Economy & Business

Our ‘Thank you,’ ‘Thank you’ society, &c.

Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan at the 1988 G7 summit. (Photo: Reuters)
On capitalism, Wikipedia, Trump, Reagan, Obama, golfers, sopranos, and more

‘We are going to come first in all deals,” President Trump tweeted. The thing about deals — many deals, the right kind of deal — is that no one comes “first” or “second” or “third.” A deal works out for all.

There is some zero-sum in life. Of course. But there is also mutual benefit.

Years ago, someone gave me the “Thank you,” “Thank you” formulation. I don’t know who came up with this formulation. I don’t remember who introduced me to it! But I hope I will not forget it.

America is a “Thank you,” “Thank you” society. The double “thank you” is part of capitalism’s nature.

You hand over your money to the clerk. He says, “Thank you.” He hands you the purchase. You say, “Thank you.” Everybody’s happy.

This is relatively rare in human history, I understand. Much of human history has been: Someone’s gonna get screwed, regardless.

Trade deals ought to work out for everybody — ought to be in all parties’ interests. You don’t have to come “first.” You have to get something out of it. Not to be too kumbaya, but everybody is “first.”

‐Steve Mnuchin is working overtime as Treasury secretary, it seems to me. I’ll tell you what I mean. At a recent press conference, he said that the president would not release his tax returns. Then he said, “The president has released plenty of information and, I think, has given more financial disclosure than anybody else.”

Huh.

Before that, Mnuchin said of Trump, “He’s got perfect genes. He has incredible energy and he’s unbelievably healthy.”

Geez! I appreciate appreciation. And I know that Mnuchin is a master of the universe (to borrow Tom Wolfe’s phrase). But this approaches Dear Leader territory …

‐The other day, I was appreciating Wikipedia (for all my gripes with it). A guest on my Q&A podcast was Eric Monkman, one of the quizzing champions of the world (a star of the just-concluded season of University Challenge). He told me that, when people looked back on the early 21st century, they would see Wikipedia as one of its glories.

In Turkey, Erdogan has banned Wikipedia. Not for its inaccuracies, surely. For its accuracies.

That’s a dictatorial thing to do: ban Wikipedia.

‐On the campaign trail, Trump talked about seizing Iraq’s oil. He did it again, early in his presidency. The defense secretary, James Mattis, went to Iraq. He was asked about seizing that country’s oil. He said that we Americans “have generally paid for our gas and oil, and I’m sure that we will continue to do that.”

A little later, the president said that Germany owed us a lot of money: for NATO services rendered over the years. Mattis calmly explained to a Senate committee that this was not how NATO worked.

Huh. You can do that, if you’re a cabinet secretary? You can contradict the boss so baldly?

Just recently, President Trump said that South Korea would have to pay for THAAD, the missile-defense system we have just put in. Then H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, comes along and says, Nope.

I’m inclined to credit the president: for letting his men get away with this kind of thing. Or do they have a good cop–bad cop routine going?

This administration will make for fascinating studies in the future, I wager.

‐A note on Realpolitik and “idealism”: You can do business with China, because you have to. But you don’t have to heap praise on its No. 1 — the boss of the Communist party. You can do business with Egypt. But you don’t have to heap praise on its strongman. You can do business with the Philippines. But you don’t have to pretend that Duterte is anything but a murderous thug.

This ought to be elementary. And America ought to stand for something in the world.

‐In an interview, Trump put me in mind of Thomas L. Friedman. Show you what I mean. Here’s the president:

You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through — it’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They’re archaic rules. And maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.

Friedman has the concept of “China for a day” — wishing America could be China for a day, ignoring democratic procedures, just rammin’ things home.

‐You remember that Trump criticized Boeing, as a company ripping off the government (and thus the taxpayer). Well, Boeing has published a full-page ad, praising Trump for his magnificent first 100 Days.

Okay. But is that sort of thing in a democracy kind of queasy-making?

‐Let me quote from a recent column of mine, please — a “California Journal”:

The garbage truck has a mechanical arm, picking up bins designed to go with the arm. A human being is driving the truck. But he seems to be the only one necessary.

Is this a good thing, a great technological and human advance? Or is it a bad thing, leading to greater unemployment, narrowing people’s options? I suppose people have debated this kind of thing since the Industrial Revolution, if not before.

So, robots will pick fruit. Is this better than illegal aliens? Or other human beings? Economics, like life — I should say “like the rest of life” — can be messy.

‐You and I, being good right-wingers, can call Senator Schumer the “Head Clown.” Or the host of Meet the Press “Sleepy Eyes Todd.” Or the senior senator from Massachusetts “Pocahontas.” But should the president? Should the president engage in that kind of name-calling?

At an earlier time, I think, there would have been no argument about this among conservatives.

‐Shortly after he left office, the Gipper went to Japan to collect $2 million in speaking fees. Our media were aghast. Reagan was cashing in on the presidency! Brazenly!

I remember what PJB — Patrick J. Buchanan — said in his defense: “This is the Reagans’ retirement fund.”

I thought of this when reading about Barack Obama and his $400K for a speech. Is he cashing in on the presidency? Sure.

But doesn’t everyone cash in? Bear with me: Didn’t Elvis Presley cash in on his talent? His looks, his voice, his personality — all of it?

Apples and oranges! you may say. And I wouldn’t argue with you. But this is a big and complicated subject — people working their advantages.

‐In 2007, Syria was building a nuclear facility. They were doing it with the help of North Korea. Israel went in and destroyed it.

Will no one thank Israel? Yes — no one will thank Israel (’cept me). (And you, I bet.)

‐I very much appreciate the formulation of Tom Nichols, the conservative professor and writer (and historic Jeopardy! champion!): “Liberals have to stop overreacting to Trump. Conservatives have to stop underreacting to him.”

‐Reading an obit of Tom Fleming, a marathon runner, I thought of golfers. And singers. And others.

There are some golfers who love the senior tour, and play on it till their legs can support them no more. Arnold Palmer was one such. He had been one of the greatest golfers in the world. But he simply wanted to be out there, playing and playing till the last trump.

Jack Nicklaus was a little different. He played the senior tour for a bit — mainly to help that tour, I think. He won everything. And then, before he declined further, he quit.

I brought this up with Renée Fleming once. (She is a famous soprano.) There are golfers — pro golfers — who will only play for money. The idea of recreational golf, social golf, is distasteful to them. They are pros.

Does Renée sing, just for the hell of it? On her days off, does she flit about the house going “la la la”? No, no.

Back to Tom Fleming, the marathoner: When he couldn’t win anymore — when he couldn’t compete at the highest level — he quit. “He was intense,” said the great Bill Rodgers, Fleming’s fellow marathoner. “He couldn’t jog. He had to race.”

I understand (though don’t expect me to race — or jog).

 

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