Donald Trump has given success a bad name.
That is, the president’s much-boasted-about wealth has soured many Americans’ taste for even the Horatio Alger bootstrapping stories. These days, as income inequality has become a leitmotif of Democratic politics, being rich is a liability.
So, who’s too rich for democracy these days? Billionaires, obviously. Millionaires are such dimes-a-dozen, they hardly count anymore. Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who has proposed increasing marginal tax rates on the very rich to as high as 70 percent, set the baseline at $10 million.
This caveat might even extend to former Vice President Joe Biden, whose 2017 purchase of a $2.7 million beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is inspiring fresh speculation about his middle-class bona fides. “Middle-Class Joe rakes in millions,” read a recent Politico headline.
Of course, calling Biden’s everyday-Joe-ness into question is ridiculous. Despite his yachtsman’s appearance, he has forever been the workingman’s champion. But, apparently, you can’t have grown up in a middle-class family only to distinguish yourself as an adult and monetize your success. Isn’t that the point of being an American, (she jested)?
The fact that Biden now earns $100,000 per speech and landed a handsome, multimillion-dollar book deal hardly negates his lifetime in the Senate advocating causes that benefited minorities, women and working-class Americans. Besides, this one’s for you “Jeopardy!” players, he’s from — Scranton! Yes, he is.
As Biden accidentally said recently, he has “the most progressive record of anybody running,” except that he isn’t running — yet. Ol’ Joe and his tongue have been wrangling for decades, which is why we love him. He’s the guy who can’t tell a lie — or keep his own secrets.
Another wealthy possible candidate, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, recently has been the focus of skepticism — and not just because he proposes running as a centrist independent. Schultz, on book tour the past couple of months, has spoken of his childhood growing up in a Brooklyn housing project and his family’s dire circumstances. In his book “From the Ground Up,” he describes a noisy, smoke-and-alcohol-infused household often filled with poker players who kept him up late and his family afloat during destitute times.
The Washington Post tracked down other contemporaries of Schultz’s who grew up in the same housing project to report that it was actually a very nice, state-of-the-art complex. This may be so, but Schultz’s experience can’t be disproved or discredited. When your parents can’t make the $96 monthly rent, you’re not living in paradise.
By the strange political calculus of the income equalizers, Schultz was first too rich and then not poor enough. It would seem that there’s no satisfying the left until everyone is equally miserable.
Even Beto O’Rourke ran into a bit of trouble when he-of-the-barrio (but not really) was revealed to be a prep-school alumnus with a near-billionaire father-in-law. Uh-oh. Can an upper-middle-class guy relate to the poor and lower-class Americans?
Of course, he can. As can Schultz and Biden, and other wealthy people, many of whom share their good fortune through philanthropy, without which millions of the world’s most impoverished would suffer or die.
One problem with this wealth-as-liability perspective is that we risk losing the considerable contributions of the uber-successful. What would this crowd say today to Democrats John Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt, both of whom enjoyed inherited wealth? You don’t have to be poor to want to improve opportunities for the less fortunate.
Nor do you always need a government program to create those opportunities. As head of Starbucks, Schultz accomplished through free enterprise what some Democrats want to do through government — for “free.” He made sure workers, including part-time staffers, had health insurance; he paid college tuition for those who wanted to go; and he made it possible for every employee to be a shareholder in the company.
Once upon a time, Americans celebrated others’ success and aspired through grit and sacrifice to improve their own circumstances. No more, apparently. The way some Democrats have reacted to candidates running-for-office-while-being-rich merely illustrates the poverty of their ideas.
The anti-wealth sentiment currently in vogue isn’t, of course, a rational response to challenges. It’s an emotional reaction to politicians’ barnstorming about inequality that, they say, can only be resolved by punishing the wealthy and subsidizing the rest. If you hear enough times that you deserve to have more, you begin to believe it. Inevitably, this means that others must have less.
Thusly, my friends, is socialism born.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.