I’m not saying Ross LaJeunesse is a phony. I’m open to the possibility he’s just incredibly naive. Or kinda stupid.
Regardless of which of these descriptions turns out to be most accurate, LaJeunesse, one of several people seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in Maine, still can be
categorized as a representative of that most loathsome of all lifeforms: a rich tourist.
LaJeunesse made national news a couple of weeks ago with an online posting in which he said nasty stuff about his former employer, Google. But before I get to that, let’s address the tourist thing.
It’s true that LaJeunesse was born in Maine some 49 years go. He grew up in Arundel and Biddeford. Then, he went off to college, ended up in California and didn’t come back here until May of last year. During his time away, he transformed himself into one of those wealthy jerks who clog up our coast each summer – except he doesn’t have the good graces to leave when the weather gets cold. Instead, he has somehow decided his deep understanding of life among the 1 percent on the West Coast make him the ideal person to represent us in the Senate.
In 2008, after working for a variety of politicians of both parties, LaJeunesse took a job at Google. In 2012, he was promoted to the position of head of international relations. In his recent posting, he said he used his new role to advocate for the internet giant to support basic human rights in places like China. But in 2018, he “realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product
decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price” by cooperating with the Chinese government and Saudi Arabian authorities.
This was too much for a sensitive soul like LaJeunesse, so he took the corporate profits he’d earned at Google and quit.
That would be commendable (sort of) if the company had been living up to it’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra for most of the time he worked there. Let’s do (irony alert) a Google search to see if that’s true.
Among the abuses Google practiced during LaJeunesse’s tenure was a scam that saw the company transfer profits from one country to another to avoid paying taxes, a move Margaret Hodge, the chairwoman of the United Kingdom’s Public Accounts Committee, dubbed “calculated” and “unethical.” (Google’s chairman responded that he was “very proud” of those slick moves.)
Then there were charges of privacy violations. In 2016, ProPublica reported on the company’s newest policy saying, “Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.”
That’s not to mention Google’s appropriation of intellectual property, censored search results (both in China and elsewhere), restraint of trade and other monopolistic plundering, as well as racist and sexist behavior of executives toward employees.
When it comes to Google’s flaws, this is far from an exhaustive list.
To his credit, LaJeunesse says he complained to his bosses about a few of these items. But of most of them, he makes no mention in his essay. Working over a decade for a company that tolerated hate speech on its YouTube subsidiary and instituted a business plan that one critic called “surveillance capitalism” didn’t seem to disturb his moral compass enough to convince him to quit before he had amassed a fortune.
Examined in that light, his essay exposing Google’s many flaws makes him appear somewhat less heroic and more than a little hypocritical. As I mentioned above, that could lead one to conclude he’s a phony. Or naïve. Or stupid.
On the positive side, all those qualities are pretty standard in U.S. senators.
If you Google me, you’ll find my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.