A new Washington Post/ABC News poll yielding many figures that spell bad news for Trump features one particularly interesting result in response to the question, “Do you think Trump understands the problems of people like you, or not?”
Sixty-five percent of respondents said no, Trump does not. While several pundits have pointed out the obvious fact that this bodes poorly for Trump, I on the other hand cannot get past the fact that the number is only 65%.
Trump is a woefully out of touch maybe-billionaire. This much is beyond dispute. Witness his rhetorical forays into the world of personal food shopping. At a rally in Florida in July, the president declared, “You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card.” (You do not.) Earlier this month, Trump implied that federal workers who weren’t being paid because of his dumb government shutdown could borrow money from grocery stores until they start getting paychecks again. (They cannot.)
This is to be expected from a man who is allegedly worth $3 billion and lives in this place:
Does that, dear reader, look like a man who understands the problems you face day in and day out? If you answered yes, you are Wilbur Ross.
I’m not passing judgment on billionaire-ism in general here (that’s for another time). The thing is, though, billionaires by their very nature do not understand your problems.
Take former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who wants to Ross Perot his way into presidential infamy prominence by running as an independent virtually certain to notch zero electoral votes and possibly propel Trump to a second term. Unlike Trump, Schultz has a humble origin story in which he grew up in public housing in Brooklyn and was physically abused by his father. Yet despite the odds he managed to build one of the biggest and most successful retail food and beverage outfits in the history of the planet.
But Schultz has been a very wealthy man for at least a generation and a lot has changed for American families since the 1980s. Real wages are stagnant while the costs of healthcare, college tuition, and housing have risen disproportionately faster than Americans’ income. The result is that Americans pay about double per person on healthcare what countries like Canada, Germany, and the U.K. pay, all while experiencing worse outcomes. The result is student loan debt that in dollar terms has surpassed all other forms of debt in the country. The result is an entire up and coming generation of American adults for whom home ownership is seen as financial infeasible for the foreseeable future.
So when Howard Schultz goes on 60 Minutes and channels pre-Trump Paul Ryan by saying that the biggest domestic threat to the United States is the national debt, he demonstrates just how out of touch he is. No, Howard. The biggest domestic threat to the United States – other than Trump’s Republican Party – is the increasing financial strain that hundreds of millions Americans are enduring that no amount of paid off T-bills is going to fix. Schultz also said every American should have the right to have access to healthcare; not the right to healthcare, but access to healthcare. Essentially, he errs on the side of the healthcare status quo, which is presently doing a bang up job of delivering substandard care at exorbitant rates.
On NPR Schultz chided Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pass a wealth tax of 2% on households with a net worth of more that $50 million, a 3% on those above $1 billion. In other words, the tax would be levied on people who can damn well afford it. No matter, Schultz called the idea “ridiculous.”
Schultz also pooh-poohed an idea advanced by Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez that wealthy Americans should be taxed at 70%, which as New York magazine points out, was in fact the rate for incomes over $216,000 as late as 1980. To this Schultz cautioned, “The inequality is real and must be addressed, but not in a punitive way.” He added – bizarrely – “We can’t continue to add onto the debt. We can’t continue to add onto the inequality.”
But what better way to not continue exacerbating economic inequality than by returning to the sort of tax rates that prevailed when the gaps between the wealthy and the middle class and the poor were far narrower than they are now? The top marginal tax rate for individuals is now lower than it has been for most of the last 100 years, and that has helped create a situation where the richest 1% control 22% of the country’s wealth – a proportion not seen since before the Great Depression.
Then there’s Michael Bloomberg, whose net worth currently sits at $52 billion and who has been a millionaire since at least as far back as the early 1970s. These days Bloomberg is a Democrat (apparently) and is looking to run for president as one. Before he ran for New York City mayor in 2001 on the GOP ticket, Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat but switched parties ahead of the election. He had a shrewd campaign strategy that whisked him to three straight terms: outspend his opponents by comically large sums of money.
Now Bloomberg is a Democrat again, and he’s here to tell you that Warren’s wealth tax will lead to a Venezuela-style implosion because as we all know, a modest tax on the rich always leads to hyperinflation and killing family pets for meat.
Bloomberg also criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious Green New Deal as impractical. “I’m a little bit tired of listening to things that are pie in the sky,” said Bloomberg, “that we’re never gonna pass, that we’re never gonna afford.”
The whole point of the primaries is to advance bold, ambitious, and yes, even “pie in the sky” ideas like Medicare for all and cutting carbon emissions drastically enough so that we don’t drown major coastal cities by the year 2100. Historically speaking, the primaries are when Democrats are unabashed liberals and Republicans are ultra-batshit crazy (as opposed to regular unleaded batshit crazy). For a Democrat to say nearly two years before the election that he’s not interested in aiming “sky” high, he’s already ceding large swaths of political ground to Republicans. If at this early stage in the campaign Bloomberg is making such overtures to the “sensible” establishment, I’m afraid to hear what his rhetoric will sound like in a general election campaign if, heaven forbid he ever gets that far.
By the way, you know what else was “pie in the sky”? A fucking wall that runs the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border. And while that absurd project will not happen, its proponent was nonetheless elected to the presidency.
It’s true you don’t have to be a billionaire to hold the positions these guys hold. Hell, virtually every congressional Republican does. But generally speaking, those guys and ladies are much closer economically to their constituents than Michael Bloomberg is. They understand their constituents’ problems and maybe even had some of those problems themselves not that long ago, even if they choose not to solve them.
But these billionaires? They are too far gone. It’s been at least a generation since any of them even experienced the sort of real-world problems everyday people experience, if ever. So it should come as no surprise that billionaires exhibit a chronic ignorance about the state of the union and the people who comprise it.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the solution is simple: don’t vote for billionaires and don’t vote for non-billionaires who try to govern like them.