Donald Trump’s recent cabinet picks have a history of being very good … to Donald Trump. Working Americans probably won’t be as lucky. His latest hire is wrestling billionaire Linda McMahon, who’s been tapped to lead the Small Business Administration. In the parlance of McMahon’s industry: Trump is treating voters like a bunch of jabronies.
McMahon, a former executive with World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), gave $6 million to Trump’s campaign. She and her husband, WWE CEO Vince McMahon, also gave $5 million to Trump’s foundation – whose funds Trump has used in highly questionable ways.
(Linda McMahon served as WWE’s CEO during Vince’s trial on charges of distributing steroids. He was acquitted, although the Los Angeles Times concluded that the proceedings “damage(d) the reputations of both McMahon and one of the prosecution’s key witnesses–Hulk Hogan.”)
The McMahons spent a reported $100 million on Linda’s two unsuccessful runs for the United States Senate. It could be argued that their Trump contributions were more cost-effective, since she’ll finally hold a federal job – after giving roughly one-tenth as much money to Trump’s initiatives as she did to her own.
The agency McMahon is to lead was created by the Small Business Act of 1953, which declared “free competition” to be “the essence of the American economic system of private enterprise.” The Act described “the preservation … of such competition” as “basic not only to the economic well-being but to the security of this Nation.”
McMahon is an odd choice for the position. The WWE is often described as a monopoly, since it dominates the wrestling industry. (Its principal competitor, the UFC, features a different form of fighting/entertainment.) The WWE reported revenue of $164.2 million in the third quarter of 2016 and boasted of 11.5 billion “video views” during the first nine months of the year.
Monopolies are a threat to small businesses. They are anti-competitive, and therefore antithetical to the SBA’s mission.
The SBA is supposed to “aid, counsel, assist and protect … the interests of small-business concerns,” and “insure that a fair proportion of (all government) purchases and contracts … be placed with small-business enterprises …”
But the McMahons aren’t known for being small business-friendly. Vince McMahon even boasted to Sports Illustrated in 1991 about consolidating his industry:
“In the old days, there were wrestling fiefdoms all over the country … There were maybe 30 of these tiny kingdoms in the U.S. and if I hadn’t bought out my dad, there would still be 30 of them, fragmented and struggling.”
The McMahons have muscle, and they use it.
The WWE insists that its wrestlers are “independent contractors.” But an analysis in the University of Louisville Law Review found that the WWE’s wrestlers met 16 of the IRS’s 20 criteria for employee status. The author concluded that “wrestlers are denied countless benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled” because of the WWE’s “independent contractor” gambit.
The WWE’s contracts force wrestlers to pay for their own travel, lodging, training, costumes, and other expenses. They typically give the WWE rights to a wrestler’s identity, including “ring name, likeness, personality, character, caricatures, costumes, gestures and even legal name” – during the term of the contract, and often in perpetuity.
The WWE is being sued by more than 50 former wrestlers who allege that it failed to provide appropriate medical treatment for blows to the head and concealed “medically important and possibly lifesaving information,” causing a number of them to incur traumatic brain injuries.
These injuries can sometimes lead to violent behavior, a fact that received renewed publicity after wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and 7-year old son before taking his own life. Tests found that the 40-year-old Benoit’s brain was so badly damaged that it resembled that of an 85-year-old person with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers concluded that the damage was caused by repeated concussions and head trauma incurred over many years. (The WWE is fighting the lawsuit.)
McMahon joins fast-food exec Andrew Puzder, Trump’s adamantly anti-worker choice for Secretary of Labor, as a Trump contributor/nominee. But Puzder got even more bang for his buck, as might be expected from someone whose corporation pushes $4 meals. He only kicked in $150,000 to Trump’s campaign, and he’ll be in the cabinet.
These nominations are Trump’s “piledriver” move against the American middle class. But then, Trump knows his wrestling. He famously squared off against Vince McMahon in a staged event called “the Battle of Billionaires.” Trump “won,” but there were clearly no hard feelings.
Like so much about the WWE, and so much about Trump, the whole thing looked fake from start to finish.