Trump did make a good point — totally by accident — in his State of the Union
The very rich are living in a different world from the rest of us
I could easily write a column about the many falsehoods Donald Trump stated in his State of the Union speech last night. I could write about how impressed I was with Stacey Abrams’s response. I still may write about how this speech, despite its claims to the contrary, was not a plea for bipartisanship, but was instead a demand for submission — something the Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi are unlikely to do. But instead, I thought I’d write about something Donald Trump got right.
To be fair, one of my favorite quotations — that even a stopped watch is right twice a day — seems especially apt here. He may be right about something, but it was in an entirely different context and with entirely different solutions than his speech presented.
The quote that jumped out at me is as follows:
Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders, while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.— Donald Trump, State of the Union speech, February 5, 2019
Trump, of course, was making this point as part of his argument that we need a border wall. In so doing, he was trying to position this issue as a populist one, opposed by the elites he stands against. Whether he succeeded in that effort or not is a topic for another post.
But what he did do is point to the fact that the very wealthy at this point are living in a different world from the rest of us.
They do live in gated communities, sending their children to private schools, and guarded by private security. If they feel no need to pay taxes to support the general welfare of our country, that is why: they have no connection with the rest of the country. From their perch in private jets, they don’t even understand the difficulties the rest of us face navigating airport check-in and security. It is not by accident that what finally forced the end to the government shutdown was the closing of major airports due to lack of air traffic controllers. That was finally something that affected the very rich.
Even when they do send their children to public schools, because of the way we finance public education, through property taxes paid to local school districts, these public schools might as well be private for the amount of connection they have with the rest of us.
They don’t rely upon our police, or our roads, or our schools, all paid for by taxes. Instead, they have private security and private helicopters and private schools and tutors.
They don’t care about the low wages paid to public school teachers because they pay their teachers well at their private schools.
In truth, they really don’t care if the rest of the country goes to hell in a handbasket, as long as the chaos stays outside their walls. Yes, the walls they are building is to protect them from the rest of us, not from immigrants, illegal or otherwise.
They do fight for open borders because they view themselves as citizens of the world. They feel no particular connection with the rest of us, so when our elected officials look out for their interests to the detriment of everyone else, they are truly selling out our country.
Donald Trump was right that we shouldn’t listen to the policy demands of the ultra-wealthy. He’s right that we shouldn’t allow them to live behind walls separating themselves from the rest of us, dictating how our country should operate from there. But his solution to the problem is wrong.
The very wealthy will continue to jet over to other countries whether we build a wall at the southern border or not. Even if we limit immigration, they will somehow manage to get their friends and relatives into the country. Just consider the fact that Donald Trump got his in-laws citizenship despite the fact that he railed against other families doing the same thing — “chain migration” you know. The rules just don’t apply to them.
No, the solution is to ignore their pleas to avoid contributing to our society as a whole and determine what the rest of society, all of us who live together as a community need, and to force them to pay their fair share.
The idea of a “social contract” John Locke argued for, which formed the basis for our Constitution, is that we will all be better off if we agree to cede some of our rights to society as a whole in order to enjoy the fruits of peace and prosperity. This commitment has worked well for our country and has brought it to the very peak of worldwide power and influence.
The commitment of the very wealthy to our social contract has begun to fray… They no longer feel that they benefit from it because they have separated themselves from the rest of society.
That commitment has begun to fray. The reason the very powerful are willing to agree to participate in the social contract, so the theory goes, is that they still benefit from a civil society. Now, though, the very wealthy no longer feel that benefit. As a result, they no longer feel the need to be bound to a social contract and want out of it. That is why they fight against taxes and regulation and government and democracy.
The reason democracy works is because the same people who put into society, through taxes, community activism, and social living, and who reap its benefits,are the same ones who decide how society will operate. Unfortunately, our system is broken because the people who now have a disproportionate say over our system — the very wealthy — are also the ones with the least to gain or lose in our society.
Until we return to the roots of our democracy, to the social contract our Constitution represents, one in which people feel invested in the system while also benefiting from the system, our society will only become angrier and more frustrated, all while the ultra-wealthy jet off to their other homes.
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