Trump Loyalty & Seinfeld Nudity: The Good & the Bad

There’s a classic Seinfeld episode where Jerry complains to George that his girlfriend likes to walk around the apartment naked. While George thinks that sounds heaven-sent, Jerry explains the difference between good-naked and bad-naked. A naked woman in bed is good-naked. A naked woman sneezing or struggling to open a jar lid is bad-naked.

A similar dichotomy has taken stage in full view in Trump’s executive office. The president clearly values loyalty above experience and expertise. As a result, he has surrounded himself with loyalists like Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Jeff Sessions, and many more.

There is nothing inherently wrong with loyalty. Indeed, loyalty is a much coveted trait in politics, business, and personal relationships. But loyalty must be accompanied and moderated by honesty. Without the ability to be honest (i.e., to disagree and criticize when necessary), loyalists turn into sycophants. They become detrimental rather than advantageous resources.

I’ve long been an advocate of playing the role of the devil’s advocate. I’ve written about it in several books and have discussed it in every class I’ve taught. To my mind, the most valuable contribution a loyalist can make is to pose the questions that no one else can or will ask. The vast majority of decisions would be strengthened – or decimated – simply by tossing a monkey wrench into the mix. Asking why, what-if, how-and-when, what-about, and a million other variations of the let’s-take-a-step-back-and-reconsider our options and alternatives is critical to success in every endeavor.

Devil’s advocacy is a technique that requires a level of confidence and spiritual courage that is rarely found in an administration that celebrates obsequiousness, revels in affirmation, embraces the superficial, values bluster over decorum, and disvalues intellectual curiosity in any form.

What we are experiencing today via The Donald and his fawning entourage is bad-loyalty at its worst and most damaging. As Trump would say: it’s BIGLY SAD.

Rand Paul Is Right: Replace Obamacare with Group Insurance for All

The GOP is back at it. Their DOA replacement for the Affordable Care Act is being spiffed up with even more egregious attacks on low-income and chronically ill Americans. But there is hope from one of their own: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Sen. Paul would disagree, but he has become the loudest and most credible voice endorsing universal health care – albeit under a different name. On his website and in multiple interviews, Sen. Paul advocates the establishment of nontraditional groups called Independent Health Pools (IHPs) “in order to allow individuals to pool together for the purposes of purchasing insurance…These can include…entities formed strictly for establishing an IHP.” In essence, Sen. Paul believes any American who wants to buy group medical insurance should be able to do so.

If enacted, IHPs could eliminate the most absurd peculiarity of the American healthcare system: employer-supplied medical insurance. Employer involvement with healthcare began during World War II as a way for corporations to skirt federal wage controls. Health insurance was a valuable perk that attracted job candidates while allowing employers to comply with the letter of the law. Plus, because companies could deduct the cost of the benefit as a business expense, the bottom line effect was negligible.

Employer-provided medical insurance is still widely popular. It covers the large-majority of non-elderly middle- and upper-class Americans and is rarely criticized from either side of the aisle. That’s the good news. The bad news is employer involvement with medical insurance represents ground zero in the battle to fix our dysfunctional American healthcare system. It’s the primary reason displaced workers can’t afford private insurance and why individuals with pre-existing conditions can’t find insurance companies willing to offer coverage.

My personal experience provides a textbook example. I left the corporate world in 2007 to start a business. I was covered under COBRA for about a year after leaving my former company. During that time I was billed for the same amount the company paid when I was an employee: about $17,000 per year for our family of four. When COBRA ended, we had to buy private insurance with an annual premium of $25,000 for less coverage, higher co-pays, and astronomical deductibles. We were the exact same family of four, but our out-of-pocket expenses more than doubled because I was no longer a member of a “group” and no longer qualified for group insurance rates.

Group medical insurance is a highly competitive business. Industry giants like Aetna, Cigna, and Humana bid aggressively for corporate accounts. The larger the company, the more competitive the bidding and the lower the premium. The IBMs and Walmarts of the world pay lower premiums for better coverage than their smaller competitors or mom-and-pop suppliers. That’s fine for big-company employees until they leave for a start-up or niche company. Assuming the new employer contributes the same amount as the former (typically 72% of the total premium) the employee will likely see an increase in paycheck deductions and a reduction in coverage benefits. That’s insane by any definition of the word.

That’s why I love Sen. Paul’s IHP proposal. If fully implemented, every American would come together in a true melting pot of quality healthcare services and delivery. Every working American covered by an employer-sponsored plan would receive a pay raise equal in value to their firm’s contribution towards medical insurance. The company would still be able to deduct the extra wages so there’d be no effect on corporate profits, and the employee would have the means to pay the premium negotiated by his IHP.

The more cynical observer might point out that this approach does not address the cost of health insurance which remains beyond the means of minimum-wage workers, the unemployed, and the disabled. As a nation of historically compassionate leaders, the federal government could increase the withholding tax for Medicare by a percentage or two in order to help provide or subsidize coverage for the less fortunate.

The key thing to remember is that this proposed system is nothing like the socialist abomination known as single-payer or universal health care. The Independent Health Pools epitomize the individualistic character of our nation. For the sake of efficiency, I’d personally recommend combining all the IHPs into a single entity. We could call this IHP “The United Citizens of America.” Membership would be automatic for every U.S. citizen, begin at birth, and end at death. It’s an idea whose time has come, and I’m sure Sen. Paul would agree.

One of Them Is Lying

lyingAs the Republican and Democratic conventions approach, some things are certain. We’ll hear a lot of soaring rhetoric and teeth-gnashing. We’ll see more pomp than a Kardashian Instagram feed. And we’ll be fed a steady stream of hyperbole, cherry-picked factoids, and outright lies. Mark Twain famously observed that politicians would never lie “unless it was absolutely convenient;” and the Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen told us, “Nobody speaks the truth when there is something they must have.” (Every politician, of course, must win his/her election for the sake of the country.)

Twain and Bowen are both implying that people apply a situational definition to honesty and integrity. True character, however, allows for no compromise on honesty. Trustworthiness is not something you can compartmentalize and turn on or off at will. You can’t be trustworthy in some aspects of your life but not in others. We are either trustworthy or we’re not. We’re either a rock or a pile of shifting sand. People either know they can count on us or we are doomed to disappoint them. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

A basic tenet of Hinduism says, “If you speak the truth long enough, your word becomes universal law.” Every time you demonstrate trust, you strengthen and enhance the public recognition of your integrity. That in turn leads to the ultimate goal of transforming the concept of trust into a practical reality. In a very real sense, trust becomes you and you become trust.

Think long and hard and try to remember the last politician who exuded trust as a core attribute. They may say, “trust me,” but provide no basis for doing so. And it’s not just politicians. Trust and honesty are characteristics that elude most of us.

Several years ago a former colleague – let’s call her Kristen – was engaged in a compensation dispute with her boss, the CEO of the company. It was a classic he-said/she-said situation. Here’s the scenario in brief. The company was rolling out a new compensation program and when the CEO explained the specifics of her target amount, Kristen said it was insufficient and substantially lower than her peers. She suggested that she and the company part amicably rather than engage in a pissing contest. The CEO quickly agreed that Kristen’s package was lower than her colleagues and assured her that the discrepancy would be adjusted by a certain date. Just as they had done on previous occasions, they shook hands on the deal.

When the agreed-upon date arrived, the extra compensation did not arrive along with it. The CEO acknowledged his earlier assurances but stated it was now out of his hands. Kristen was justifiably upset. The additional compensation was being paid out to her colleagues and she was low girl on the totem pole. She offered to resign and not make a fuss as long as she was paid the amount she was due. The CEO warned that she was going down a slippery slope and said the discussion was over.

Kristen subsequently sued the company and endured a bitter legal battle. The company’s other employees were forced to take a position – either side with the company and ostracize their colleague, or side with Kristen and potentially face retribution from management. All of this position-taking, however, was done with no one knowing the facts of the matter. And because it was a legal matter, Kristen was unable to share any non-public information. Instead, she would simply make the same statement to anyone who inquired: “Only two people know the truth. One of us is lying. You decide who.” That statement usually engendered a smirk and a knowing nod. Kristen had spent her entire career building a reputation for integrity, frankness, and honest dealing. She felt confident that the vast majority of people would look at the two parties and be hard-pressed to identify any instance where Kristen had ever said or done anything that could remotely be construed as untoward or deceitful.

I share this story to ask if you would be confident in declaring that “One of us is lying” and leaving the determination to others. Even more importantly, as election season is about to go into high gear, can you identify a candidate who could confidently, and without a trace of irony, make that same declaration? Can you imagine a debate stage in September or October when the presidential and vice-presidential candidates might point at their opponent and state, “One of us is lying. You decide.” It won’t happen and it can’t happen, because lying has become the hallmark of American politics.

The best we could hope for would be a candidate to look straight into the camera and say this: “We’re both lying. It’s your job to decide which of us is lying less.” That’s how far our political debate has declined but, in the parlance of the day, it is what it is. So, in the absence of true integrity, the best we can do is weigh one candidate’s mendacity against the other’s perfidiousness – and may the least deceitful win.