And both are now members of the Trump team, but both also have agendas of their own to pursue too, just as DeVos does.

And to add one more member of this new Cabinet level assemblage to this line of discussion, consider the new Trump administration Secretary of the Interior: Ryan Zinke. As an elected official in Montana’s state legislature and in both houses there, Zinke frequently voted against environmentalist positions on coal extraction and on oil and gas drilling. And he takes a position that human activity has neither caused nor even significantly contributed to climate change, and directly denies any possible validity of the anthropogenic climate change model, insisting that climate change as a whole is a politically partisan hoax.

On a positive note, unlike Trump himself Zinke has spoken out against simply turning federal land over to state control and he has spoken out against increasing access to federal land for private business resource development and exploitation too. Zinke, of course would only carry the weight of one voice in any discussion of that, and not the most powerful voice at that. But I am not making note of this simply to state that Zinke can take positions at odds with those of his boss and at odds with at least some of his fellow Cabinet level officers, and on at least some matters. I make note of this to highlight two more widely significant facts that in fact address more than just this one appointee:

• Even Trump’s inner circle has people in it who think for themselves, and yes both from their own agendas and from their own convictions,
• And that while they can be self-serving, none of these people should be seen as being evil per se. Short-sighted and focused on one’s own needs and evil are different things, and their limitations and failings as appointees and as office holders more likely fit the former of those two patterns of failure than the later of them.
• And I add this cautionary note to this narrative here, as members of Trump’s inner circle are alternately lionized and demonized and with nothing considered in the middle, and to specifically state that both extreme views are in error and that both simply stop possible dialog. These people in actual fact live and breathe and decide and act in that missing middle ground arena. It is just that all too often, they are way too oriented in that middle ground towards what a longer-term consideration would call a dysfunctional and ill-considered short-sighted side of it.

I could continue down the list and specifically consider more or even all of Trump’s Senate confirmed cabinet appointees, but will stop here for now on that part of this narrative. DeVos is entangled in the for-profit school industry, charter schools included, and she has her own agenda for promoting them and for protecting them from scrutiny where possible. And her own personal fortunes are tied up in this too, as well as her ideological bent. I am not in any way seeking to argue that charter schools cannot work or that they cannot provide good or even excellent educational opportunity; some are excellent and meet genuine need. But this is not about good charter schools in particular or even about bad ones as case in point examples. This is about an attempt to change the entire educational landscape, and in ways that would block transparency and militate against holding these for-profit schools to high standards in order to make sure that the good ones are supported and endure and that bad ones are weeded out.

Parallel arguments could be made with regard to many of Trump’s other Cabinet officers as well. If president Trump is “draining a swamp,” what is he refilling it with? And what are the personal agendas in all of this of the people he has brought in to actually hands-on manage this draining? Remember, president Trump is not a details man and this is where the details count – that these appointees are left to decide upon, and act upon as well.

And this brings me to Steve Bannon and Trump’s other leading non-Cabinet appointees, who he can in most cases bring in without Senate or other approval and confirmation required. And I set the stage for discussing these players, and for further considering his Cabinet level appointees as well, by offering a brief list of factors that a more self-serving member of this larger group might strive for, setting aside any possible accompanying effort to meet the needs of the nation or of the American public as a whole:

• Their own increased personal wealth,
• Their own increased personal power and authority, and
• Their own increased realization of their vision of ideological purity as implemented fact.

All three of these drivers are very overtly shaping both the selection of who Trump appoints and seeks to appoint, and what they do when actually brought into office.

I begin here with Steve Bannon himself: the éminence grise power behind the Trump throne, who arguably holds more actual day-to-day power in making specific decisions than Trump himself does.

Let me clarify that assertion with a telling and oft-noted detail that Trump himself has actively and publically acknowledged. He does not seek out or want briefings from even the highest level advisory team at his disposal for helping to keep him up to date and informed about national security issues. He refused to attend national security briefings when offered them as a presidential candidate and he has continued that pattern while in office. But Bannon had Trump sign an executive order making him both an active participant in US National Security Council meetings, and a member of their executive level Principles Committee.

National security professionals from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other actively involved groups do not have Trump’s ear and certainly not directly and the way they have had with prior US presidents. Everything they would say gets filtered through people like Bannon, who selects and edits and spins according to his own personal interests and his own agenda. Trump has publically attacked the professionals in these agencies and for both their professionalism and for their patriotism and he turns to people like Bannon, and to Bannon in particular to get his briefings there. And he has done so precisely because those professionals have found and reported on findings of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, as well as other Russian covert spying and yes, espionage activity as carried out in the United States and against American interests.

• The basic pattern just noted here regarding national security, applies equally to seemingly every other area of government where a president needs factual understanding, if they are to make effective decisions. Trump is surrounded by people who he has chosen, who feed him selectively what they want him to hear and what they think he would be positively receptive to, given his preconceptions and opinions – that are all too often driven by his unwillingness to back away from anything that he might have late-night tweeted to his alt-right fan base.

This narrative at least touches upon two of the three motivating drivers that I just listed here in this posting as shaping the decisions and actions of Trump administration appointees: personal power and authority, and their vision of ideological purity as it might be implemented in fact. I will leave it to others to more specifically address whether or not Bannon and his colleagues in this also seek increased personal wealth out of their participation in a Trump administration, simply offering here a link to this recent news story as it touches upon this type of issue:

Trump Aides’ Disclosures Reveal Surge in Lucrative Political Work.

And I add to this, the simple and recurringly validated observation that many who enter into public life and certainly at a federal level, come from industries and businesses that are directly involved in areas that they would act upon and even regulate in the course of their governmental duties. And that this applies to both elected and appointed positions and to the people who hold them. So “their own increased personal wealth,” as listed above as a motivating consideration, does not necessarily just mean what they can gain while in office. It can also and very significantly mean what they can set themselves up for, when they rejoin the private sector workforce again after their time in public service, and with the networking reach and the voice of authority of having held a significantly placed position in government service to build from.

We all know of Bannon and also of Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer. They are all but constantly appearing in the news these days. And we can all expect to become more familiar with names such as Carter Page too: a now former Trump administration foreign policy advisor who has just been reported to have given information to Russian intelligence agents: spies (see A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy.) This, apparently never came out in the Trump administration vetting process, but then again very little has and even when after the fact disclosures have indicated that there was much to find. That emerging fact, has come back to raise questions about president Trump and his administration as a whole. These and a growing number of others in his administration have become and are becoming lightning rods for the administration, drawing concern and doubt and anger and pushback against anything and everything that Trump would seek to do. How many others are there in his administration who if publically found out would generate the same levels and types of scrutiny and perhaps even more?

I will finish off this portion of this posting and the posting as a whole with one more news story link that expands this line of discussion and its issues to more fully include Trump’s administration as a whole, and certainly his collection of senior appointees as a whole:

White House Wealth: Trump Employees Disclose Their Finances.

These disclosures by others in his administration, serve to highlight yet again the fact of, and the significance of Trump himself refusing to publically disclose any of his own finances, his recent tax forms definitely included.

I am going to finish this line of discussion in a next series installment where I will consider Congressional participation in all of this, and both for legislation proposed and for efforts to among other things, block House investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections, and into possible collusion in that on the part of people who worked in the Trump campaign and people who now work in his administration. I will also have more to add regarding president Trump himself and his family, and what they are doing in all of this.

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

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