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Jim’s Briefs: 2/20/17

Let this serve as my roughly bi-annual notice that I intend to write with greater frequency and in shorter form. The Trump administration has got me all mentally constipated except for a handful of ponderous, overlong tracts I’ve been working on for months that I’ll probably never finish. The goal now is to tackle one or two thoughts or news items per day (ish) with limited attention to detail or coherence in a desperate attempt to clear the fire hazard of a backlog in my head.

Until I get cleverer, they’ll be called Jim’s Briefs. I hope you’ll get into Jim’s Briefs.

1. Trump’s Travel Toll

I know it’s an easy target and something that conservatives should be up-in-arms about, given their fetish for criticizing everything Obama did that was even remotely related to leisure, but I happen to think we should lay off the issue of the costs associated with Trump’s travel to and from wherever the hell he wants to go on the weekends. We can and should criticize his lack of seriousness in the position, his predilection for peddling access to high-paying members of his private clubs, his lax attitude about national security when mixing work with pleasure, and so on—but these are ultimately unrelated to the costs of his travel and security.

In other words, it is not impossible to imagine a serious and competent POTUS who travels frequently and I, for one, would wholeheartedly approve of whatever taxpayer monies were spent conveying and protecting such a person and/or his/her family. The presidency rightly comes with perks, but it also comes with costs that we must bear in connection with the presidency and I just don’t think it’s wise to spend any time or energy nitpicking over how much it costs to allow the President of the United States to travel freely.

2. A One-Dimensional Man

A much stronger line of attack against Trump is the one concerning his efforts to profit from the office, particularly in light of this new bit of leaked audio from POLITICO, in which Trump casually offers to let wealthy, dues-paying members of his Bedminster National Golf Club (“the special people,” as Trump calls them here) sit in on interviews for high-level administration positions:

But this is a front on which I think we need to be clearer about the nature of the allegation, lest it sound too much like a desperate conspiracy theory. Specifically, it strikes me as relatively reasonable for a low- to -medium information citizen to blithely dismiss the notion that Trump set out with a conscious, deliberate strategy to enrich himself by becoming President of the United States and that he is now taking clear actions to capitalize on that plan.

It’s easy, in fact, to dismiss the notion that he has ever done anything consciously or deliberately in his life; the man appears to be pure id. So in reality, what we’re really talking about is a profoundly one-dimensional person—a machine that was programmed to perform only one task.

We all know these people; they filter everything they hear or say through a very narrow lens that renders them almost completely unrelatable unless you happen to also be into the thing they’re into. The type I run across most often is the new-agey evangelical Christian who just can’t get through an interaction with another human being without referencing his or her church and/or dropping in some explicitly religious language in extremely loose reference to whatever the subject at hand is. (I think it’s worth briefly going off on this tangent for a second, so bear with me.)

A typical conversation with one of these folks goes something like this:

ME: Hey, do you know where I can get some good falafel?

THEM: Absolutely, man. There’s a great falafel place my pastor recommended right down the street from my church that I like to go to after bible study every Thursday evening at 6pm.

ME: Um, okay…thanks.

THEM: Totally, man. Have a blessed day—and give me a call or text if you want to hang out on Thursday evening.

Now maybe some of you are thinking “well, that doesn’t seem all that egregious to me,” and you’d be more-or-less right if we were talking about one exchange, but I’m talking about people for whom these are the contours of most encounters. (And I’ll just add that as a non-religious person, the multiple allusions to church and religion in just this single, barely-exaggerated back-and-forth come across as gratuitous and presumptuously overshare-y—the rough equivalent of me responding to the same question with “Oh yeah, there’s a place my girlfriend and I always go to get the tzatziki we like to bathe in before lovemaking. You should join us sometime.”)

Trump is the business version of this archetype. He relates to other people on a purely transactional level, where every  single interaction has the potential to lead—directly or indirectly—to the inception and/or success and/or failure of “the deal.” He’s not thinking any more or less about making money than he has at any previous point in his life, which is to say that it’s the only thing he has ever been capable of thinking about. (Prestige and approval ratings are one measure of his of his brand’s value.) In his mind, if he “does a good job,” (his phrase, not mine) he will make money incidentally. More dangerously, he may well think that if he makes money, it will be an indication that he’s doing a good job.

The neatest trick is that he didn’t even have to harbor real hate in order to become an agent of hate in the world. He just did what one-dimensional businesspeople do every day: indulge whatever racist, sexist, ignorant bullshit falls out of the mouths of people they’re doing business with; to object would be to kill the deal. If anti-racists had been as exploitable as the GOP’s base, he would just as easily played that part in an effort to close the deal.

It’s really very simple: Donald Trump is incapable of seeing or understanding the moral hazard inherent in failing to construct a fortress between his personal/business interests and the Oval Office because constructing such a fortress would entail changing the way he operates and he is incapable of changing the way he operates because he only exists on a single, razor-thin plane—and there can be no higher calling on a flat surface.

Published in Miscellany


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