Monday, 11 January 2016

Donald Trump, "Crippled America" (2015)

Over the last decade or so Donald Trump has made a surprising conversion; he's gone from the relative anonymity of business success, to hawker of schlocky business advice books and seminars, to host of a reality tv show parody of business skills, to Tea Party-esque 'birthed', to US Republican party presidential candidate. Among these roles, however, was no experience with government or public service. I wanted to see how the realities of Trump's history might be managed to present him as a serious contender for US leader. His book lived up to every expectation his previous work created.

My review of the book is not based on my perception of Trump's policies, but on my assessment of the book as political biography/manifesto. It was helpful, however, to get a sense of Trump's policy-making logic. The book came across as an extended, unedited interview with little attempt to be reflective. A multitude of contentious assertions are made that sorely require some citation of evidence if they are to be considered as plausible. Annoying self-serving claims such as "I'm a nice guy" are repeated frequently, and give more an impression of insecurity than of the presentation of a self-proclaimed hard-headed pragmatic businessman. The book on the whole is alarming light: little meaningful biographic information, little meaningful policy, shallow analysis largely unattached to any supporting evidence or facts. I can only assume this book was intended, at best, as a fundraising venture. If so, the cover photo should have been rethought… or was purposely intended to be so weird that consumers would buy it simply to figure out what the heck Trump was thinking when he approved it.

Select quotes, with comments:
Preface: You Gotta Believe
“There’s nothing to be joyful about. Because we are not in a joyous situation right now.”

“People say that I have self-confidence. Who knows?”
--- COMMENT: What a strange comment. The rhetorical question hardly seems necessary, but does point to an important concern for Trump. One of Trump's repeated claims is that he's a 'nice guy'. Either he believes he's not, and is trying to convince his reader of something he doesn't believe, or he believes he is and is convinced that no one else believes it. If he's shy about claiming his self-confidence, it would seem he's not sure of his identity. Maybe his claims to being a 'nice guy' are an attempt to convince himself?

“I persevered and went directly to the people, because I don’t need anyone’s financial support, nor do I need anyone’s approval of what I say or do. I just had to do the right thing. I had to do it. I had no choice. I see what’s happening to our country; it’s going to hell. I had to do it.”
--- COMMENT: What confounds me about this comment is the idea that running for president is the only thing Trump could conceive of to do for his country. As a wealthy American business owner, that he had little record of previous public service or engagement suggests that his claim to actions based on moral necessity is weak.

“We need to outline commonsense policies and then knock some heads together if necessary to make them work. The fact is we are over-regulated. People can’t move. They’re stymied. Companies can’t be built. We’re over-regulated.”

“I’m a really nice guy, believe me, I pride myself on being a nice guy but I’m also passionate and determined to make our country great again.”

1. Winning Again
“I realized that with my well-known success story and record of building residential and office buildings and developing public spaces—all the while accumulating personal wealth—I could inspire people to help create the most massive turnaround in American history.”

“I’m not a diplomat who wants everybody else to be happy. I’m a practical businessman who has learned that when you believe in something, you never stop, you never quit, and if you get knocked down, you climb right back up and keep fighting until you win”
--- COMMENT: I find Trump's characterization of the goal of international diplomacy - to make everybody else happy - quite intriguing. Rather than pursuing the interests of the state, the public good, or peace, Trump believes diplomats are simply self-sacrificing do-gooders? Or, is he purposely belittling diplomacy to build a stronger case for aggressive, self-confident, independent action that ignores negative consequences for anyone else he might be trying to co-exist with.

2. Our “Unbiased” Political Media
“…politicians who boldly promise they are going to stand up to our enemies won’t even give direct answers to reporters. I don’t play that game, because I’m a very successful businessman”
--- COMMENTS: What a strange comment, built on a false difference. Why should we believe that business people have any more motivation to be honest and direct with the mass media than Trump characterizes politicians as being? Ironically, only a few pages later, Trump states that he is not, in fact, honest and direct with reporters.

“…you’d think a major news network would take their responsibilities more seriously and use these debates to help the public determine who has the best plan to make our country great again”

“I use the media the way the media uses me—to attract attention”

“…sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want—viewers and readers—in order to make a point. I’m a businessman with a brand to sell.”

“…when they write a story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me a cent, and I get more important publicity. I have a mutually profitable two-way relationship with the media—we give each other what we need.”

“…anyone who believes I can use the media is absolutely wrong. Nobody can use the press. It’s too big, too widespread”
--- COMMENT: Another contradictory claim. If he can't 'use the media', then how can he have a 'mutually profitable two-way relationship' with them?

“…every show is trying to make news. The problem is that they aren’t doing their job. They aren’t interested in informing the public.”

“These media companies are owned by billionaires. These are smart people who know which candidates are going to be best for them, and they find a way to support the person they want.”

“…the problem we face in this country with our media. There is such competition that they’re more interested in entertaining their audience than educating them. They like me because I help them attract more viewers. They hate me because they know I don’t need them.”

3. Immigration: Good Walls Make Good Neighbors
“The Mexican government has published pamphlets explaining how to illegally emigrate to the United States.”

4. Foreign Policy: Fighting for Peace
“…building up our military also makes economic sense because it allows us to put real money into the system and put thousands of people back to work.”
--- COMMENT: Intriguing. Spending 'real money' could be done in a multitude of ways that does not put lives at risk. Same for creating jobs. Unless that money is spent in the US, and unless those forces are based in the US, however, it would seem that much of this real money will be spent in foreign ports and on foreign bases, paying foreigners and other countries. Building infrastructure, domestic security, and supporting innovation at home would seem to involve 'real money', create jobs, and keep US money at home.

“We defend Germany.”
--- COMMENT: I wonder if Trump realizes that the Cold War is over, and that the Soviet Union has collapsed. I doubt the Ukraine - arguably the closest conventional national threat to Germany - has any dreams of occupying Germany. In this regard, then, the US 'defence' of Germany lauded by Trump seems to be more of an economic stick to shake to exact compensation, exert power, and pursue US interests in Europe, not something that Germany should be going down on bended knee to pay the US for.

“An Iran with a nuclear weapon would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with potentially devastating consequences. The situation would rapidly escalate to being the most dangerous threat Israel has ever faced. And it would force us to use extreme measures in defense of Israel and other allies in the region.”

“I’ve had several Trump-brand products made there.”

“I could make a very important point if I refused to have my goods manufactured there.”

“I have an obligation to all of my employees and to consumers and stockholders to produce the best product at the lowest possible price.”
--- COMMENT: Trump identifies his ethical and moral obligations several times in the book. What is interesting here from a business ethics perspective is the very limited notion of stakeholder theory.

“…it is always important to be flexible—and never reveal our cards. Our politicians talk too much”
--- COMMENT: …and yet, they can apparently also be direct and honest with media, and publish books explaining their policy-making logic, goals, and ethics.

“When dealing with China we need to stand up to them and remind them that it’s bad business to take advantage of your best customer.”
--- COMMENT: An admirable bravado, given the level of US debt that China holds.

“We need to put some of the bill for this transformation on the Saudi Arabians, the South Koreans, the Germans, the Japanese, and the British. We’re protecting them, after all, and they should share in the costs.”

“The new dawn of America has just begun.”
--- COMMENT: I am amazed that any self-respecting politician would still call on this hackneyed image that seems to most often be used by far-right politicians from the Nazis to the 21st-century Greek political party.

5. Education: A Failing Grade
“…today, some teachers and school administrators are more concerned about hurting their students’ feelings or about hearing complaints from parents that they’re being too tough. Instead of becoming more competitive, we’re actually eliminating competition. That’s incredible—and wrong. Competition makes you stronger, it forces you to work harder, to do more.”

“Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top are all programs that take decisions away from parents and local school boards. These programs allow the progressives in the Department of Education to indoctrinate, not educate, our kids. What they are doing does not fit the American model of governance.”

“Anyone who has succeeded in business has survived a lot of failure—but they were tough enough to get back up and try again and again. Kids need to learn that success requires persistence. Self-esteem should come from overcoming challenges and surviving the hard knocks of trying to be better.”

“I’m very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents didn’t want to enroll their kids there, they would get better. Those schools that weren’t good enough to attract students would close”
--- COMMENT: Or… schools would compete to inflate student's grades, make sure students 'felt good' as much as 'performed', and certainly called upon wealthy donors to help ensure the school had every opportunity that money could buy.

“In too many classrooms, though, we’ve taken away their right to discipline disruptive kids, turning the teachers into babysitters as much as educators.”

“The really good and inspirational teachers burn out under the painful conditions found in too many schools. The bad teachers tend to hang around since they have nowhere else to go. Thus, the paychecks tend to be bigger for the less capable.”

“There is no reason the federal government should profit from student loans. This only makes an already difficult problem worse. The Federal Student Loan Program turned a $41.3 billion profit in 2013.”

6. The Energy Debate: A Lot of Hot Air
“Violent climate “changes” are nothing new. We have even had ice ages. I just don’t happen to believe they are man-made.”
--- COMMENT: Great. This would be an ideal place to provide any kind of evidence other than personal belief. As a project manager/property developer, I do wonder why Trump concludes his perceptions of things are more authoritative than a vast population of environmental scientists.

“…we need to take advantage of every opportunity, including approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

7. Health Care Is Making Us All Sick
“This is a subject that has been really important to me for a very long time.”

“…it was only approved because President Obama lied 28 times saying you could keep your doctor and your plan—a fraud and the Republicans should have sued—and meant it”
--- COMMENT: This type of very aggressive claim really requires some kind of evidence and explanation.

“We should hire the most knowledgeable people in the world on this subject and lock them in a room—and not unlock the door until they’ve agreed on the steps we need to take.”
--- COMMENT: A great solution, given how easily and quickly the current policy was decided upon.

8. It’s Still the Economy, Stupid
“I am concerned for the people who can’t buy into the American dream because the financial programs of this country are so tilted in favor of the rich”

“For the past year, the United States has been the one country that has maintained financial stability while Europe and Asia faltered.”
--- COMMENT: American exceptionalism and myopia. Hey, Trump, maybe you should look at the record of your largest international trade partner.

“Ford recently announced that it’s building a $2.5 billion plant in Mexico. Nabisco is moving a big plant from Chicago to Mexico. A German auto company was all set to build a plant in Tennessee, but then it changed its mind and is building it in Mexico instead.”

9. Nice Guys Can Finish First
“I’M A NICE GUY. I really am.”

“I have outlined plenty of policy initiatives. This is not “the politics of hope.” This is “the politics of reality,” which only a strong businessman like me can develop.”
--- COMMENT: I still don't understand how Trump concludes that only businessmen can develop reasonable, workable public policy. Is he really so dismissive of everyone else's skills?

“Me? I speak for the people.”
--- COMMENT: Use of these ambiguous phrases drives me batty. When Trump says 'the people' who is he suggesting he does not represent? Who is not part of the 'people' in the US to Trump?

“…at one time I was a registered Democrat”

“Now I’m a conservative Republican with a big heart. I didn’t decide to become a Republican. That’s who I have always been.”

12. Our Infrastructure Is Crumbling
“…we can create the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal when our vast infrastructure was first put into place.”

“On the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that. But in the long run it will more than pay for itself. It will stimulate our economy while it is being built and make it a lot easier to do business when it’s done”
--- COMMENT: See my comments above re: military spending. Trump, which way is the wind blowing?

13. Values
“I was a much better father than I was a husband, always working too much to be the husband my wives wanted me to be.”
--- COMMENT: Another intriguing ethical position. Being a good husband does not have independent, role specific ethical requirements for Trump, but rather success at the role is shaped by the perceptions of others, in this case, his wife.

“In business, I don’t actively make decisions based on my religious beliefs, but those beliefs are there—big-time.”

“It’s not my job to defend the president. President Obama would never defend me.”
--- COMMENT: Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, John 15:13, Leviticus 19:18, 1 John 4:11, Luke 6:29.

14. A New Game in Town
“I’m criticized for not issuing elaborate, detailed policy statements. What good are detailed plans if your country doesn’t have the credibility to carry them out—but I issue them anyway.”

“Making America Great Again means taking our country back from the big-money interests.”
--- COMMENT: Wait… Trump is rich enough to not need the media. He's rich enough to not have to pander to financial supporters. So… he's planning to take the country back from himself? Perhaps self-imposed exile?

15. Teaching the Media Dollars and Sense
“People sometimes forget that the newspapers and television stations are profit-making businesses—or at least they’re trying to be.”

“I know that every poll shows that the public doesn’t trust the media. The irony about that is that the media is conducting those polls”
--- COMMENT: Kind of like the rich telling the poor that they plan to take care of the little guy's interests.

16. A Tax Code That Works
“The federal tax code is 74,608 pages long. Nobody can really understand it, not even the accountants who try to help taxpayers fill out their forms”

“Instead of multiple tax brackets with multiple variations, there will be only four brackets: 0%, 10%, 20%, and 25%.”

“This plan will also require companies with off-shore capital to bring that money back to the United States at a repatriation rate of only 10 percent”

My Personal Financials January 7, 2016