When you think about it, isn’t it strange that Donald Trump doesn’t represent the historical norm, that Americans have never before elected a P.T. Barnum president (though Barnum did become the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut)? After all, as I wrote of Trump during the 2016 election campaign, “What could be more American than his two major roles: salesman (or pitchman) and con artist?” Americans have always loved a con man — something Hillary Clinton and her advisers somehow never quite grasped.
Trump was always, at heart, both the pitchman of, and a con artist for, American abundance, or rather for a particularly American version of conspicuous consumption. Hence, the reported $7 million in gold leaf in the Louis XIV-style ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago private club, the gold-plated bathroom fixtures on his plane, the gold-plated helicopter he owned, the $100 bottles of Trump 24K Super Premium Vodka with a 24-karat gold “T” on the label, and of course his name skylined across the planet in giant golden letters. Hence also his ability to convince others of his success, even when his casinos cratered — he still made millions off them, leaving his investors holding the bag — his magazine floundered, his steaks went to the dogs, his airlines barely got off the ground, and Trump University’s triumph lay in the number of lawsuits it produced (and the Mexican-American judge he defamed). Consider this not failure, but Donald Trump in his prime.
So it’s strange that, in the thunderstorm of media coverage of President Trump — never has any president sucked the air out of the media room this way — his greatest pitch and what may be the greatest selling scam in history has gotten so little attention in these last six months. I’m talking about his scheme, as reported by TomDispatch regular Michael Klare today, to open the gold-plated spigot on American fossil fuels and sell the country’s oil and natural gas abroad in far greater quantities than at present.
In the past, the pain Trump caused had its limits (though tell that to those casino investors or the “students” of Trump University). Even Trumpcare, which — were it ever to come to be, leaving the health of millions in tatters — would only wound some, not all. On the other hand, convincing the world that this is the moment to burn yet more American fossil fuels and so release yet more carbon emissions into an already overheating atmosphere, if carried off “successfully,” might prove the greatest scam in history. The pain from it would be beyond measure, since it would damage the very environment that has proven, for all these millennia, so welcoming to humanity. It would, in short, represent an all-too-conspicuous consumption — of pain. Let Klare explain.