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.”
On the surface, water bottles as totems of consumer aspiration sound absurd: If you have access to water, you can drink it out of so many things that already exist in your home. But if you dig a little deeper, you find that these bottles sit at a crossroads of cultural and economic forces that shape Americans’ lives far beyond beverage choices. If you can understand why so many people would spend 50 bucks on a water bottle, you can understand a lot about America in 2019.
The first time I coveted a water bottle was in 2004. When I arrived as a freshman at the University of Georgia, I found that I was somehow the last person alive who didn’t own a Nalgene. The brand’s distinctive, lightweight plastic bottles had long been a cult-favorite camping accessory, but in the mid-2000s, they exploded in popularity beyond just outdoorsmen. A version with the school’s logo on it cost $16 in the bookstore, which was a little steep for me, an unemployed 18-year-old, but I bought one anyway. I wanted to be the kind of person all my new peers apparently were. Plus, it’s hot in Georgia. A nice water bottle seemed like a justifiable extravagance.
Around the same time, I remember noticing the first flares of another trend intimately related to the marketability of water bottles: athleisure. All around me, stylish young women wore colorful Nike running shorts and carried bright plastic Nalgenes to class. “With Millennials, fitness and health are themselves signals,” says Tülin Erdem, a marketing professor at NYU. “They drink more water and carry it with them, so it’s an item that becomes part of them and their self-expression.”
.. Kauss says she always knew the bottle’s appearance would be important, even though positioning something as simple as a water bottle as a luxury product was a bit of a gamble. “As I moved up in my career, I was upgrading my wardrobe, and the bottle that looked like a camping accessory really didn’t serve my purpose anymore,” she says. When she noticed fashionable New Yorkers were carrying luxe disposable plastic bottles from brands such as Evian and Fiji, she realized reusable bottles could use a makeover, too.
.. Kauss and her contemporaries struck at the right time. The importance of fitness and wellness were starting to gain a foothold in fashionable crowds, and concerns over consumer waste and plastic’s potential to leach chemicals into food and water were gaining wider attention. People wanted cute workout gear, and they wanted to drink water out of materials other than plastic. Researchers have found that the chance to be conspicuously sustainability-conscious motivates consumers, especially when the product being purchased costs more than its less-green counterparts.
.. For a lot of people, they spark a little bit of joy in the otherwise mundane routine of work, exercise, and personal hygiene. For a generation with less expendable income than its parents’, a nice bottle pays for itself with a month of consistent use and lets you feel like you’re being proactive about your health and the environment.
Manafort is alleged to have laundered money, to have cheated on taxes and to have lied about his clientele. All of this he did in order to “enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States,” according to the indictment. Among other things it is alleged that he spent $1,319,281 of his money, illegally hidden from the U.S. Treasury, to pay a home lighting and entertainment company in Florida; to purchase $934,350 worth of rugs at a shop in Virginia; and to drop $655,500 on a landscaper in the Hamptons.
.. Some will find it ironic that Manafort did all of this while coaching candidate Donald Trump to run an “anti-elite” election campaign, one directed at “draining the swamp” and cleaning up Washington.
But in fact, this is exactly the kind of tactic that Manafort perfected on behalf of Russia, in Ukraine, where he worked for more than a decade.
.. in 2006, when he brought dozens of American political consultants to Ukraine to assist in an ethnically charged election that pit Russian and Ukrainian speakers against one another, in an attempt to help Russia retain influence over the country.
.. In 2010, he was one of several advisers — the others were mostly Russians — who helped remake the image of Viktor Yanukovych, the ex-con whom the Russian government then supported for president of Ukraine. Yanukovych charged the sitting government with corruption, declared that the election would be “rigged” and finally won.
.. The exploitation of ethnic tension; the dislike of NATO; the constant talk of opponents’ corruption, whether warranted or not; the shouting about falsified elections — these were Trump tactics, too
.. And he sought to undermine Ukraine’s constitution, first subtly and then openly.
.. For a long time now, a part of the U.S. political and business class has been merging, ideologically and aesthetically, with its post-Soviet counterparts. The use of shell companies and Cypriot bank accounts; the over-the-top spending on clothes and houses; the profoundly cynical manipulation of ethnic or racial divides to win elections — these behaviors are now common to a particular set of sleazy operators on two continents. If this indictment is correct, Manafort is the living embodiment of this Russian-American convergence.
Ivanka and her husband holding hands as they stride across electric-green grass at the G-20 summit; her kids ascending the crimson staircase of Air Force One. What’s notable is that Ivanka, like Linton, often does not procedurally belong in the settings where she is photographed; there is an undercurrent of White-House-as-life-style-blog-prop. Nonetheless, these images seem ordinary when viewed without context.
.. Great #daytrip to #Kentucky!” Linton wrote. “#nicest #people #beautiful #countryside #rolandmouret pants #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf #valentinorockstudheels #valentino #usa.” This is an unsubtle caption, drawing on a type of hashtag-saturated social-media syntax that I associate both with discount-clothing retailers attempting to optimize their search results and aimless individual souls hoping to catalogue their membership in some tribe. Charitably, we could assume that Linton was writing in the latter spirit, registering herself as a lover of the #daytrip, of #people and #beautiful #countryside—a sister to all who love #tomford sunglasses and #valentino heels.
.. In a few aggrieved sentences, Linton managed to frame her husband’s three-hundred-million-dollar net worth as a burden, her six months in Washington as harrowing public servitude, and an ordinary American as a contemptible member of the economic underclass. She punctuated this bit with two emoji, a flexed bicep and a kissy face, which were meant to convey nonchalance but instead communicated a type of strained, hierarchical female fury that I have not witnessed in person since cheerleading camp, in 2005.
.. Linton, who spent part of her childhood in her family’s castle in Scotland and once gave an interview to Town & Country about her twelve-piece suite of wedding jewelry, cemented her appearance as an appropriate partner for Mnuchin, whose company OneWest earned him the nickname “Foreclosure King.”
.. The two fiascoes are twin parables, really—each one illustrates how a desire for reverence leads easily to ridicule, and how, when you visibly strain to perform your identity for an audience, the audience often rebels. The trouble with a manufactured self-image is that it requires onlookers for confirmation.