Kushner simply doesn’t give up or admit defeat. He doesn’t need to — as is so often true for multimillionaires, there is always someone to give him another chance. Perhaps this explains why he suggested on Monday that if Black Americans can’t get ahead in the United States, it’s because they don’t want it enough. Speaking on “Fox & Friends” (where else?), Kushner claimed that if Black Americans don’t vote for Trump, it is, in part, because “he can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.”
Nothing like indulging in nasty racial stereotyping, especially to explain why a demographic group doesn’t support your candidate. But the current circumstances of many in the Black community compound the offensiveness of Kushner’s blame game.
The financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have hit African Americans particularly hard, and, Trump, despite his claim to be the best president for Black Americans since Abraham Lincoln, isn’t doing much about that.
Blacks are more likely to have lost employment than Whites over the past several months, since many work in hard-hit occupations including retail sales. When that happens, Black Americans are in a more precarious position than their unemployed White peers. Black people in the United States have fewer assets and less in emergency savings. That’s not because they don’t want to be successful but because of the legacy of economic practices such as redlining and salary discrimination. Black Californians are more likely to say they have experienced difficulties paying their rent during the pandemic than their White peers. And, of course, Black Americans are more likely to die of covid-19 than White Americans.
Kushner is not alone in casting blame on the pandemic’s victims, though few have so openly invoked race in this way. CNBC’s Michelle Fox, incredibly, quoted a financial expert as saying that people in need of extra funds should take a part-time job because “it’s a real option to bring in income fairly quickly,” as if those positions are easy to find. Few have much to say to people who have now burned through an emergency fund meant to last three to six months and still are not back at work, not through any fault of their own, but because the pandemic is ongoing. Instead, we get the usual nonsense about how this economic downturn is for sure the one that will lead people to eschew materialism. It’s an effort to rebrand desperation as an aesthetic or moral stance.
What makes this all incredible is that Americans, in fact, did behave in financially healthy ways when the pandemic hit. Whether earning a salary or reliant on supplemental unemployment benefits — when they existed — Americans paid down debt at the beginning of the pandemic, so much so that even as unemployment soared, credit scores increased.
The issue is not that Americans supposedly indulge in slovenly financial habits, nor is it some sort of refusal to embrace success. Those canards are easier to fall for than the truth: No one who isn’t already wealthy can save up for an event like this. Black people and other historically marginalized groups will have a harder time when things go bad. And no, it’s not possible to create jobs out of thin air, no matter how many rah-rah entrepreneurs-in-the-pandemic articles get written.
Someone not born wealthy might be more likely to recognize all this. But that’s not Kushner, and it’s not his father-in-law, the president — who is himself the scion of a real estate empire he almost wrecked. Like a lot of people raised from childhood in immense privilege, they seem all but oblivious, and firmly believe that what worked for them will work for everyone else.
All of this rankled from the beginning of the Trump administration, but it’s an especially loathsome attitude now. Trump boasted of the wealth of his Cabinet and presidential advisers, implying that the act of simply having money made them more equipped to deal with the challenges of American life. But, as it’s turned out, the exact opposite is true. This is, instead, one of the least successful presidential administrations in U.S. history. Kushner should think hard on that. But somehow I doubt he ever will.