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Devil’s Advocate

Devil’s Advocate

So far, not good

The Trump administration is now some six months old and I could not be more disappointed in what it has accomplished—or rather, failed to accomplish. Encouraged by the choice of people like Mattis, Tillerson, Cohn, Mnuchin, Ross, DeVos and others, I was optimistic that real progress would be made on tax reform, taming the regulatory burden, infrastructure spending, and yes, tackling the huge issues with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Surely, I thought, with people as strong as these, partisanship would be cast aside in the interests of launching the economy into a period of much higher growth rates than we have seen since the crisis of ’08.


Forgive me for assuming Trump’s love affair with Twitter and the public condemnation of those not in his circle of affection would end with the responsibility of focusing on the job.

I certainly misread the challenges any meaningful policy reform would face and totally failed to appreciate that the antics the President practiced during the election would continue after his inauguration. Forgive me for assuming the love affair with Twitter and the public condemnation of those not in his circle of affection would end with the responsibility of focusing on the job. I also misread the animosity generated within the liberal left for the sense that Trump had somehow been elected illegitimately. Whether this was Russia convincing Americans not to vote for Hillary, or emphasizing the results of the popular vote versus those of the electoral college, is not the issue. The shock of his victory left his opponents feeling disenfranchised, which has now translated into the Democrats and their media friends doing everything in their power to discredit Trump, members of his family and any policy ideas they and the Republicans generate.

The focus on repealing Obama Care was perhaps misplaced. The real issue here is that the American health care system does produce very good quality care, arguably the best in the world, or certainly the most advanced in many fields. But it does so at tremendous and unsustainable cost. Procedures are encouraged, not outcomes.

Reform is desperately needed but that reform will require that costs are reduced. Any time you try to remove money from a system, there will be huge opposition by those who will bear the consequences of less spending. This won’t be easy, but the consequences of no reform will be that those who sought the protection of the insurance offered by the ACA will no longer be able to afford it and be thrown back into the ranks of the uninsured. Those who elected not to join, and pay the nominal penalty for not doing so, will only be further encouraged to remain uninsured.

Shame on the Republicans for not being able to offer a replacement for the ACA which would enjoy their party’s support to the extent it could be successfully carried through the legislative process. But similar shame on the Democrats for failing to offer sensible alternatives. No one is winning here.

As great a shame as this is, I am more deeply worried by the extent to which this failure has hobbled the administration’s other policy agenda items. Add to that the ridiculous behavior offered by the hiring and firing of Scaramucci and the in-fighting taking place at the White House and you have to wonder just how long the sensible members of the Cabinet will stick around. Given that none of them needed the job, the concern has to be that they will quit in disgust. This, presumably, would be a highly desirable outcome for those on the left but that is an incredibly selfish attitude. Trump has done nothing which is impeachable and he can’t be summarily kicked out of office for losing the respect of his people.

It might be helpful to put some context around this negative view of Trump. Bill Clinton enjoys huge international respect and his presidency is largely seen as having been very effective. Yet this is a man who practiced disgraceful behavior while in office. Kennedy’s leadership is similarly praised, yet he too was an acknowledged philanderer. Beyond that, he ruled his administration with an iron grip and relied very heavily on family members (especially Bobby) to carry out his agenda. You could argue Trump has done nothing which comes close to crossing the line which Kennedy and Clinton clearly ignored.

Is there hope? In my view, only if the sensible members of his team walk into Trump’s office and get him to play by a code of practice which restores and builds respect for the office, and the U.S. The world needs its largest economy firing on all cylinders and those who would disrupt the global order—whether they be in the Kremlin, Damascus, North Korea, or Tehran—must be made to understand that there is indeed a line which, if crossed, will bring a response beyond a slap on the wrist.

We live in a time of tremendous opportunity, but one in which the proliferation of arms and dangerous leaders is on the ascendancy. We need a strong President to carry us through. Please Mr. Trump.

John Risley
About John Risley

John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., regularly engages in policy debate as a member of the World Presidents' Organization, the Chief Executives Organization and as a director on the Board of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

6 Comments to “Devil’s Advocate”

  1. What you misread, John, was Donald Trump’s lack of suitability for being President of the United States. He doesn’t possess the character, maturity, and integrity to inhabit the White House. His lack of understanding of geo-political issues is shocking. And he’s a flunky businessman to boot. His only true competency is hosting reality TV shows. Knowing that Trump would be a disaster as a president from the start was a no-brainer.

  2. Great perspective John!

  3. Brian McLaughlin // October 1, 2017 at 2:38 am // Reply

    I normally read John Risley’s commentaries with great appreciation for his diverse business perspective. I’m surprised that he could reveal such initial hope and appreciation for a minimalist simpleton like Donald J. Trump. In the book Voices of Democracy — Bernard Muchland’s conversation with Elmer Johnson, a former head executive at General Motors (who oversaw the legal, operating and public affairs staffs between 1983 and 1988) — some discerning things are revealed about a corporate mentality guided on the principal that only “the almighty dollar makes the world go around.” Their conversation centered on the prevailing question: Is democracy compatible with capitalism? Johnson pointed out that when a society depends primarily on either the market, or legal authoritarianism (or any amalgamation of both) for creating and sustaining a passable ethic, then that society is in a serious state of reckless decline.

    So I’d like to (respectfully) present a compounded devil’s advocacy to Risley’s corporate devil’s advocate perspective. I advocate proposing the merits of including political philosophy and a broader historiographic perspective into any policy debate or post-modern market percepts of evaluating the faltering Trump Presidency. A liability with the tunnel vision (mathematical P&L pragmatism)with which too many a CEO too narrowly monitors the democratic dialectic is it short-changes our evolving towards greater societal progression of a sustainable (organic)deliberative democracy. Let’s not be blindsided about the dangers of Donald Trump’s populist appeal: and neglect to see the hazards inherent in Trump’s vision of “sovereign states” of substandard 21st Century ‘fragile democracies’ polluted with the same entropic, Zeitgeist of early 20th Century European experiments with corporate statism (fascism). To offer an acute historical example with Trump’s “drain the swamp” appeal to past minimalistic popular idols: Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich was the embodiment of the ‘failed corporate state.’ We should all hope Trump’s administration never achieves that catastrophic level of democratic and free-market failure!

  4. Also, John Risley may I suggest reading “The Letters of John F. Kennedy” edited by Martin W. Sandler: specifically the back channel, private correspondences between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev. You will come to recognize that though Kennedy had his human weaknesses, his ‘life and death’ was an epic tragedy: JFK also was the embodiment of a ‘Kierkegaardian hero’ during the Cuban Missile Crisis! JFK had the deep-rooted moral compass, character and authentic power to will the future. JFK’s energy displayed “vigah” in a time of existential global crisis. JFK (#35) was courageously riding atop the waves of change. Whereas, #45 is simply surfing an eddy of regression.

  5. Tom McMullin // October 29, 2017 at 4:45 pm // Reply

    – My comment is limited to Mr Risley’s opening premise. I just can’t seem to get my head past it: —-“Encouraged by the choice of people like Mattis, Tillerson, Cohn, Mnuchin, Ross, DeVos and others, I was optimistic that real progress would be made……”
    — Maddog Mattis: his blood soaked career is well documented. This war criminal was quoted as saying of Afghan men: “it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
    — Cohn: a Goldman Sachs star during ’08 crisis. Left GS with $220M stock & $65M cash. After moving the GS back-office staff to India, unapologetically stated: “We hire people there because they work for cents on the dollar versus what people work for in the U.S.” His mergers & acquisitions led to the loss 22,000 U.S. jobs over 3 yrs.
    — Tillerson: under his tutelage, Exxon has left a trail of carnage—from human rights abuse to environmental destruction, in the ruthless pursuit of oil. “My philosophy is to make money.”—Rex Tillerson.
    — Minuchin: his bank (One West) made a killing foreclosing on 36,000 families, 2009-15.
    – Ross: while dining at Trumps’ Mar-a-Lago club, described the April 7 Shayrat missile strike as “after-dinner entertainment”. The baseless and blatant act of aggression just happened to kill nine civilians, including four children while injuring several others…. that’s pretty entertaining.
    — DeVos: the unabashed bell ringer of for-profit education…check out her senate confirmation hearing and tell me if Trump could possibly find somebody more unqualified. She was nominated to squeeze dollars out of U.S. Education..and for no other reason.
    – There are 1,542 billionaires in the world, 563 are American. They own 6 trillion of the world’s wealth. After Trump has placed a fox in each Departmental hen house, I project that by the end of his tenure, the numbers will only increase…unless the U.S. implodes first.
    – The USA did not become the nation envisioned by Lincoln; one governed by, for, and of the people. What it has become was forewarned by FDR: “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.”
    – The callousness and greed of corporatism has infused Capital hill and mainstream media. Unless a genuine third Party can rise from the ashes, it is hopeless.

  6. Brian McLaughlin // November 9, 2017 at 2:36 am // Reply

    Tom McMullin…Excellent synopsis presenting the inherent character flaws of the foxes in Trump’s (Reich) cabinet of economic nationalist salvation. With every week that unfolds it seems Trump’s approval rating sinks to new all-time lows. These cabinet lap dogs are rumoured to be next out the door: Tillerson and DeVos (neither has much of a future on Trump train). Henry Wallace 33rd Vice-President of U.S.A sagely warned beware of the new fascists in white shirts and ties. There’s still hope that a ground swell of civic activism convinces the GOP controlled Congress and Senate to move quickly towards drafting articles of impeachment. Actions by environmentalist/billionaire Tom Steyer (https://www.google.ca/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2017/10/20/politics/tom-steyer-ad-impeach-trump/index.html) is proof some 21st Century, globally conscious billionaires still value democracy and corporate ethics.

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