Donald Trump’s first days in the White House have been about as bad as any of us could have imagined. He seems intent on carrying through with campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the country, building a huge wall along the Mexican border and appointing right-wing Supreme Court justices who would deny women fundamental rights. He is also threatening war with Iran. He seems to have forgotten his economic populist pledges, like lowering drug prices and cracking down on Wall Street.
In spite of the horrors raised by Trump in the early days of his presidency, he may actually provide a valuable service in the longer term, if we survive. Donald Trump may provide irrefutable evidence to the country that being rich doesn’t mean a person has any great insight into anything other than getting rich. If the country learns this lesson, then Trump will have provided a valuable service, even if he may cause much harm in other areas in the process.
There is a widespread belief that spans the political spectrum, that rich people are somehow especially insightful. The idea is that the process of accumulating money is some sort of vetting process. The more money you make, the more you have established yourself as an intelligent person whose insights should be sought on important matters of public policy.
We see this attitude in the fawning interviews with Bill Gates, in which interviewers seek out his perspective on the economy of the future, global poverty and other important matters. After all, as the richest of them all, who could be more knowledgeable than Bill Gates? As their companies’ growth has sent them into the top echelons of the superrich, we see the same attitude towards folks like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg.
This attitude is not restricted to conservatives. Many liberals are happy to promote Warren Buffett’s strong stance supporting progressive taxation in general and the estate tax in particular. While Buffett deserves credit for putting the public good over his self-interest, there is no reason to think his insights on the issue carry any special value.
As president, Donald Trump is providing an ever expanding pool of evidence that being very rich doesn’t mean that you have a clue about anything. His rushed executive order banning all refugees, as well as travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, was supposed to make us feel safer. Visitors from these seven countries have collectively been responsible for zero terrorist killings on US soil. In addition to having already been carefully vetted, many of the refugees that Trump has excluded are little kids that are too small to even hold a gun.
Trump picked a person for Education secretary who thinks we need guns in schools to protect students from grizzly bears. He made his pick to head the Department of Energy without even realizing that its main responsibility is overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal, not drilling for oil and gas.
Furthermore, Trump continues to display an absurdly juvenile obsession over trivia. He is desperate to prove the blatantly false claim that his inaugural crowd was bigger than President Obama’s hugely larger first inaugural celebration. He even requested the National Park Service produce pictures with the hope he could somehow show that his inauguration was the biggest ever.
While Donald Trump is undoubtedly very rich, no one who sees him in action would value his insight on any major policy issue. As president he has considerable power, and he also would have power simply because he controls a large amount of money. But the guy clearly has no understanding whatsoever of the major policy issues confronting the country and world.
People should always have Donald Trump in mind when we hear wisdom from the mouths of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or the latest rich kid in town. It’s not that any of these people are ill-informed; it’s just that there is no reason to believe that they have any special insights into policy matters just because they happen to be very rich.
There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who could speak on policy matters with every bit as much insight as the richest of our rich. The Bill Gates of the world may be able to have a disproportionate say on the direction of public policy, but this is solely due to their money, not their wisdom. Just ask Donald Trump.