The Trump Effect

The more I learn about Trump’s Washington, the more nauseated I become.

I recently came across an article in the Washingtonian, looking at the ways in which Trump’s Presidency has changed lobbying.The lead-in to that discussion was a report detailing another “Trump effect”–his negative effect on tourism.

The development, Dow explains, was rooted in several forces, including a stronger US dollar, economic weakness in Latin America, and dirt-cheap airfare in Europe. But there was another factor, Dow says: “the Trump effect.” The 2017 executive order blocking entry to citizens from six majority-Muslim countries, and the President’s hostile proclamations about immigration, had signaled to foreigners they weren’t welcome here, even if they only wanted to spend money in Times Square and go home.

Understandably, travel agencies and their lobbyists wanted to “change the rhetoric.” In previous administrations, the lobbyists would have started with the bureaucracy, whose officials the lobbyists usually knew.

In Trump’s government, though, the rhetoric came from the President’s own gut. Sharing policy insight with an agency functionary wasn’t going to help. They had to plant their talking points in front of POTUS himself. But how?

The coalition hired S-3 Public Affairs, one of the many DC lobbying-and-media-consulting firms scrambling to adjust to the city’s new power structure. In prior years, says S-3 partner Amos Snead, the firm might have designed an “outside-in” approach—collect letters or petitions from industry backers around the country, bring them to Washington, and use the testimonials to influence lawmakers, agency officials, and other thought leaders. Trump’s Washington, Snead believed, required a different approach. He sensed there might be a more direct path into the President’s head, via one of his favorite mediums: Twitter.

They followed Trump’s movements and sent their ads to IP addresses that covered wherever he was. This is what’s known in the industry, as the “audience of one” strategy—and according to the article, it’s become a staple of the business of Washington under Trump.

We may be critical of bureaucracy, but individual bureaucrats typically know a great deal about their particular area of governance. Lobbyists who want to be effective have to pitch their arguments to people who can immediately spot the weaknesses, ask pertinent questions, and “vet” proposals before sending them on up the chain of command.

Not in Trumpworld. He Who Knows Nothing responds only to flattery, so lobbyists now bypass informed underlings (to whom Trump doesn’t listen anyway.) Now…

During at least the first seven months of the new administration, staffers in the White House communications department compiled flattering news stories about Trump into packets, which they delivered to the President twice a day. According to a former White House aide, as the packet made its way to the Oval Office, additional officials inserted other news articles they wanted the President to read. “It would typically be, like, Stephen Miller putting his latest race-baiting story in there,” the former White House aide says.

When consultants and lobbyists learned about the folder, they saw a fresh opportunity. One Republican consultant told me he was able to plant stories favorable to his corporate clients in Breitbart News—the far-right outlet once run by Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon—and then pass those stories to a friend in the White House, who in turn slipped them into the daily packet destined for the Oval. “If you have a friend in there who can get something on the Resolute desk,” the consultant says, “it doesn’t really matter what the source [of the information] is anymore.”

And then there’s television…

The cornerstone of the audience-of-one strategy, though, is Trump’s love affair with television. After the election, consultants began buying commercial time during Fox & Friends, the conservative morning show that the President is known to watch religiously. But how do you get a 72-year-old man with no interest in policy to watch a commercial on ethanol subsidies? Well, the influencers decided, you find old footage of Trump discussing the issue on the campaign and make him the star of the commercial.

“The President’s favorite topic is himself,” says a Republican consultant. “What better way to get him interested in a message than by providing him with the thing that he’s most obsessed with?”

There’s much more along these lines in the article. Those of you with strong stomachs should click through and read it. I’ll just warn you that the policy process in Trumpville looks nothing like the one I’ve been teaching for twenty years.

As for me–I’m just going to go throw up now.


  1. What’s a lobbyist to do? 😉

    These new strategies must be depressing the market values of former politicians turned lobbyists like Joe Donnelly, Indiana’s previous sellout Senator.

    Maybe there is a positive to this strategy if we can get past the sickening feeling… perhaps there is a way to eliminate (substantially reduce/cap) the number of D.C. lobbyists. AND, we can tie to Citizens United reform which I’m still waiting for Trump, the ultimate outsider, to fix. Its the only way to Drain the Swamp in D.C.

  2. “The Trump Effect” has a deeper, more personal and wide-spread effect on Americans across this country. The constant level of stress, confusion and chaos in the government is taking a health toll on countless people of all ages. I saw this “up close and personal” in the Goldsmith administration as he destroyed all semblance of working city government while firing people left-and-right and replacing them with incompetent people with no experience in the area where they were placed. We watch this at the national level as the loss of all trust and faith in our government escalates; increasing stress levels, in many cases to the level of fear. The local level was evidenced in paranoia as well as health issues within Indianapolis city government; my primary physician said he had lost count of the number of city workers he was treating for stress. The friend of a co-worker was a nurse in the Wishard Hospital Emergency Room; she said they were treating countless people for stress who were brought in believing they were having heart attacks or strokes.

    This was easier to be aware of in this city at the local level within City government. The Trump Effect is not only at a widespread national level but has reached international proportions. We will never know the number of those whose health is suffering under Trump’s administration – and the health care system is his primary target for destruction. Even putting destruction of the ACA to be addressed after the 2020 election; he still has Medicare and Medicaid in his cross hairs. Health Care and Big Pharma lobbyists under the Trump administration hold our very lives in their hands with Trump’s full support.

  3. JoAnn, while Trump is the catalyst for so much of the anxiety in the country these days, the media and press certainly are the ones spreading the fear and confusion to one and all. I’ve taken to censuring the news by not reading any story that begins with the words “Trump might” or “Trump may”. If and when he actually “does”, that will be news worthy of my time. As for MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC (never FOX) there are other programs on at their times good for a moment of education, entertainment, or a laugh.

  4. JoAnn, your description of stress for Indy city employees under Goldsmith is exactly what private sector employees have been enduring everywhere for the past twenty plus years.

    Employment has become so cutthroat and precarious that employees are always on edge wondering if they will have a job at the end of each day, let alone tomorrow. People in this country are surviving on antidepressants, BP meds, anti-stress meds, alcohol or illegal drugs just so they can get through each day.

    Corporate power and income inequality has been very beneficial for the bottom line of the pharmaceutical companies.

  5. Trump and his base are made of the same stuff. They tend to have egos big enough to stretch a little knowledge learned at the knee of Fox News to large enough to fill their entire world. They are so easily influenced because of a gaping knowledge deficit about their jobs and the world around them.

  6. Yes, Trump exploits the ignorant. He is a psychopath. Not all psychopaths are killers, but they ARE what Trump is and does. You can look up the definition, clinical and otherwise, and compare the traits to the president who is an open display case of this condition.

    He has ALWAYS screwed up everything he’s touched. It’s his nature. How can anyone fail at gambling casinos? Trump did. How? He didn’t pay his contractors or his employees. He filed for bankruptcy and raked off the money. He’s doing the same to our country at every level of government.

    Congratulations to the 41% who still love this guy. You, as a group, will be the first of such a group to be identified as mass insanity. These people form the world’s and history’s largest cult. Pathetic.

  7. Nancy, you are right in your comment concerning private sector employees enduring. I worked in the private sector for 48 years with different multi-national corporations. The private sector proles (employees) on a regular basis felt wrath of capitalism’s failures. Those at the top had Golden Parachutes.

    Anyway, the bigger picture here on today’s subject is the fact Lobbyists have this place at the front of line no matter what technique they use or who they use it on. For instance we know a majority of the people are in favor of Universal-Single Payer Health Care. However, the for Profit Health Care lobbyists and bought and paid for politicians inflict a brutal, inhumane system on us Proles.

    Sheila: “We may be critical of bureaucracy, but individual bureaucrats typically know a great deal about their particular area of governance. Lobbyists who want to be effective have to pitch their arguments to people who can immediately spot the weaknesses, ask pertinent questions, and “vet” proposals before sending them on up the chain of command.”

    Ohh, if this were only true. The problem we have is government and corporate America is in many respects indistinguishable from each other. There is the well worn path of private sector to government and back again. Thus, we have Wall Street honchos plucked out of the private sector to work in government and then back again to Wall Street. This is why we had, Too Big to Fail, Too big to Jail.

    If government works like corporate America, ( I have no reason to believe it does not), job security demands that you please the “Boss”. The Flint water debacle proves that even human life can be sacrificed to please the Boss and his ideology.

  8. Just fyi, government generally does NOT work like corporate America. That doesn’t imply that only competent people work for government or for the private sector. Incompetence is an equal part of both public and private sector, as is stupidity. I might also add that different parts of government work differently. The military doesn’t work like the civilian sector. That’s one reason why generals might make bad civilian administrators. You can give a private an order and expect him or her to carry it out, without question. The same is not true of a GS-5. If a general has an ego problem, it won’t go well.

    Nothing is all bad, nor all good.

  9. Monotonous makes some good points. Just recently Sears, that old paragon of virtue in dealing with employees, stiffed employees while granting bonuses to its executives. Corporations use Chapter 11 to cover their boardroom decisions, which makes it all “legal.” Well, lots of things are legal but wrong: take antebellum slavery in the South, for instance, along with Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Trump-Ryan tax atrocity of December, 2017 etc.

    Monotonous also notes the revolving door between the rich and government by which Wall Street essentially dictates policy for the rest of us. I have long recommended that cabinet members (especially Treasury) be recruited from academia rather than Wall Street in the
    interest of a more measured means of coming up with initiatives that work for the common good and not just the rich and corporate class. There have been exceptions to my proposal. The financier Morgenthau was FDR’s Treasury pick and performed well with Keynesian economics as a guide during the depression which saved the country on the verge of economic collapse from becoming a failed state.

    The Republican Party today is not a party of people; it is a corporatist party run by a rich and powerful cabal of government-hating libertarians who use hatred and money and other such negatives in its attempt to retain power for the few, other negatives including the use of phony pretenses in re abortion, race, immigration, fear etc. as devices to maintain and expand their power through deranged dupes like Trump and terminal power brokers like McConnell. The Republican Party as a party of people and conservatism that once had some legitimacy is, as I have often written, a shell of its former self and is headed for the Whigdom from whose ashes it arose in 1854.

    Meanwhile, we in the majority are called upon to robustly resist these libertarian corporatists with their nihilist views of government from destroying what is left of our democracy until we can remove them from power in 2020. Let’s persevere. Robustly.

  10. Peggy,

    “Nothing is all bad, nor all good.” Maybe so, but Trump is about as close to “all bad” as I have ever witnessed. My current pet peeve is how cavalierly he treats the security clearance process. My first clearance came in 1961 in the Army. For more than 30 years after that I had Top Secret Crypto clearances at NSA, CIA, DIA, FBI, NPIC, Air Force Security and a handful of other agencies. The rigorous background checks that were and are part of every clearance process are meant to assure that the candidate has no weaknesses that could be exploited using money or various forms of extortion for the benefit of an enemy country.

    While the “need-to-know” principle attempts to assure that even cleared individuals don’t get access to material not relevant to their specific jobs, the mere holding of a security clearance works as intended only if each holder is a conscientious and patriotic American. Jared and Ivanka were found not to be (they lied on their applications), yet the White House awarded them clearances. Another 25 individuals at the White House were found to be too suspicious to clear, yet they were given Top Secret clearances anyway. Add this to Trump’s open sharing of British secrets with the Russians, and we have an infantile and uncaring and possibly treasonous way of protecting our most vital secrets. There are no precedents for such dangerous behavior. There is no logic, including the drivel of Republicans in the Senate, that justifies sweeping such recklessness under the rug.

    All of this was done – in typical Trump fashion – out in the open. Because of the danger that lives could be at risk, I can barely imagine the angst that intelligence officials must live with daily as they decide whether to forward sensitive information to the White House. In my dark moments I hear them wondering, “Maybe if I sent this straight to Putin the government could save some money on stamps.”

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