First, I completely understand why so many people thought Trump was a good choice. Too many of us, including poor white folks specifically, are so disenfranchised from our political system and public life. People across the spectrum know our government is not working and has not been working for them, individually. Unless a person is making over $100,000 in too many places around this nation daily life is challenging. The reality is there is a larger gap that few talk about, realize, or recognize – the folks who make significantly less than $100k. Most of my friends are in the $20,000-$30,000 range with many below that. For these people, life is a battle for survival. I know this all too well myself.
And let’s face it, if you are a person who makes under $30,000, there are few opportunities to engage in anything more than basic survival – shelter and food. Often times taking care of basic necessities is a shell game (I am picturing the street performers with one object under a shell shifting them around and asking us to find them). We rob Peter to pay Paul and hope that nothing catastrophic happens that might set us back financially – like a car breakdown, a trip to the doctor when you haven’t met the deductible (doctors are often avoided because of this deductible and co-pays), the kid needing new equipment for his or her extracurricular activity, the water heater going out, the kid outgrowing clothes and needing new pants or shoes. For those of us who have played or are currently playing this game, we keep our finances close to the vest, often don’t share our struggles with our friends because of embarrassment or shame – and again, basic survival. We don’t have the time. We are too busy trying to make ends meet. We often cannot go out with friends to grab a drink, a cup of coffee, to a movie or a meal, or anything that involves spending any amount of money no matter how small it may seem. I remember having moments where I did not have the money for a $2 tube of toothpaste. And it seems too many people in this country are so out of touch from this group of people and have no idea the struggle we deal with daily.
As an example, my daughter went with some of her volleyball girlfriends and one of their parents to the mall many years ago. They had decided to put on a dance or something for a school event. During the trip to the mall, the parent thought it would be cute if all the girls were wearing the same color spandex shorts volleyball players wear. My daughter was young and didn’t have money with her. The parent offered to buy a pair of spandex for her and she accepted, not really understanding or thinking about how that might affect us – how would an 11-12 year old know? Anyways, when she got home and said we owed this parent $25 or $28, I nearly came unglued. I was making about $17,000/year then and just putting food on the table was a struggle – my daughter went through half that school year with one pair of jeans, one. Not paying the parent back was not an option, my daughter would have been mortified and embarrassed. I felt backed into a corner – wanting my kid to fit in at school, wanting her to enjoy the school activity, and the need to survive. I gave her the money to give to her friend, explained that she cannot just borrow money from well meaning parents without first talking to me, and moved on. No time to dilly dally about. I know the other parent meant well. I thought about calling her but was too embarrassed to explain to her that $25/28 put me in the hole and made it harder for me to pay for our necessities – like our power bill (at the time it was not unusual for my bank account to be overdrawn by several hundred dollars every month, my car title to have a lien against it, me to have a payday loan – just to keep lights and heat on, put food on the table, and was still behind on bills.) It is easier to write about this now as it has been a little over two years since I have lived this level of stress daily and we lived them for a decade.
Anyways, many people in this country do not understand this struggle. So I get that many people saw Trump, a business man and billionaire, as an attractive candidate. One who could turn this economy around to work better for them. What I do not understand is how people did not see or do not understand that this man has no interest in these desperately poor people. He is the furthest removed from them. He is part of the 1% that controls approximately 50% of the world’s wealth. These people, Trump included, have no idea what financial struggle means. Most of them were born into money and that buys a lot of protections and privileges – the protection to always have strong legal representation whether civil or criminal, protection from a tanking economy, the privilege to leave their country if civil war breaks out. Not to mention if they have a physical ailment, they can go to the doctor (or rather and more likely have the doctor visit them.) Even if they lose some wealth because of a tanking economy, they will not struggle to make that money up in some other way if they choose, and loss from investments will not leave them destitute. They do not have to know or socialize with many people below their wealth, they have assistants to deal with the people who make their lives easier. They have access to safe housing, safe drinking water, the best schools and tutors to help their struggling children, reliable transportation, high paying jobs, cultural enrichment experiences, etc…According to the Economist article, the average annual income for these people is $1.2 million dollars per year, with a net worth (that includes investments) starting at $6.9 million dollars. I can’t even fathom what this life might be like or what I would be able to do with that kind of money.
Secondly, he is a serial bankruptcy filer and has nearly run small companies out of business and into bankruptcy because he refused to pay them and got tax breaks for doing it. He has had so many court cases brought against him for his business dealings and during investigations, his companies have destroyed records. Having had to file bankruptcy myself after a contentious divorce and as a single parent of two school-aged children, I had so much shame. This country tends to villianize individuals who need public assistance, food stamps, or file bankruptcy. I have had to use all of these systems at some point in my life. My bankruptcy did not affect individuals – I was not running mom and pops businesses into the ground. I had credit card debt that needed to be discharged because I got all the debt in the divorce (and the house, that is another story) and the credit card companies simply would not/could not close the accounts, stop interest from accruing, and take smaller payments. I wanted to pay my debts but had no way forward other than to file bankruptcy. And this is the real separation between the 1% and the 99% or even bottom 50% of people. While discharging my debt lowered my monthly outgoing bills to survival, it created a whole host of other problems. It left my credit score in a complete shambles (as it should) and left me to the wolves. As a financially vulnerable person, I became fair game to payday and title loan lenders, predatory banks, and am still climbing back over 10 years later. People like Trump who file bankruptcies – first don’t usually file personal bankruptcy and secondly have backup reserves, a safety net to fall back on. Regular individuals have nothing to fall back on.
Thirdly, Trump plays funny money all the time. He is known to not hire U.S. citizens in favor of hiring international guest workers and hiring undocumented workers for $5 or less per hour. Sure, businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs and increase profits, that is capitalism (and a whole critique of this sick system can and has been made.) However, these money games have real consequences to those caught up in the game while increasing DJT’s profit. He is also known for interlinking his own wealth with his businesses and has done the same on the campaign trail. In some ways this interlinking is common and probably smart business and many businesses do that – Disney sells as many Disney products as they can in their parks. Or ABC owns Disney and Disney gets free or significantly reduced advertisement on ABC owned television stations. But it also speaks to a larger issue related to the campaign funding and the argument that Donald Trump is not in bed with Wall Street and could fund his own campaign. The issue is, how much more money did he generate for himself by this intermingling of business and campaign while campaigning, the free publicity he gained from his crazy antics, and how much more wealth will he generate for himself once in office. In some ways, and I hate to say it, this campaign may be the smartest thing from a business standpoint because he will get a lot of free advertising now that he is in office. Further, he is in a position to make tax payers pay for his brands that will likely be used in White House events and Presidential gifts for the next 4 years. Think about that for a minute. He generates wealth through questionable hiring practices – driving down wages – and couples that with having his companies buy from his other companies. Pretty sinisterly genius if you ask me.
Now, I am not a business minded person. I am no accountant or fiscally knowledgeable expert. However, when I consider these things it becomes painfully clear to me that 1) DJT does not understand the actual situation the poor working class folks are in (based on his financial position), 2) does not care (given the failure to pay contractors or living wages and the many many lawsuits against him for these things), and 3) is only out to increase his bottom line (based upon the intermingling of his businesses.) Further, I am guessing that many of the people who voted for him did so because they are against public assistance programs, want smaller government, and want the focus to be less on Wall Street and more on Main Street. Given all of this, I fundamentally do not understand how anyone thinks DJT supports them or will have their best interests at heart. I do not understand how people do not see the difference between an individual’s bankruptcy that discharges several thousand dollars to a billionaire serial filing bankruptcies to the tune of billions of dollars. I do not understand how people do not see how DJT has so poorly treated mom and pops businesses. Now I know the volume and depth of lies and hateful rhetoric coming out of his mouth, I’ll leave that for another essay, just looking at this from an economic perspective with only the details I have outlined here, I do not see the allure. In fact, I see the neon red warning signs.