Sears, Trump, and the Age of Bull

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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20 Responses

  1. InMD says:

    Seems to me like we have a real problem with valorizing the salesman over the creator, or at least the person dedicated to doing things correctly. The whole Elizabeth Holmes affair also comes to mind.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to InMD says:

      Yeah. Steve Jobs has a good rant on that.


    • greginak in reply to InMD says:

      To a great degree the worship of Elon Musk falls into this. I keep hearing how he is a genius. But he isn’t doing the actual work. He has giant teams of actual scientists and engineers making the cool things his companies are making. He is the mouthpiece, moneyman and PR man ( along with being yet another guy who thinks he is brilliant at everything). Sure you say, Musk has invented The Tunnel greatest marvel of our modern age. Gotta give him that. Space X and Tesla are also cool of course/Report

      • InMD in reply to greginak says:

        Musk is a difficult quantity and it’s not unheard of for people to both have some real genius while also being shameless self-promoters. Sometimes we may need to tolerate a bit of the latter for the sake of the former. I’d like to think we can do that without abandoning discernment altogether but maybe that’s too optimistic.Report

        • greginak in reply to InMD says:

          Agreed in general. I’m a big fan of Space X so if that was all musk ever did i’d be happy. Shameless self promoters seem like the current american archetype for our age which i’m not thrilled about. Personally i’d prefer to tolerate weird eccentrics who are also geniuses but it’s not up to me.

          My guess is musk’s great new ideas are gonna be fewer and fewer while the bull shit is going to increase. Gonna be a lot more vegas tunnels and FREE MY WORKERS and keep OSHA out from him. Just keep space x flying.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to InMD says:

          Just because they are experts doesn’t mean they don’t have egos running rampant.

          And egos are the number one cause of Dunning-Kruger…Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to greginak says:

        Letting those actual scientists and engineers actually do the work is an important skill, and I say “skill” because it genuinely is a learned behavior; the natural impulse, on seeing something fail, is to take over and give it a shot yourself.

        Same with watching an exploding rocket crash to the ground and saying “welp, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen next time” instead of “welp, that’s it, we’re done” — and convincing everyone to go along with you. Obviously this is easier when you’re funding your own project, but you still have to convince people to use your rockets afterward!Report

  2. Doctor Jay says:

    My impression was that Lampert was bsing all right, but he had some sort of financial scheme in place where he made lots of money, even thought the company maybe didn’t. So “competence” doesn’t come into it. He’s highly competent at lining his own pockets. And that was the point all along.

    In this case, I’m not sure what that was, but we can imagine that there were important subcontractors for Sears that just happened to be wholly owned by Eddie Lampert.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      My impression was that Lampert was bsing all right, but he had some sort of financial scheme in place where he made lots of money, even thought the company maybe didn’t. So “competence” doesn’t come into it. He’s highly competent at lining his own pockets. And that was the point all along.

      Calling that a ‘scheme’ seems a bit silly. Setting things up where they suck money out of an already distressed company, and injure it even more, is standard operating procedure with venture capitalists. That’s literally how the premise works.

      Sometimes, almost by accident, a functioning company emerges at the end. But that’s in spite of the venture capitalists, not because of.Report

      • Doctor Jay in reply to DavidTC says:

        You have your terminology a bit off. Venture capitalists start new projects, usually of a technological nature. Private equity firms and hedge funds (like Bain) do the thing you describe.

        This is a minor terminology quibble.Report

      • North in reply to DavidTC says:

        I believe you’re thinking “Vulture’ capitalists, not venture capitalists. Think Mitt Romney.Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    As citizens of a democracy, our most pressing question is why those other citizens, who saw the emperor strutting naked, felt compelled to say they saw the beautiful clothes.

    We don’t lack for little boys saying the truth; This essay is one of hundreds, thousands all written by sharp articulate people who are correctly pointing out the truth.

    What we have is a massive plurality of voting citizens who keep insisting that they see the beautiful clothes.

    And unfortunately we have a large vocal group of journalists who tell us equally insistently that those who see the clothes have a valid point, and that to openly say that the emperor is naked is a debatable point and vulgar besides.Report

  4. greginak says:

    Good piece Dennis. The lamperts of the world have done more to damage the idea of capitalism then any truck load of chapo or red rose types ever could. Romney caught , fairly or unfairly, some of the heat for predatory capitalism that has been around since the 80’s.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:

      Agreed, it’s a glaring weakness in how we do capitalism that we have no check against that kind of Robber-Baron. And at the risk of sounding like Chip, I’m not convinced that it’s because we can’t come up with a good check, but that we want, or perhaps willing tolerate, such behaviors.Report

  5. Doctor Jay says:

    Self promotion is absolutely necessary for success in America, and it has been for a long time. We have long celebrated the sort of person that does this, but we also make an important distinction.

    Consider The Music Man. Harold Hill is a huckster, to be sure. He is fantastic at it. His character turns, indeed, the whole film turns, on whether he stays or goes. If he stays, and uses the energy he tapped to create something real, then he’s a hero. If he takes the money, and the love, and runs, he’s a villain. That’s how it is with these guys.Report

  6. Damon says:

    “The person who creates bull is trying to create an image of success even though everyone knows the reality is quite different. But they don’t care, because the goal is to make people believe it even when their eyes tell them otherwise.”

    Sounds like a majority of the press corp as well Dennis.Report

  7. Dark Matter says:

    A big part of the problem is we’re out of neutral players. The media has given up anything more than a figleaf pretense that they’re not on team blue or team red.

    So efforts to call out the other side can trivially get spun into efforts to advance your team’s side.

    So Trump blocking flights from China becomes an example of his racism, there is no other possible explanation. The implication is everything else he does on this subject gets the same treatment.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Dark Matter says:

      Yeah, this sort of thing is happening now:

      I suppose, on one level, we can say “hey, it’s not the government doing it!”

      But on another level…Report