There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.
.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.
She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.
This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.
Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
There are many reasons to stand against Trump, but the one that should take precedence — because it is foundational for decent governance — is his autocratic assumption that he is above the expectations that apply to us normal humans.
- .. Should Trump separate himself completely from his business interests, as presidents had been doing for more than four decades? His implicit message is always: No, I can do what I want.
- .. Should we know the full cost of his gallivanting and how many of the millions of dollars involved are circulating back to his family through the charges Trump’s resorts impose on the government?
- .. Should we know why it is that, according to The Post’s Greg Miller, Trump “appears increasingly isolated within his own administration” in calling for warmer relations with Russia even as almost everyone else in his government issues “blistering critiques of Moscow”?
- .. Did Trump express concern about democracy? Nope. He called Erdogan to congratulate him. Why?
- .. Asked about Turkey in a December 2015 interview with, of all people, Stephen K. Bannon — now his chief strategist who back then hosted a radio show on Breitbart — Trump admitted: “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” He also described Erdogan as “a strong leader”
.. If Hillary Clinton had done any one of the things described above, is there any doubt about what Republicans in Congress would be saying and doing?
.. It’s said that Trump always skates away. Not true. Those he ripped off in his Trump University scam stuck with the fight and forced Trump to settle a lawsuit he said (in an untruth typical of his approach) he would never settle. The country’s citizens can prevail, too, if we insist on calling out a self-absorbed huckster who treats us all as easily bamboozled fools.