The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Trump administration confused wealth with smarts. The results have been ugly.

Cars wait in line at a drive-through food bank in Duquesne, Pa., on Monday. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

When Donald Trump was first elected president, he boasted about appointing the wealthiest Cabinet ever assembled. “I want people that made a fortune,” he explained. He especially did not believe “a poor person” should be advising him on the economy. He wanted, he said, a rich person’s “kind of thinking.”

Here’s where confusing wealth with smarts got us: We are confronting a renewed surge of the coronavirus pandemic with little in the way of needed financial aid for Americans. The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress refuse to come to a deal with Democrats for a renewed surplus, leaving everyone and everything from unemployed child-care providers to small restaurant and gym owners out to dry.

Expanded unemployment benefits meant to help everyone from gig workers to those who remain jobless because of these once-in-a-lifetime circumstances are due to end the day after Christmas. Millions of people say they believe they will face eviction or foreclosure when partial rent and mortgage moratoriums imposed at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis expire at the end of the year. And already, food relief lines stretch for miles in some states. According to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s annual survey, released on Monday, 1 in 4 residents in that state say they don’t have enough to eat.

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It is beyond obvious to say that millions of Americans need money, and they need it fast. You don’t need to read another passionate jeremiad by me on the subject. That known communist Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, says it. Claudia Sahm, a former economist at the Federal Reserve impressive enough that an economic rule about recessions is named after her, changed her Twitter name to proclaim it. David Chang, the celebrity chef behind the Momofuku empire is saying it, too: “We could’ve planned for a continuous shut down with stimulus for restaurants and UBI for workers.”

But in Washington … well, there’s no rush, no urgency. Trump, now that he is a soon-to-be-former president, has all but put a “Gone Golfing” sign on the White House. The Senate, led by Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell (estimated net worth $34 million), recessed for the Thanksgiving break. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (estimated net worth $400 million), yanked back the Fed’s emergency small business and municipal lending options.

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There are different ways of looking at this disconnect. Behavioral science studies show that possessing wealth literally blinds many possessing it to the needs of others. They look at the other people around them less. They are more likely to indulge in unethical behavior. They don’t need other people to get them though a rough patch and, no surprise, they often act like it.

It’s also true that the Trump era worked out quite well for the wealthy — be they large, well-capitalized businesses or seven-, eight- or nine-figure net-worth individuals. They first benefited from a supposed tax reform that was simply a scheme to put more money in the pockets of the rich, including Trump. And now? The stock market — you know, the thing Trump always boasted about — is soaring. The Dow crossed the 30,000 mark on Tuesday, setting a new record. Never mind the fact that fears of a double-dip recession are growing by the day. Why worry about the plebes?

But whether the voting public will finally notice this disregard is still to be determined. That the rich are smarter, and more talented — well, that’s been sold to us for decades. We are a country where the phrase “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich” is asked seriously, not ironically. It’s possible, in fact, that the feckless Trump administration continued to acclimate us to the long, ongoing American phenom where even as a majority of us believe the government should do more, we still accept it still won’t be there for us. Why else are we weirdly quiescent about the injustice of it? Why don’t we protest?

Meantime, the Trump administration continues with its mean and petty ways all the way to the bitter end. Even as the jobless are begging for funds on GoFundMe, the White House is spending time appealing a federal judge’s order that would permit states to distribute extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — better known as food stamps — to families in need. As it turns out, the rich men and women of the Trump administration and their allies in the Senate don’t much care about the needs of millions of Americans. We’re all the poorer for it.

Read more:

Helaine Olen: Biden can restore fairness to American life. Here’s how.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: U.S. workers have taken a powerful hit. Any true recovery must include them.

The Post’s View: The economy needs help. Mnuchin’s response: Take money away.

John Delaney: Pay Americans to take a coronavirus vaccine

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s mythical economic success and the end of supply-side tax cuts