Donald Trump’s Phony America

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.”

The Trump Administration’s Undrained Swamp

Many executive officials seem okay with spending public money on personal expenses, but how would they react if Hillary Clinton were doing it?

.. But if ever there were a crew less suited to drain the swamp in Washington, the Trump team would have to be it.

.. Remember Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price? You may not, since his tenure was less than nine months long. But in that time, according to Politico, he ran up $400,000 in private-plane trips and $500,000 for military flights to Asia, Africa, and Europe.

.. There were also questions raised about his private investment in a company that stood to benefit from his public action.

.. Steven Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton jetted off to Kentucky last August on a government plane to (depending upon whom you believe): do Treasury business or view the solar eclipse.

.. The couple also apparently requested a military plane for their honeymoon trip to Europe.

.. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin also took his wife to Europe for a ten-day trip.

.. Environment Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, reports the Washington Post, is also being investigated for “at least four noncommercial and military flights

..  I find it hard to think of an EPA emergency that would require Scott Pruitt to fly on a military jet

.. the complicated web of loans and investments and connections Jared Kushner brought with him to the swamp

.. one of the reasons his security clearance was downgraded this week involved accepting loans from a private equity billionaire named Joshua Harris.

 

Trump’s ‘Best People’ and Their Dubious Ethics

Scott Pruitt, the champion of fossil fuel interests who is busily trying to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, and his aides have made the ludicrous argument in recent days that he must fly first class because he is not safe in economy. This has elicited howls of laughter from aviation experts.

.. Mr. Pruitt and his staff have racked up a tab totaling many thousands of dollars for domestic and international trips, including $1,641 for a brief flight from Washington to New York. Mr. Pruitt told The New Hampshire Union Leader that he has to travel in the front of the cabin because people in coach are mean to him. “We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace, and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues,” he said.

.. David Shulkin, last week struggled to explain why the government spent $4,000 to fly his wife to Europe

.. the happy couple spent nearly half the trip checking out sites like Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen and Buckingham Palace in London

.. Dr. Shulkin said he was repaying the Treasury for the cost of his wife’s ticket, though not before producing an unusual 28-page rebuttal to the inspector general’s report.

.. Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, his wife, Louise Linton, and their penchant for traveling on military planeswhen far cheaper options are available.

.. Trump appointees like Tom Price, the former health and human services secretary, and Brenda Fitzgerald, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who have had to bail out of the administration because of scrutiny they were under for expensive air travel (Mr. Price) and dubious investments (Dr. Fitzgerald).

Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin Risk Their Reputations

When Cohn joined the Trump administration, many corporate executives were relieved, seeing him as a steadying influence.

.. Now, unfortunately, both Cohn and Mnuchin are endangering their reputations in their attempts to sell a tax cut.

.. Within the administration, there are real differences among how top officials have behaved and how they are perceived. Several — Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Rex Tillerson — have badly sullied their standing with virtually everyone outside the administration. After long careers, they have turned themselves into punch lines.

.. The clearest exception is Jim Mattis, the defense secretary. Mattis has done so partly by avoiding scandal and minimizing conflicts with Trump. But he has also been careful to set his own ethical boundaries. Can you recall a single time when Mattis has said something outright untrue? I can’t. That’s how he has retained his dignity in the eyes of so many people.

.. In the early stages of promoting Trump’s tax cut, they have made a series of statements that are blatantly false — not merely shadings of truth or questionable claims but outright up-is-down falsehoods mocked by various fact-checkers. The statements make the two look more like Trump press secretaries than serious business executives whom members of Congress can trust.

.. They fall into two main categories. The first is who benefits from the tax plan. “Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut,” Cohn said on “Good Morning America.” He was echoing a promise that Mnuchin had made before the inauguration: “Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions, so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”

.. Want to guess how many families in New York State — population 20 million — are wealthy enough that they’re likely to pay any estate tax next year, according to an estimate based on I.R.S. data? Just 470. The number is so low in Montana, Vermont, West Virginia and four other states — likely fewer than 10 families in each — that the I.R.S. doesn’t provide details, to avoid privacy concerns.

.. Then there are the two men’s deficit claims. “This tax plan will cut down the deficits by a trillion dollars,” Mnuchin said. Cohn claimed that “we can pay for the entire tax cut through growth.”

.. The Harvard economist Greg Mankiw coined the phrase “charlatans and cranks” specifically to describe people who claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. And Mankiw is a conservative who’s worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

.. Neither one of them has yet turned 60 years old. These won’t be their last jobs.