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Shaving cuts

Trump’s disastrous approach to bringing business practices to the federal workforce ignores the public good

Kevin O’Keefe is artistic director of Circus Minimus, which brings the magic of circus arts to kids and to schools.

Brattleboro

Excuse me while I grouse about a petty problem while promising to connect it to something more meaningful to all.

I walked into my local Rite Aid pharmacy today. In the shaving section, I encountered a grizzled man about my age — I’m 59 — holding a plastic razor handle with no blade. He blankly stared in obvious confusion at the razor display case.

Noticing that I was there for the very same reason we started to commiserate. He peppered me with questions, perhaps assuming I knew more than he about razors.

“Is this box of blades for the ProGlide or the Mach 3?”

“Does this handle fit this blade?”

“Why do only two come in such a big box?”

“Why do they cost $639 per ounce?”

“They are expensive,” I reasoned, “because Gillette has a near-monopoly.” His four-day beard was a testament to my theory.

Continuing, I said, “And they put two in a big box so you don’t realize how they are hosing you every time you buy. I tried to get some knock-offs from China last year, and that failed. But how can American technology put a man on the moon in 1969, and in 2018 we haven’t figured out a device for sharpening razor blades?”

He picked up the thread and continued.

“If such a device exists, I’m sure Gillette owns the patent and/or killed the project,” he said. “Just like car companies did back in the day, and software companies do today. That’s the nature of capitalism — large corporate interests devour the small entrepreneurial ones, co-opting their innovation and technology, sometimes at the expense of the public good.”

By then we’d made our choices, after reassuring each other, and we continued to converse while moving toward the checkout line.

As we got to the front of the store, I noticed that I was ahead of him even though I came into the store after he did. I wondered if he would let me go to the register first or if I would yield. Would he try to pull rank of some kind? You see, this capitalism thing is the very air we breathe.

I turned back to him and said, “If such a device were available, there would be no need for us to spend $120 a year for new blades.”

He pulled out his cell phone which in some way for me is the death of a conversation. Now there was an expert in between us who knew more about everything than either of us.

He signaled me to wait. “I just heard about something called Harry’s Shave Club,” he said. “Two young guys in NYC started it.” I thanked him and made my way to the register, feeling appropriately guilty and only slightly tired of winning.

I paid $42 for eight razor blades (at a 10 percent savings!) and returned to my office. I checked out Harry’s and for close to the same money purchased a new razor with 18 blades and two cans of shaving gel.

I wonder how long it will be before Gillette buys Harry out and sends these two innovators off to their island paradise, leaving the rest of us to choose between beards or poverty.

* * *

When either of the Bushes were president, they would wax poetically about “the beauty of the free market” and how our great capitalist system fairly rewarded the many based on their individual effort.

The second Bush presidency sunk in the putrid flood waters of New Orleans when it was clear that free-market principles applied to governance left whole cities vulnerable to destruction. No crony of Bush or corporate spokesperson was able to stop the truth from leaking out on national TV when Kanye West went off script to say, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

Obama tried to put his fingers in the many dike holes of government. It might be too early to tell whether he failed or succeeded, but few doubted that he hired a competent staff and was a man of empathy. (So was the second Bush, for that matter.)

Now along comes the Trump administration. Where Bush failed through cronyism and incompetence, Trump seems confident that having empty desks at many of the essential posts in government is the answer.

By not filling key leadership or middle-management positions in the administration, Trump ensures that only he will get the credit (or blame).

It seems as if Trump is hoping to do for the United States what he did to many of his bankrupt businesses — namely, get his money out and offshore (to the Cayman Islands, Panama, Bermuda, and other destinations), and laundered before the whole enterprise collapses.

Trump is slashing costs with a hiring freeze or all-out purge of “Obama’s people,” which effectively guts governmental oversight of the Department of State, Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Congress with the recent repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Is there any doubt that when the shit hits the fan America will be “a shithole country” in its response?

Don’t believe me? Just ask Puerto Rico.

* * *

With one swift stroke of his enormous pen, Donald Trump gave a $1.5 trillion tax cut to the already-rich corporate stakeholders and stockholders. Not coincidentally, that same amount could have erased all the student debt in the United States, effectively investing in the education of two entire generations.

But that is not how our free-market system works. Perverted by the rich and with the aid of government, it works to protect the ones who are rich and corporate, the ones who are well-connected with K Street lobbyists, the ones with fixers like Michael Cohen or pals like Rupert Murdoch, the ones who are white, entitled, and privileged, the ones who can hire a team of lawyers to hide behind and delay their impending doom.

Trump’s unfathomable narcissism, high tolerance for risk, and abhorrence of good governance will destroy our society, if we let it.

Frankly, the whole enterprise makes me want to retreat to a small cabin in Vermont and stop shaving. But I can’t, because I’m an American.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #463 (Wednesday, June 13, 2018). This story appeared on page D4.

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