Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Next Trumpism Generation Will Be ENRON Slick

 Don't be fooled or lulled into complacency. The fascists engaged in Trumpism have learned  lessons from their partially failed effort to end our democratic experiment in favor of an authoritarian fascism.  Trump didn't do what damage he did alone.  Likely he did not have a grand strategy, given his impulsive, narcissistic personality.

Smart, cunning fascists saw in him an opportunity to launch their attack on a democracy they were forced by history to share with those they called liberals.  Liberals were an extreme inconvenience to them in attaining their faster, easier claim on wealth and riches.  Some in his midst were ideologues like Bannon, Miller, Gorka.  Most were very impatient business types who found our plodding, messy and shared democracy a major impediment to wealth building.  Take a look at Trump's former cabinet and key Federal department appointees.  Grey, colorless, boring financiers and industrialists whose personal agendas were accumulation of dollars, preferably stored offshore.

The Enron corporate model exemplifies the predictable next round we face in the deconstruction of small d democracy. The founders , all slick operators like Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow. who chose a relatively colorless, not so smart CEO from a traditional Texas energy career. Yes, he had a PhD in economics, so he knew what they all were doing with their new company whose brand theme was "Endless Possibilities".   But his mind manner and winning, nice guy personality masked the criminality his company and board were engaging in.  And a very un-flashy complicit board it was of equally colorless people  you never heard of from a variety of industries and backgrounds.  It included the wife of a very influential Texas Senator also with a PhD in economics.

The colorless fraud, well understood by Lay and his Board was quietly sold to a clueless business media and Houston establishment lulled into cluelessness with brilliant marketing.  They had in tow both a very respected Texas/Houston based law firm with international standing as well as a CPA firm of like international standing.   They knew and guided the criminal enterprise.  They just couldn't not know given their experience and brainpower.  

I lived in Houston during Enron's founding and rise to corporate leadership.  Young, ambitious people were eager to board this money-making train which had all the appearance of respectability.  They were attracted both by the dull ordinaryness of the new enterprise but also the slick, corporate flash provided by second tier management embodied by Fastow and Skilling.  They were seen at all the right public events, sports spectacles and fine dining establishments. Well dressed and driving the popular sports cars of the day.  This was to right imagery mix to attract the smart talent as employees and contractors.  I knew some of both. It was a heady time for the up and comers. 

This is what the next fascist Trumpite generation will look like.  And the look will be very different from the Trump era.  Smart, sharp, slick and all business in the campaign, led by a trustworthy colorless Presidential candidate.  Maybe someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.  Pleasant enough, very self confident but not flashy or controversial. 

I got an insight into some of the Enron inner workings from a series of public radio interviews I did with Sherron Watkins, the Enron whistleblower.  What I learned from her, a very ethical, moral and deeply religious person, is that the co-conspirators in the massive fraud really came to believe that they were reinventing business norms, standard accounting and auditing practices and legal compliance.

Not that they didn't at first understand the fraud they were initiating. They knew, but narcissism and greed warped their judgement as they got deeper into the fraud and over time, believed they were right.  They were living the branding slogan "Endless Possibilities".  After all, this is the core promise of the American Dream and capitalism.  Which they turned into an elitist, fascist enterprise of people with superior skills and abilities.  This was the Enron culture. 

Watkins found only denial when she confronted the fraudsters.  They were reinventing business in their minds.  And down the corporate ladder, she found true believers who could not fathom those above them they idolized and were very gratefully benefiting  them financially would be doing anything wrong.  The same held for the world class legal and financial counsel who aided and abetted the fraud.

Sherron had no choice then but to go outside the cult of "Endless Possibilities" to regulators, many of whom too were duped and failing getting help there, went to criminal investigators within the Federal government.  She, as a conservative, found this last resort as distasteful but her only final option.

So, history may well repeat itself.  The model, Enron is there for the emulating by the next, faster, smarter and more cunning generation of Trumpites.  Stay vigilant.  democracy demands that of us.