President Trump presides over the richest presidential Cabinet in modern U.S. history. He claimed he wanted people who “made a fortune” because “it’s not different than a great baseball player or a great golfer.” When it came to his economic advisers in particular, he noted a few months later, “In those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person.”
Here’s how that worked out: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross needed to be schooled on Americans' finances Thursday by a group of CNBC anchors reporting from the elite slopes of Davos, Switzerland.
The extraordinary event occurred when Ross was asked in an interview with the network about the plight of the 800,000 federal workers who are now facing a month without receiving a paycheck. Ross (the sort of guy who pretends to be a billionaire when, in fact, he’s worth a mere $700 million) proclaimed it was “disappointing” air traffic controllers have been calling in sick, and that he could not “understand why” federal workers were turning up at food banks and homeless shelters. “They will eventually get [paid],” Ross said.
As for what they should do in the meantime? Take out a loan! “True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest,” the commerce secretary opined, but it should be easy enough! After all, he had heard that federal credit unions are offering them to the furloughed workers.
It seemed almost impossible to arouse more outrage at the clueless financial advice the federal workers and contractors have been subjected to since the shutdown began over a month ago, which includes pearls of wisdom such as check books out of the library and apply for a job as a mystery shopper. But Ross managed to accomplish that. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proclaimed it a “let them eat cake attitude,” while Twitter, predictably, went insane.
A few things: No, not every federal employee can receive an interest-free loan, and moreover, the amounts on offer will not even come close to replacing missing paychecks. Most commercial banks are not offering them at all. A number of federal credit unions are, but in many cases are insisting on a prior relationship with the borrower. This advice also ignores the estimated 1 million federal contractors who are also not being paid and are not likely to get access to back pay. As Aaron Klein, an economics fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted, it’s harder to borrow a small sum at a reasonable interest rate than it is to acquire a car loan. The quickest access to needed cash for a desperate federal employees and contractors likely comes from such high-interest sources as credit card advances and payday loans. Those “solutions” can — and likely will — do long-term damage to federal workers finances.
That’s just the micro picture of what’s wrong with Ross’s remarks.
We are all but out of words to describe the offensiveness of the Trump administration, which is asking federal workers to work without pay and, in the words of daughter-in-law Lara Trump, to “sacrifice” their finances for a mythical wall designed to combat a mythical problem. In fact, the Trump administration has asked many Americans for financial sacrifices time and time again. There are now work requirements on Medicaid recipients in the states that will go along, despite the fact a majority of recipients who can work, do work. The number of Americans without health insurance is going up as the administration attempts to do away with the Affordable Care Act in piecemeal fashion after direct attacks failed. The Trump administration is denuding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, including an effort to roll back part of the protections the Obama administration initiated to protect Americans from the predations of the payday loan industry.
That the president, his Cabinet and members of Congress continue to receive pay, while 800,000 workers go without is just par for the course. Trump and congressional Republicans presided over a tax cut that give permanent cuts to the 1 percenters, while reserving a few sun-setting crumbs for the vast majority of the population. Republicans have claimed a need for cutbacks to social safety/-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare, as a result of budget deficit caused by their own greed.
What else, really, should we have expected to happen? Though Americans have been sold the idea that richest among us are special, wealthier than the rest of us by dint of their hard work and unique insights, that’s hogwash. As I’ve pointed out in the past, if anything, the wealthy care less about the needs of others. Their wealth all too often cuts them off, leaving them unaware of how typical Americans live. They don’t know what they don’t know, and they are often surrounded by sycophants and other bootlickers who are happy to support their misinformed and limited view of the world.
The Trump administration is the end result of this 40-year con job. But no worries. They really appreciate the sacrifice of federal workers. By Thursday afternoon, another administration official stepped forward to give aide and comfort to the salary-less federal workers. The unpaid workers are “volunteering,” economic adviser Larry Kudlow said. “They honor us by their service.” How out of touch can you be? The unpaid workers can be fired and fined if they don’t show up. That’s the law. What was that again about not wanting poor people as advisers?