Category Archives: Media

Covert Capitalism

 

A former Miami University colleague and lifelong mentor would always advise his students,  “If, at the end of a day, you cannot say, ‘I had fun or learned something today,’ it’s time to do something else.”  Five years and 580 posts later, I still have not hit that wall.  That said, there are still challenges which make some mornings at the keyboard more difficult than others.  This morning was one of those occasions.

The dilemma was what many might call a good problem to have.  Which of the topics deserving attention should I tackle first?  Having just watched the most recent video from The Lincoln Project, I wanted to address the conspiracy theories life-long Republican operatives like Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt have an ulterior motive behind their efforts to help Joe Biden evict Donald Trump from the White House. Meanwhile, Trump continued his months long crusade to offend one demographic after another within the coalition on which his 2016 victory depended.

As the old adage promises, “Good things come to those who wait.”  Sure enough, there was a solution.  The key being, instead of too many competing topics, there were too few.  The missing piece of the puzzle turned out to be activist James Lawson’s remarks at John Lewis’ funeral during which he referred to the wealth gap in America as “plantation capitalism.”  Thus, this post became a juggling act, keeping all three balls in the air.

BALL #1: The Lincoln Project.  I am under no delusion Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt have become flaming liberals or will be supportive of much of Joe Biden’s policy agenda.  They have staked their flag on the Democratic front line of the 2020 electoral battlefield because they share a concern Donald Trump is an existential threat to what American should stand for.  I have no doubt, if successful, their next project will be to try and re-establish a saner version of a political party grounded in conservative principles.  I can live with that.

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Democrats, questioning their motive does not bode well for post-election governance if you cannot see this arrangement is no different than Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton coming together, in the midst of the 1996 election, to address the  ballooning federal deficit.  Or House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan joining forces to save social security.  Democrats and Republicans used to be able to put aside differences on those rare occasions when the consequences of not doing so were unacceptable to either side or more importantly the public interest.  There will always be time later for a return to partisan and ideological wrangling, something the founding fathers acknowledged was inevitable in any representative democracy.

BALL #2:  James Lawson.  I cringed when Lawson, who otherwise made a strong case for active engagement in the affairs of state, uttered the phrase “plantation capitalism.”  Was this the 2020 equivalent of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s “God Damn America” rant in 2008?  How can Democrats, so often, be on the right side of an issue and fail to find a way to express their opinion without offending those they hope to convert?

I know what Lawson meant.  Those who own the major corporations (i.e. stockholders) and those who run them reap the benefits of the harvest while the laborers are left with the chaff.  One need only look at the major stock indexes at the same time GDP declines at an annual rate of 32.9 percent and 30 million Americans are out of work.  Or the fact that CEO income has risen 1008 percent over the last four decades while worker pay has increased by only 12 percent over the same period.  It is unconscionable, but you make no friends calling it “plantation capitalism.”  Who came up with that?  The same people who tagged law enforcement reform as “defund the police”?

Which is why Democrats and liberals, in this time of desperation, need allies like the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump.  These are the same people who came up with a campaign theme in 2000 to gut the social safety net under George W. Bush called “compassionate conservatism”.  And turned a underqualified small town mayor from Alaska into the darling of the Republican right.  Theoretically, I might consider a defense lawyer who successfully represents the most disgusting clients the scum of the earth.  But if I am  the one facing ten years in the slammer, hand me his business card.

BALL #3: Donald Trump’s 2020 Election Strategy.  If Trump’s base of support was an onion, every action he has taken this year has been the equivalent of discarding one layer after another.  Criminal negligence handling the pandemic response has alienated the elderly.  Racial dog-whistling has offended suburban women.  Intervening in the prosecutions of his partners in crime has exposed the hypocrisy of his tacit support for justice reform.  His infomercials for Trump properties and promoting products like Goya foods and My Pillow reek of self-dealing and corruption.  And of course, his gaslighting the legitimacy of an election he is trying his damnedest to lose has generated a backlash among conservative voices from Rupert Murdoch’s  Wall Street Journal to William F. Buckley’s National Review to Steven Calabresi’s Federalist Society, the folks who brought you Brett Kavanaugh.  Trump has transformed his 2016 inside straight into a royal flush of remorse.

Too bad for Trump the masters of Republican advertising are on our side.  Otherwise, the campaign’s response to under the table dealings and abuse of power would be sold as “covert capitalism”.  Trump would be touted not as someone who RAN government like a business, but the person who MADE government a business.  The administration would be a pantheon to American capitalism in an arena where the fight was never intended to take place.

How did this happen?  Because Plan A, “overt capitalism,” was sidetracked when 77,000 voters, Russia and James Comey contributed to Trump’s victory in 2016.  Pre-2015, the Trump brand was associated with wealth and luxury. His target market was the rich and famous.  But as Mary Trump states in the title of her tell-all book, it was “never enough.”   Enter Trump University, a vehicle to fleece the poor and forgotten.  How better to reach that new market than free airtime and a campaign financed by the Republican Party?  Plan A was to lose the election but gain 40-50 million potential customers.

Plan B, “covert capitalism,” looked good on paper.  But the return on investment has been disappointing.  The brand has taken a hit with its original market as evidenced by the declining revenues at Trump resorts and hotels, even prior to the coronavirus.  Hosting certain public events at Trump properties is viewed as a conflict of interest and off-limits (e.g. the G-7 meeting and the WGC Golf Tournament at Doral National).  And government watchdogs are building a mountain of receipts that document the family’s self-dealing and potential misappropriation of campaign funds.

The only logical explanation for the Trump 2020 campaign is customer retention.  One has to wonder if Ivanka, Junior and Eric haven’t held an intervention in which they convinced daddy it is time to go back to Plan A.  Exhibit #1.  Last week the Trump Organization applied for a trademark for the term “telerally.”  The application stated “telerally” would be used in “organizing events in the fields of politics and political campaigning.”  And who do you think will be the audience for these events?  I won’t insult your intelligence by answering that.

Welcome to Trump Overt Capitalism 2.0.  The same voters who believed their lives would be enriched by a real estate shyster and reality television host will pay for the opportunity to listen to him whine about his victimhood, don Chinese-manufactured t-shirts and ball caps proclaiming “We Was Robbed,” and stay at Econo-Trump motels.  They will long for the “good old days” as they watch telerallies on the One America News Network, likely to be renamed the Trump Resistance Channel.  Yet, each and every one of them will still benefit from the health care and government transfer payments of which Trump did his best to deprive them.  And complain about it all the way to the bank.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Anatomy of a Lie

 

In normal times, Donald Trump’s Thursday night interview with Dr. Marc Siegel on Fox News would have been on the front page of The Onion. It was a parody of George Carlin’s monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” This satirical version will henceforth be known as “The Five Words You Have to Say Over and Over on TV.”   I understand Trump’s rendition of “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.” is great theater.  But it should not have been the headline from Dr. Siegel’s audience with the king.

If we had a living, breathing press, someone would have picked up the fact Trump’s version of his experience in MoCA Land could not be true.  Consider the following three excerpts of Trump’s rambling response to Dr. Siegel’s question about his cognitive acuity versus that of his opponent Joe Biden.

So the last time I was at the hospital, probably a year ago, a little less than a year ago, I asked the doctor, I said, is there some kind of a cognitive test that I could take? Because I’ve been hearing about it. Because I want to shut these people up.

I said to the doctor, it Dr. Ronny Jackson, I said, is there some kind of a test? An acuity test? And he said there actually is and he named it whatever it might be.

So I said, yes, I said, person, woman, man, camera, TV. Okay, that’s very good. If you get it in order, you get extra points. If you’re — okay, they’re always asking you other questions. Other questions, and then 10 minutes, 15, 20 minutes later they’d say, remember the first question, not the first, but the 10th question. Give us that again. Can you do that again? And you go person, woman, man, camera, TV.

A colleague at Miami University, a professor of business legal studies, always reminded me, “It you want to understand a situation, build a timeline.”  Therefore, when it seemed something was suspicious in Trump’s narrative, I did just that.

July 25, 2013 – March 28, 2019
Dr. Ronny Jackson’s term as Physician to the President.  (Source: Wikipedia)

March 28, 2019
Dr. Sean Patrick Conley becomes the Physician to the President following Jackson’s nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  Jackson’s nomination was withdrawn following revelations of his addiction to alcohol and over-prescribing drugs. (Source: Wikipedia)

November 18, 2019
President Donald Trump made a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham put it, to “begin portions of his routine annual physical exam” on Saturday. But there are indications the trip wasn’t as routine as the White House would have the public believe.  (Source: VOX.COM)

Do I even need to point out the telltale lie?  If he took the test during a hospital visit “a little less than a year ago,” Ronny Johnson could not have been there.  He had not been the President personal physician for eight months prior to the alleged date of the cognitive assessment.

But that’s just the most obvious falsehood.  Anyone who has taken the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) knows the memory exercise involves five totally unrelated terms.  For example, version 7.1 of the test, asks the the subject to repeat the following:  Face. Velvet.  Church. Daisy. Red.  There is no way any version would include both the words “man” and “woman” or “camera” and “TV”.

You can always tell when Trump is lying because he is always hedging his bets.  In this case he gives three different time lapses before he was asked to repeat the five words.  First, 10.  But in his stable genius mind that is not impressive enough.  So it becomes 15, then 20.  If Kayleigh had properly prepped him for the interview, he would have known the instructions clearly state, “Do recall after 5 minutes.”  And of course, there is NO extra credit if you get all five.  In Trump world, extra credit is a “figure” of his imagination.

MoCA: A Test to Assess Mental Capacity - Health and Wellness AlertsDuring the interview with Dr. Siegel, the one thing on which Trump chose not to elaborate was the portion of the assessment when the subject is required to name three animals.  If everything he did talk about was false, one can only imagine his response to that exercise.  “Hmm.  The second one is Mitt Romney.  The third one, don’t tell me.  He used to be in cigarette commercials wearing sunglasses.  Does he vape now? And the first one?  Of course.  He’s always been a lion.  Just like I do.”

Behold, the musings of a “stabled” genius.  And I would say it’s way past time to put this horse out to pasture.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Why Hamilton?

 

There is one positive aspect about the founding of the United States which is beyond reproach.  Cinematic productions of award-winning Broadway musicals about the era are among the best transformations of content from stage to screen.  Such was the case with Peter Hunt’s 1972 production of 1776 and Disney’s presentation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.  What do they have in common?  Both films (I know it’s an anachronism) featured the original Broadway casts and neither relied on B-roll clips or CGI to enhance the atmosphere of the stage settings.  Such devotion to capturing the source material in its original format allows one to focus on the “cattle” rather than the “hat.”  NOTE: For non-Texans, this reference comes from the Lone Star State axiom about an individual of no substance, “All hat; no cattle!”

Without the distraction of bizarre camera angles and disco-esque light shows, I fixated on the question, “Why Hamilton?”  Was this the alternative to Peter Hunt’s having already examined the process of drafting the Declaration of Independence in melody and lyrics.  Given the opportunity, would “The Room Where It Happened” have been about the chamber in Independence Hall when Jefferson trades abolition of slavery for South Carolina and Georgia’s ratification of the the document rather than a dinner where Jefferson and Madison swap the location of the future seat of government for Hamilton’s national bank.

The obvious answer?  Alexander Hamilton and Miranda share the same Puerto Rican roots.  What better personal choice for a metaphor about the on-going desire for freedom and respect.  Yet, Edward de Bono, the father of “lateral thinking,” implores us never to stop at the first adequate right answer.  Keep searching.  For me, that next right answer emerged when Jonathan Groff enters as King George III.  You immediately notice Groff, who is whiter than white (hopefully with the aid of make-up), is the exception to the rule.  He is the only Anglo character in the story played by a Caucasian.  And quite the dandy.  Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler rolled into a single persona.

It is not just his looks, but his words, especially the chorus to his first solo number “You’ll Be Back,” which expose his character.

You’ll be back
Soon you’ll see
You’ll remember you belong to me
You’ll be back
Time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well

You are better off a colonist than responsible for your own care and feeding.  The theme re-emerges during King George’s second appearance following the surrender at Yorktown in the song, “What Comes Next.”  The monarch further demonstrates his disdain and lack of respect for his “beloved” subjects.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own

Sound familiar?  The exact words every plantation owner told his slaves at the end of the Civil War.  Right answer #2.  Hamilton is not about the American Revolution.  It is not about the colonists seeking independence from The Crown.  It is the realization that emancipation from the lingering attitude toward former slaves was harder than abolishing the institution of involuntary servitude.

But again, why Hamilton?  Could the narrative not been equally effective if the musical had been about Pedro Albizu Campos, a Puerto Rican attorney and politician who championed the territory’s independence movement in 1950.  Or Harriet, The Musical.  Ironically, right answer #3 is handed to us in Act 1, Scene 1, when Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) cannot understand his rival’s success.

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

If you thought Hamilton  was a metaphor for emancipation, substitute the words “absentee father” for “Scotsman” or “project in Chicago” for “spot in the Caribbean.”  Or consider the following excerpts from Miranda’s first solo, “My Shot.”

Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry

The problem is I got a lot of brains, but no polish
I gotta holler just to be heard

I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal
Tryin’ to reach my goal

These are not the words of a colonist or a slave.  They are the words of too many disadvantaged Americans of color and Dreamers who have much to offer if only given the chance.

But still, why Hamilton?  Why not Martin Luther King or Medgar Evers?  Which brings me to right answer #4.  Hamilton is as much about unfulfilled potential and legacy as it is about the title character’s life.  And what better examples of the unfairness in the world than the cruel reality when King is assassinated at age 39 and  Evers at age 40 is gunned down while those responsible for their deaths live to be 70 (James Earl Ray) and 80 (Byron De La Beckwith).  Is it a coincidence that Burr also lived to be 80 while Hamilton died at 47 or 49, depending on the conflicting records of his birth?  Miranda captures this message in the lyrics of the closing number, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” in which Hamilton’s sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler sings:

Every other founding father story gets told
Every other founding father gets to grow old

The same question could be asked about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Admaud Arbery.  In their own way, each found themselves in the middle of a modern day movement, one more attempt to reach the vision of a more perfect union where all are “created equal with inalienable rights.”  And each protester who takes a knee or marches in support of Black Lives Matter is echoing the lyrics, “I gotta holler just to be heard.”

Hamilton is not about the past.  It is a metaphor of the moment.  Why Hamilton?  Because it is a story for all time, all places and all people.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Alexander Hamilton, Meet Sherlock Holmes

 

As any regular reader of this blog should have realized by now, I take great pleasure in demonstrating what I believe is the most powerful tool when it comes to creative thinking–the ability to make connections where none seem to exist. It begins with an observation about which one then asks, “What is this trying to tell me?  How might it be relevant to something I’m working on?”

How to Watch Hamilton: An American Musical on Disney+ | TV GuideThis morning, my first observation was, “I’m really looking forward to tonight.  I’ve been anticipating the Disney+ channel’s release of its cinematic version of Hamilton for weeks, and today is the day.”  Yet, there is more to it than that.  This is the Lin-Manuel Miranda era.  Talk about a media superstar whose influence transcends his own arena.  It is no coincidence John Bolton called his recent book The Room Where It Happened. an obvious rip-off of one of the most memorable songs from Miranda’s Broadway tour de force.

But the still small voice of imagination which occupies a corner of my brain told me to keep pushing.  What am I missing?  The answer is always there if you connect the dots.  Was the next data point a one-liner from a Steven Wright comedy album I listened to last night? “I was once walking through the forest alone.  A tree fell right in front of me, and i didn’t hear a thing.”

Interesting, but that voice kept nagging me, “Keep pushing.  There are still more dots.”  This morning I was awakened by the dog which resides at the house that backs up to our lot.  There lay the key.  It is not always what you see or hear.  You have to consider what you did not observe or a sound that was absent.  SPOILER ALERT.  This is the very essence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Holmes is recruited by Dr. James Mortimer to investigate the death of his former patient Sir Charles Baskerville whose demise is initially determined to be the result of a fatal coronary.

Mortimer suspects Sir Charles’ heart attack was triggered when he may have encountered a mysterious black hound which reportedly wandered the manor grounds and had been responsible for the earlier death of Hugo Baskerville. Holmes becomes frustrated with the lack of clues and tangible evidence. Until he questions the owner of the adjacent estate Jack Stapleton.  Holmes notices the Stapletons’ pet Mastiff barks at anyone who approaches the house with the exception of its owner Jack.  Holmes surmises the Stapleton’s hound was the animal in question, since no one in the vicinity of the murder site saw or heard anything the night of the murder.

Which brings me back to John Bolton, especially in light of his latest disclosure he had, in fact, briefed Donald Trump on the Russian bounty program through which the Kremlin allegedly paid Taliban insurgents for killing coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.  Based on this latest revelation, I wondered if the more appropriate title for Bolton’s 600 page tome should have been The Room Where It Didn’t Happen.  Re-enter Steven Wright who, impersonating Bolton, might have described the March 2019 episode in the Oval Office as follows.  “I was once talking to Trump, with no one else in the room. Right in front of me, he ignored my warning about a Russian threat to American Soldiers, and I didn’t do a thing.”

We have a pretty good idea what historians will have to say about Donald Trump in the context of 244 years of American presidential history.  Already, John Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Douglas Brinkley have not suppressed their disdain for Trump’s violation of presidential norms and disrespect for the office he holds. What we also need to know is how many senior advisors, besides Bolton, listened to Trump’s conspiracy theories and proposed violations of his oath of office, and never challenged him or threatened to go public.  In Miranda’s next political musical Trump, the Oval Office becomes “The Room Where it Didn’t Happen.”  This important retelling of the past four years may be the legacy of those who surrounded him, the “Hounds of Trumpville,” who barked at everyone except their master.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The Dresser

 

One of the more interesting aspects of the Department of Justice lawsuit filed against former national security advisor John Bolton is the demand that proceeds from the sale of his tell-all book should be deposited in the U.S. Treasury including any revenues from the movie rights.  I must admit I had not thought about the plethora of films that might be based on, as of today, the 22 books which chronicle insider views of the Trump White House.  My first thought?  Wes Craven or Jordan Peele could not do justice to this Gothic horror story, no matter how hard they tried.  And Freddy Kruger (Nightmare on Elm Street) and Michael Meyers (Halloween) pale in comparison when it comes to this forthcoming slasher film where the victim is the Constitution rather than promiscuous high school students.

Perhaps my time was better spent looking outside tales of terror.  What if the preeminent version of the Trump years was more like a Shakespearean play?  Would it be a comedy when everyone gets married in Act V?  Or in Trump’s case, married for the fourth time.  Or a tragedy ending in the figurative death of the title character?  But wait!  Maybe it was not about the parts in theater productions, but the actors who star in them.  Was Trump a male version of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, a one-time larger than life personality who believed there were not small actors, only small parts, yet at an advanced age was unfit for a cameo, much less a starring role?

Among the devices I encouraged students in my Imagination class at Miami University to keep in their tool kits was patience.  Don’t force ideas.  Let them come to you.  And this morning that is exactly what happened as I read stories about last night’s Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In reference to the underwhelming crowd inside BOK Arena, one headline read, “Someone Is Going to Get Fired for This.”  The inside story of the Trump administration was never about the protagonist.  It will be about the people tasked with propping up an aging headliner.

The Dresser - Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay - sheer brilliance ...And there it was, as plain as the nose on my face.  1983.  The Dresser.  Peter Yates’ adaption of Ronald Harwood’s play, “the story of an aging actor’s personal assistant, who struggles to keep his charges’s life together.” (Wikipedia)  Is it mere coincidence the elderly thespian, played by Albert Finney, is referred to only as “Sir,” the same honorific Trump employs whenever sharing a conversation he has with anyone ranging from a MAGA-head to a member of his cabinet to a four-star general.  Sir is described as “of the old school of acting, full of grand gestures and fine oratory.”  However in his final performance as King Lear, Sir is uncertain of his lines and begins to improvise his speeches. Sound familiar?

When Sir collapses as the curtain drops on Act V, the title character, Sir’s life-long assistant and companion Norman (Tom Courtenay) helps Sir back to his dressing room.  Sensing he is at the end of his career, the actor implores Norman to read to him from an autobiography he claims to be writing.  However, Sir has only gotten as far as the dedication in which he thanks everyone from audiences to fellow actors to stage technicians.  Everyone except Norman, who has been his most loyal and trusted servant for decades.

May I suggest there will likely be a similar end to the Trump saga.  In the final scene, upon his return to Florida next January, an exhausted Trump is helped to his bedroom at Mar-a-Lago.  As he lies there, he hands Ivanka a hardcover copy of The Art of the Deal from 1987.  He asks her to read him the dedication.

IVANKADaddy, there is no dedication.  But there is one paragraph of acknowledgements.

TRUMPRead it to me.

IVANKAAre you sure? I’m not sure its relevant any more.

TRUMPYes, yes.  Read it to me.

IVANKAOkay.

“I owe special thanks to several people who made it possible for me to complete this book in the face of my other responsibilities.  Ivana Trump, my wonderful wife, and my  three children were understanding about the many weekends that I spent working on the book.  Si Newhouse first came to me and convinced me to do a book despite my initial reluctance.  Howard Kaminsky, Peter Osnos, and many others at Random House have been enthusiastic, energetic supporters of the book.”

Daddy, I never realized until now you didn’t mention Tony Schwartz who actually wrote the book.

TRUMPWhy should I?  I paid him, didn’t I?

The only question is who will be cast in the title role of the 2021 remake.  The possibilities are endless.  Roger Stone? Steve Bannon?  Steven Miller?  Bill Barr?  Brad Parscale?  Rudy? Ivanka?  Jared?  Junior?  Or all of the above, in which case the Trump biopic is much like the sequel to Alien which James Cameron chose to call Aliens.  The remake of the Finney/Courtenay classic might more appropriately be known as The Dressers.  Or in honor of Tony Schwartz, maybe a better title is The Ghostwriter.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP