Are you ‘looked down upon’? Do you care?
It’s a commonplace gripe in Trump world and aligned planets that “elites look down on me.” The elites are usually described as college-educated liberals living in big cities.
The complainers are not always wrong, but they exaggerate how much their alleged “betters” are even thinking about them. When they do, they’re more likely scratching their heads in bewilderment rather than looking downward. They see whiners swimming in self-pity. These alleged salts-of-the-earth are kept going by the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and checks from Social Security — but keep voting for those who would threaten these comforts.
Not only do Democratic parts of the country support such programs; their richer residents pay for them. I know several very well-to-do liberals who don’t buy into a single item on the Republican menu of social resentments, but come Election Day, they vote for Republicans to cut their taxes — then drive off to join their liberal friends at the country club.
There was the interesting case of Gary Cohn. Although he was a lifelong Democrat, Donald Trump made him chief economic adviser. (Cohn had been president of Goldman Sachs, so all was forgiven.) Cohn pushed through the 2017 tax cut bill that mainly enriched the already rich, while adding something like $1.5 trillion to the deficit. The ink had barely dried when Cohn was out the door and back in New York.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is now terribly worried about deficits. As a remedy, he’s calling for all federal legislation to be sunsetted in five years. That would include Medicare and Social Security. “If a law is worth keeping,” Scott said, “Congress can pass it again.” As for these two programs, Scott says he just wants to “fix” them.
What can you say to those who depend on Social Security and Medicare or expect to depend on them? “Don’t make long-term plans.”
Just about anyone can build a case for being looked down upon. Lower-level lawyers at big firms may feel lorded over by the partners. Book editors at fancy publishing houses have senior editors breathing down their necks. A small shopkeeper might feel judged as inferior by the superstore operator down the road.
In some expensive urban centers, people with $3 million in assets are referred to as the “merely affluent.” As financial writer William Cohan wrote in Vanity Fair, “In the circles that Cohn travels, a $250 million fortune is merely the table stakes necessary to catapult oneself into the land of the billionaires.”
There’s no denying that people who are rich are often fawned upon, and it helps greatly if they’re famous, as well. But look at their lives and you often find personal tragedies that no amount of money or privilege can overcome. Children’s drug overdoses. Deadly disease. Loneliness. When big money is involved, you often see messy divorces leading to loveless marriages with a “trophy wife.”
Sociologists have long held that the key to happiness is community — having friends and family who care about you. Past a certain level of subsistence, wealth doesn’t make much of a difference. That’s assuming one has the security that comes with guaranteed health care.
It helps to avoid politicians who rub salt into wounds we should not have. Stoking anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t cost them anything. But it does distract the public from their plan to cut real valued services.
As one of the dukes in Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII” advised another duke, “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.”
And a related piece of advice: Keep an eye on what matters, not what you imagine others think of you.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com.