Help me define the best (or worst in this case) metaphor of the Trump presidency

After the most recent incredulous statement by the US president about ingesting disinfectant as a possible cure for COVID-19, I felt this Marie Antoinette moment might be a metaphor for his presidency. Yet, there are truly many contenders for such a distinction.

Below are twelve top of mind statements or actions that could be considered. Sadly, there are more to choose from. So, readers please let me know your top three, including others I may have overlooked.

1. Ingesting disinfectant – he has to tried to explain this away as sarcasm, but to see Dr. Birx trying to avoid eye contact when he asked her what she thought is telling.

2. Sharpie gate – this is when the president played meterologist and scared the state of Alabama by drawing on the map the hurricane may hit them. This was an unforced error thst aides spent a week trying to diffuse.

3. Firing Comey without telling him – for a person who liked to say “You’re fired” on TV, the president cannot bring himself to fire soneone in person. James Comey found out he was fired via TV news. But, Trump failed to tell his Communication team, so Sean Spicer was hiding in the White House bushes with staff to plan what to say.

4. First travel ban – Trump likes to use the word disaster to define anything he did not do. The first travel ban was so disastrous, it waa pulled after two days. The president failed to vet the change with various stakeholders including the people who would need to conduct the ban. So, people did not know what to do and the lines were long.

5. India/ Pakistan brokering peace deal – this faux pas did not get much air time, but the president announced in front of the Pakistani leader the India prime minister asked him to broker a peace deal between the two countries over the Kashmir conflict. Within the hour, India put out a press release saying no such request was made.

6. Tariffs paid by China – the president has said this at least a dozen times, so it may be a good candidate because of its staying power. Trump likes to say China is paying the tariffs. Economists correct him each time saying US importers pay the tariffs which are passed onto the consumers. So, we pay the tariffs.

7. Extorting Ukraine – after watching a parade of reputable public servants testify under oath at a great risk with such a vindictive president, Trump was impeached over extorting Ukraine for personal gain. He likes to focus on one phone call, but if that call was so “perfect,” why did his staff try to bury it?

8. Siding with Putin over CIA – in Helsinki, standing side by side with a man who is KGB trained on disinformation, Trump sided with Putin over the advice of his intelligence people. Senator John McCain wrote an op-ed piece to blast the president’s words as “traiterous.”

9. Pulling out of Paris Climate Change Accord – the president’s stance on climate change was my worst fear going in. So, he announced pulling out of the Paris accord on June 1, 2017, the day following Exxon shareholders voting for management to tell them what Exxon is doing to address climate change. When we exit, the US will stand alone in the world.

10. Transgender in military – the announcement to ban new transgender people in the military got the press, but the decision process is the metaphor. Per the book “Fear” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward, the president announced his decision by two tweets around 10:05 one morning saying the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he had decided to do this. Problem is they had not. The time is important as the Joint Chiefs waited downstairs to meet with the president to go over four options and the pros/ cons of each. The president was told of this and asked when would be a good time to meet. This is a key reason DOD James Mattis abruptly said that a tweet is not an order.

11. Wandering alone at G20 – this was a sad to watch as the president wandered the tables looking for someone to talk with after dinner at a G20 meeting. He finally wandered over to meet with Vladimir Putin alone, a very scary situation with a very informed leader and Trump, who does not study history or issues. Plus, it is a metaphor that he would gravitate to Putin’s table rather than an ally of our country.

12. Bragging on fixing the economy – this is the most relentless of topics and, until the virus hit, was his claim to fame. The problem is he did not fix the economy. Yes, economic growth continued under his watch, but when he was sworn in on January 20, 2017, the US GDP was in its 91st consecutive month of economic growth (that is seven plus years), the stock market had more than doubled under Obama, and unemployment was under 5%. Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, but for Trump to say he fixed the economy is untrue – it was not broken He has added both short term tailwinds and long term headwinds.

So, that is a dirty dozen, so to speak. I wanted to limit them twelve, so leaving off Charlottesville, his rallies, his ignoring the early warnings on COVID-19, or just his litany of routine, daily untruthfulness or beating up on the press, etc. proved difficult. Let me know your top three choices. Please feel free to add any others. It is funny, depending on how I want to focus my attention, I could pick a different three – is impact, continuity, or inanity the best measure?

Per Reuters – More foreign firms halted U.S. deals amid Trump administration scrutiny: report

Last week, Alexandra Alper of Reuters Financial News shared findings within a concerning report. The “report released by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), shows that foreign companies abandoned roughly 14 percent of U.S. investments that were investigated by CFIUS in 2017 ‘in light of CFIUS-related national security concerns.’ The percentage in 2018 was 11 percent.

Those figures were sharply up from the period immediately before Trump took office. About 4 or 5 percent of such transactions probed by the committee were dropped annually from 2014 to 2016, the report showed. The Committee, led by the Treasury Department, reviews foreign investment in the United States for national security issues.”

I have raised this issue previously – when any entity makes it more burdensome to deal with, other entities will explore other options. The tariff wars are causing suppliers and customers to find other avenues. John Deere sales are down in the US, but up in South America as more agricultural products are being bought there.

On foreign investment, if we have companies jump through too many hoops, they will take their money elsewhere. These are headwinds to our economy and our growth has been softening.

Coupled with overall global softening, it should give us concern.

Plain talk

The news is never dull when the world has too many leaders that do not embrace facts to address problems. This is not unique to the US, but is indicative when other fact-challenged leaders are called the British Trump, the Philippino Trump, the South American Trump.

A threat to other countries’ national security is being identified in a country on the other side of the world and other hemisphere. The Amazon rain forest produces 30% of the planet’s oxygen, absorbs huge amounts of carbon and creates countless medicines. Yet, it is burning out of control and more is being harvested when it is not. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, like Trump, says climate change is a hoax and is slow to act on the fires and wants to develop more of the rain forest. This is a major concern. The planet needs more trees, not fewer.

The UK is headed for a trainwreck which makes me incredibly sad. They are unfortunately being led by a man who promises to make Great Britain great again. Financial analysts have said from the outset that Brexit will be dilutive to the British economy. Companies are moving and will move EU headquarters and distribution centers to EU cities like Dublin, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, etc. because of Brexit. And, what would be even worse, in spite of assurances to the contrary by PM Boris Johnson, is a no deal Brexit. Picture semi-trucks lined up on both sides of the borders trying to get through. Picture the Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments taking serious votes for referndums to leave the UK and rejoin the EU.

Italy will be having a new vote after the PM resigned over conflicts with his popular populist number two had created a stir. Snap elections are not conducive to stability. Just ask Theresa May, who made a horrible unforced error, losing a lot of support when she overstated her appeal.

Let me close with the most fact-challenged person in a position of lesdership outside of Putin, Erdogan, Kim and other autocrats, the regal-minded Donald Trump. His former ally and short-lived Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, has started a group to assure Trump is not reelected saying Trump is “off the rails.” Sadly, I agree with The Mooch.

As Trump’s tariff and trade wars push the global and US ecomomy closer to recession right when the ten plus year old growth market is feeling its age, he is blaming everyone else. Yet, what he is up against is financial and non-financial news shows consistently referring to the dampening impact of the Trump tariffs and trade wars as a cause and concern.

These increasing temper tantrums (let’s call them what they are) fail to recognize the role he has played in this with poor decision-making and lying to support such. It was reported by two insiders yesterday that Trump was surprised by China’s response that morning. Really? So, the person in the White House is barking orders and calling the Fed Chair a greater enemy than Xi.

Harry Truman’s words “the buck stops here,” are words that we are unlikely to hear from this president. And, if you ever wonder what a narcissist is worried about, a key trait is to blame others with their own faults.

Perception matters more than reality to the US president

Our friend Jill has written an excellent post on “Trumponomics 101” (a link is provided below). What I opined in a comment is Trump is more about perception than reality. Here are a few examples:

– he beats his chest on his trade and tariff decisions, but they have dampened the global economy, of which we are a key part, as well as certain US industries.

– he left the Trans Pacific Partnership which was designed to compete better with China on trade (note the other ten countries proceeded without us).

– he claims being tough on immigration and terror, but his travel ban and reduction in legal immigration are dilutive to our economy (note legal immigration has fallen as well).

– he touts his tax law, but it borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better for eighteen months or so.

Focusing on another tax cut to lessen the impact of the slowing growth is malfeasance, as was the first tax cut in December, 2017. And, lowering interest rates won’t push a lot of investment as businesses are concerned by the chaos caused by Trump.

So, Trump is worried about the market and economy retrenching from its growth not recognizing the headwinds he created. Note, for brevity I did not speak to other headwinds – not investing more in renewables, infrastructure, healthcare, etc.

Yet, the biggest perception he painted to his followers before the election was the US economy was in trouble citing the unemployment rate at 30%, then 40% then 42%. The reality is the unemployment rate was beneath 5% and we were in an economic growth period of 90 consecutive months (7 1/2 years) which continues to this day. He convinced his followers that he alone helped turn the economy around, which was doing pretty good.

Reality does matter. And, you won’t get a lot of that from Trump, who had a faux reality TV show.

Trumponomics 101

Tuesday’s gone with the wind -redux

Please hum one of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, “Tuesday’s Gone,” as you read a few miscellaneous thoughts this Tuesday. In no particular order:

– Most news agencies are purposefully not mentioning rhe killer’s name in Virginia Beach. I did hear the killer was a pleasant fellow by all accounts. This rebuts the comment about the good guy with a gun stoppng the bad guy – how do you know?

– Why must every issue or small thing be contentious? This president wears me out and has increased stress levels around the country. Please Mr. Trump stop commenting on so many topics. Please stop picking fights when they are not needed.

– And, the press needs to focus less on the many pedestrian faux pas of the president and more on the bigger issues like tariffs and trade, retrenching from our global position, climate change, environmental degradation, ignoring debt, and ongoing obstruction of justice and diminishing our democratic institutions. Coverage of the small stuff dilutes the impact of the large stuff.

– The middle part of our country is hurting with the flooding from these frequent behemoth storms that slowly move across the country. Plus, it is impacting farmers at the very time they must decide what to plant, which is influenced by the tariff issues.

– Finally, speaking of tariffs, political comedian Bill Maher noted on his show on Friday that Democrats should start calling tariffs what they are – a tax. He said they should be referred to as a “Trump Tax,”

That is all I have for this Tuesday. “Tuesday’s gone with the the wind. My baby’s gone with the wind.”

Governing is hard enough when we use facts

Governing is hard enough when our elected leaders use facts. What frustrates me is when decisions are supported by purposeful misinformation. As noted in a recent The Charlotte Observer article on the Trade War, the US President consistently repeats that China is paying the tariffs we establish.

Each time, his claim is refuted by economists who note US importers are paying the tariffs and pass most of the added cost to consumers. In the article it is noted by economists for the Federal Reserve the typical US household will pay $831 more each year with the next round of tariffs.

Tariffs are an unwieldy tool to deploy, but continually lying about their impact is poor stewardship. We deserve the truth from our leaders, regardless of what party they claim. Sadly, the US President feels that being loose with the facts or outright lying is a suitable modus operandi. It further frustrates when his staff facilitate these untruthful statements.

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Note: A variation of the above was sent into the Letters to the Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

Trade war and sagging prices push U.S. family farmers to leave the field

Recently, I wrote of the significant increase in farmer bankruptcies in several states. Already in a fragile state, the trade wars have pushed an increasing number of family farmers into bankruptcy.

In a Reuters article entitled “Trade war and sagging prices push U.S. family farmers to leave the field,” bankruptcy is not the only path forward for these farmers.

The article begins “Shuffing across his frozen fields, farmer Jim Taphorn hunched his shoulders against the wind and squinted at the auctioneer standing next to his tractors. After a fifth harvest with low grain prices, made worse last fall by the U.S.-China trade war, the 68-year-old and his family were calling it quits. Farming also was taking a physical toll on him, he said; he’d suffered a heart attack 15 months before.

Across the Midwest, growing numbers of grain farmers are choosing to shed their machinery and find renters for their land, all to stem the financial strain on their families, a dozen leading farm-equipment auction houses told Reuters. As these older grain farmers are retiring, fewer younger people are lining up to replace them.”

This a key reason tariffs and trade wars need to be well thought out and avoided whenever possible. Tariffs usually cast a wider net on the lives of people and business, harming far more than those intended for them to help. These farmers are one audience that is harmed.

The additional troubling aspect is the slow and lengthy impact tariffs and trade wars have on sales and supply chains. These chains are built on relationships. I often quote a CFO who echoes what I observed in 30 plus years of business that CFOs like predictable costs maybe even more than lower costs. Tariffs and trade wars upset that paradigm.

We must help our farmers, especially the family farmers. We also must make more thoughtful decisions with input from people in the know. Why? People are impacted, so we need to make sure we understand the scatter-fire of pulling the trigger on a change.

A little bird and a big crow

While at a stop light, I saw a flying metaphor. A little bird (about three inches in height) chased off a big crow who is closer to a foot in height. The little bird chased the bigger one for well over 100 feet, most likely a mother defending her nest from an egg stealer.

I feel the big crow is analgous to the America First mindset, where we are devaluing our relationships and bullying people into action. Now, some might say we have always thrown our weight around. Yet, our allies are reacting to being treated worse with tariffs and talk of more, our pulling out of multilateral or global agreements, our denigrating respected multinational groups, and telling countries who they can and cannot do business with.

The little bird represents individual countries, businesses and farmers who are doing what they must to perpetuate commerce. When certain avenues are closed or made difficult or costly to use, they have to find new suppliers or customers. They are chasing away the impact of the crow. It is a simple equation – the more difficult an entity becomes to deal with, others will seek other options. Plus, the more difficult we make it for all transactions, then fewer transactions will be made and global trade will suffer.

It is reported the President reached out to former President Jimmy Carter. The reason is Trump’s having concern over an ascendant China. This was happening any way, facilitated by actual long term planning by China. Yet, what Trump fails to realize is his role in greasing the skids. By retrenching from our position of strength, pulling out of a Trans-Pacific trade deal meant to even the playing field with China, he has allowed China to fill the void. By telling countries they will face tariffs if they deal with Cuba and Iran, we are greasing the skids for China to fill the void.

These little birds have to eat. They will look out for their best interests. If they must acquiesesce to the big crow, those actions will be remembered, if they are needed in the future by the crow. It should be noted,  a foreign diplomat said two years ago, the strength of the US is its allied relationships – failing to nurture them comes at a cost.

And, that Chinese bird is getting even bigger and faster than this old crow.

Fast break

With the NCAA March Madness tipping off, let me use fast break as a way to quickly comment on news items. For non-basketball fans, a fast break is an attempt to score before the defense sets up after a possession change.

– Congressman Devin Nunes is suing two Twitter accounts for making fun of his questionable and unethical actions as a Committee chair. Unfortunately, he has brought more followers to the two sites.

– There are a number of experienced and quality candidates running for the Democrat Presidential nomination. Dems need to avoid the “circular firing squad syndrome” which attack candidates’ imperfections. My suggestion is to listen to what each has to offer.

– The US President is headed to Ohio to save face by asking in person for GM not to close two plants hastened by his tariffs and not helping when asked last year. The union leader and two Ohio Senators asked  the President to help GM retool the plants to build SUVs rather than the sedans last year. Senator Sherrod Brown noted now the President is paying attention as it makes him look bad.

– The Brexit “troubles” continue, but hopefully the EU will agree to the delay. And, Parliament needs to use the time to clearly define what Brexit means versus staying with the EU, something they have not done. This needs to be thoughtful and data-driven. I would hate to see a state leave the US based on politics only to wake up to a terrible hangover.

That is all for now. I hope your bracket for the tournament is successful. Fast breaks are fun to watch and usually the team doing more of them wins.

Friday follies

I hope you have had a great week. Since there are several issues bouncing around inside my head, here is a summary review of the follies for the week.

The Brexit clock keeps ticking while the British parliament keeps placing their collective thumbs in their more southern orifices. A second Brexit vote would likely end with a different conclusion, but it would take more time than they have and would involve another decision by an uninformed public. Let me give Parliament its out, but it will take more courage than they have. They should either accept May’s terms or vote to remain. I would urge the Brits to remain, as I would hate to see Northern Ireland and Scotland leave the UK.

Here in the US, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was sentenced to 47 months in prison. While a much lighter sentence than many felt, he does have another sentence coming in another court. If Trump is as innocent as he proclaims, with the guilt of Manafort and other Trump associates, Trump is not very good at judging friends and associates. Yet, as I have witnessed time and again as a consultant, an organization takes on the personality of its leader. So, if subordinates are guilty of lying, cheating, and criminal behavior…

China’s slowing economy is impacting orher countries as expected. It was reported yesterday that China is buying less from abroad and using those dollars internally. The US trade deficit with China has grown not lessened the past year. And, the EU banks have softened economic projections as a result. What continues to surprise me is how little the US President understands how trade deficits and tariffs work. This may be the best metaphor of his Presidency as economics were supposed to be his strength.

Finally, populists are popping up in more countries in greater numbers. To me, a name that implies a broader appeal should not give greater license to spread hate and bigotry. In spite of all of our many faults here in the US and some leaders who need to find a conscious, we have benefitted greatly from being a melting pot. Diversity is a strength. I fully understand the need to govern the numbers of people immigrating in, yet painting all newcomers as evil, is not appropriate. What frustrates me is issues over immigration should be fact-based and reflective of the country’s mores and ideals and not sold on fear.

That is all for now. I know I have overlooked a great deal. Have a great weekend.