On Tuesday, Elle dropped a 3,000-plus-word profile of Louise Linton, the would-be Hollywood actress and designer-dressed wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. It came complete with a sexy, come-hither photo and was studded with the clueless, rich-girl statements we’ve all come to know and not love.
“I’m just a regular girl,” said Linton, who grew up in Scottish castle courtesy of her wealthy developer father and is now married to a man with an estimated net worth of $300 million, and (infamously!) filled her now shuttered Instagram account with hashtags like #prada and #valentino.
Therapy, Linton says, should be tried by all. “It’s like going to the dentist,” she notes, seemingly unaware that about 1 in 4 people in the United States say they forgo dental care because they can’t afford it and that mental-health care remains expensive and hard for many to access.
Even Linton’s character witnesses reek of a modern update of a satiric Victorian takedown. They include Richard, a homeless man with no last name she met in a Los Angeles park. His dog, whose vet bill Linton paid, likes her. “You can’t fool an animal,” he told the publication. (No word on whether he is still homeless, from either Linton or Elle.)
Twitter pounced. “So basically, Louise Linton is Marie Antoinette without pants,” noted health-care columnist Eugene Gu. “If this article is supposed to rehab @louiselinton, it fails. She comes across as more obnoxious that her social media efforts would lead you to believe. Which is hard to do,” added Soledad O’Brien.
It would be easy enough to join in on the latest Louise Linton pile on. But she’s actually doing us all a service, albeit unintentionally. In a world of record-breaking inequality, Linton is giving those of us who are not wealthy much-needed insight into how wealth impacts personality, which could help us understand how all the wealthy people whom Trump has put in charge of his administration think. The administration, after all, is made up of wealthy people doing things that greatly benefit wealthy people.
The more money we are surrounded by, the more likely we are to act as though it is a norm and not an exception. In a 2015 paper, “Why Wealthier People Think People Are Wealthier, and Why It Matters,” researchers at Britain’s University of Kent and New Zealand’s University of Auckland discovered that the more money someone possessed, the wealthier they believed their peers to be.
Other research shows lower-income people spend more time looking at their surroundings and pick up on emotional cues better than their wealthier peers. This, in turn, seems to give the wealthy permission to act in a way that, to put it kindly, forever prioritizes No. One — themselves.
And then there is one of my favorite studies, the one in which researchers discovered the higher the self-described social rank, the more candy the subjects took from a jar of candy designated for children. They also discovered the more prestigious the make of car, the more likely a driver would cut off a pedestrian in a crosswalk or fail to yield to others at a four-way stop. As I’ve previously argued: “There’s a body of psychological and behavioral-economics research suggesting that wealthy people are generally less caring, generous, and aware of how others think, feel, and live.”
Well, hello Louise Linton!
But hello Donald Trump and the rest of your Cabinet, too!
Not only is Trump our wealthiest president ever, the same is true of the Cabinet he selected. Empathy? Trump turned the situation involving the “dreamers” into a hostage situation. His administration just released a budget that calls for severe cuts in the social safety net. It would slash Medicaid and housing assistance, completely eliminate funding for a program that offers after-school classes for children living in poverty and end loan forgiveness for people who choose to work in the public or nonprofit sectors.
As for Congress, which is also well-stocked with wealthy people, the news broke yesterday that even as the United States is facing the worst flu season in about two decades, the Republican majority is considering doing away with the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers with 50 or more full-time employees offer them health insurance. Because, apparently, nothing shows you care like contemplating making it harder for people to access medical services during a flu epidemic.
This comes mere weeks after Republicans in Congress passed and Trump signed into law deficit-busting tax cuts that lavish most of their benefits on wealthy Americans.
All of this, of course, is much more significant than any sin Linton is guilty of. She holds no public office. She’s just a trophy wife. She might, for all we know, be a well-meaning one. (She did pay the dog’s vet bill, after all.)
But in her role as the monied trophy wife, Linton is also highlighting exactly why wealth inequality is so pernicious. It’s not simply that some people have a lot more than others. It’s that the excessive wealth leaves them cut off, and clueless, often incapable of understanding the needs and motivations of others. Linton’s wealth excesses are comic. But she helps shed light on what might motivate the actions of the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress, which are the stuff of tragedy.