“I wasn’t forced to pay for Water World …” was my response.
The person arguing with me over something political, stopped cold and looked off in the distance. “Well, I guess I didn’t think about it that way,” they replied.
See, we were having a discussion about some new government program Bill Clinton was proposing. And it honestly sounded exiting and like something we, the public, should be on board with. The main selling point of it (at the time) was that it was going to cost the federal government less money than it had cost to make the ill-fated Kevin Costner epic, Water World. That’s a pretty good selling point in a boardroom somewhere, trying to get someone to invest in the next iPhone or HVAC innovation. But this was government. And I had just sent them an enormous tax check. And I had no choice in the matter. And the person I was debating had never sent them a tax check …ever. So, obviously we viewed the government from two different vantage points: me from an investor’s point of view and they, from a consumer’s point of view.
Those two points of view are the primary difference in how we all see government function and funding.
Much ado is being made about the President’s asking of a foreign leader to look into corruption by certain people in our government. I heard the transcript of the phone call, read aloud, the first day it was published. None of it stood out to me as anything out of the ordinary for one president to say to another president. Maybe I wasn’t listening hard enough.
But then the business about Joe and Hunter Biden surfaced. And everyone on one side was quick to claim it was corruption. Everyone on the other side was quick to claim it wasn’t.
Here’s the thing …
The family business is a great, American tradition. In fact, it’s a great global tradition. We hear TV and radio commercials all the time (hell, I’ve written jingles for them) about businesses that have been around for “generations.” Father learns how to repair diesel engines and starts his own shop. Then he teaches his son how to repair the engines. Son grows up and teaches grandson, and so on and so on and before you know it, Smith’s Diesel Repair has been in business for 60 years and they know everything there is to know about diesel engines.
I actually love stories like that. A lot of those family operations have gone on to be great American companies, who employ lots of people and do a lot of good in the world.
But the family business operates within certain codes: we can’t take our customers’ business for granted and we can’t force anyone to buy our product.
Now, the family business can (and often does) promote some weak, spoiled child who has no business in that business. A parent’s love is a powerful thing. And many is the time some gritty entrepreneur, who worked 18-hour days, poured blood, sweat and tears into a dream, built it from the ground up and won in the marketplace, has a soft spot for a certain son or daughter who didn’t have to go through all the same things mom or dad did. And that person gets the reigns of a company they didn’t build, and they end up driving it into the ground.
That’s a common story in American business.
Then, sometimes a son or daughter watches closely and learns well and respects the sacrifices made on their behalf, and they end up taking a small business left to them, and turning it into some kind of powerhouse industry no one saw coming.
But in both cases, the market is allowed to vote on them …VOLUNTARILY.
Neither you nor I are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of Smith’s Diesel Repair. They are. If we need Diesel repair work, then we will be forced to engage them or someone like them. Otherwise, we are out of the equation completely.
The thing that is often so subtle about government is that it is so a part of our daily lives, we forget who is working for whom. We see people in public service as “authority” figures, when they are nothing of the sort. In OUR form of government, the elected officials work for WE. THE. PEOPLE. It’s not the other way around.
So many times, that barely seen, but profoundly deep, line between “public” and “private” gets blurred to the point of unrecognizable.
I have heard on a continual loop, that Joe and Hunter Biden have been cleared of all wrongdoing and that they have already been investigated and have been found innocent of anything even resembling corruption. Of course, nobody ever cites any of these investigations and none of us have any idea who did the investigations or when they happened or, more importantly, WHY they happened. But I suppose if Anderson Cooper says it, it must be true.
But despite all these investigations that showed beyond all doubt that the Biden father/son connection to Ukranian natural gas exploration was completely on the up and up, I still find myself scratching my head about the main point: Joe Biden wasn’t the president of the Ukranian natural gas exploration company. If he had been that, then, his son suddenly showing up on the board and being rewarded with a big salary would be completely natural. Still unseemly, but natural.
No, Mr. Biden wasn’t the president of that company. Instead he was VICE PRESIDENT of OUR company; the people of the United States. And he was directly in charge of the American effort to direct investment funds toward helping with Ukranian natural gas exploration. None of this is my opinion. IT’S ALL ON THE RECORD.
I don’t know if Joe Biden ever used his influence to help his son keep a job. And for all I know, Hunter Biden is a great asset to companies who are exploring for natural gas. But none of those things are the point.
The point is this: when people in positions of “power” are wielding large sums of the people’s money, and their family members get intertwined through business, with that money, and nobody sees a conflict of interest with that, things have gone astray.
Only someone who has been in government too long would see his son sitting on the board of directors of a company he’s about to funnel American tax-payer dollars to, and not see it as a problem. And I get it. If I’d been doing something for decades and understood the ins and outs of it like few other people, and my son was somehow benefitting from it indirectly, I might not think twice about it. It might just seem like business as usual. Hey, I’ve got sons. They work in different fields. At some point they’re going to come in contact with this tax money I’m throwing around. What’s for lunch?
But the money isn’t his. It isn’t his company. It isn’t his decision. It’s OUR decision. See, WE didn’t have a choice about where that exploration money went. WE didn’t get a say in who it was sent to. WE had no vote in any of it. WE were sent tax forms to fill out and told “pay or else.” WE had money taken out of our paychecks every first and fifteenth. WE had no choice.
And that gets me back to Water World …
I have no doubt that the Trump organization has all sorts of twists and turns and family entanglements that would boggle our minds. It, too, is a family business. And since he has been president, who knows if his corporations and/or children have benefitted directly or indirectly from his position. When you start out with a brand as pervasive and entangled with global governments as the Trump brand, I can’t imagine those scenarios aren’t out there somewhere. And if they are proven and corrupt, proper action should be taken. Although I can tell you now, that it has all been investigated and it’s all been proven to be completely on the up and up (see, Anderson …anyone can do it).
But at least that brand got built privately and you nor I had to pay for it through coercion. We had a choice as to whether or not we stayed at a Trump hotel or gambled at one of his casinos. Nobody showed up in black suits with certified letters, forcing us to fork over our money to his business.
In the case of ANYONE who has made a career out of government, every pay check they deposit was once extracted from someone else’s. They work in the only business in America we all have to subsidize in order to stay out of jail. And anyone who went into government with modest means, but who came out of it wealthy, is doing it wrong.
If Kevin Costner wants to make Water World 2, he will go find some people willing to gamble on it. And I don’t have to be one of them. Or I can be. It’s about choice and risk and reward. And the public can decide to go or not, without their paychecks getting garnished.
But if the government decides to make Water World 2, we’re all on the hook for it. And if it bombs, we get to eat the cost and shut up about it. And if a VP’s son happens to be on the board promoting it? Well, that’s probably fine as long as Anderson Cooper says it is.
To subscribe to my daily blog, click the link: