Members Only | May 22, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Blood’s Got Nothing to Do with It
Don't be like the rich.
The president is rich, and, like the rich, he’s different from you, me and everyone we know. He has more money. Being rich means never having to face your fears, because why face your fears when you can pay someone to face them for you? Not all rich folks are cowards, of course. But when the going gets tough, Donald Trump gives up.
F. Scott Fitzgerald might have been describing the president when he said the rich “possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.”
Citizens, or members of a political community, do what needs to be done to achieve the ideals of self-determination and the greatest good for the greatest number. Consumers don’t.
Being rich means never having to see the truth about himself. In real life, Trump is weak. He’s decadent. He’s immoral. But in his made-for-TV life, initially charged to his dad’s account, his blindness is a blessing. He’s wealthy, because he has good blood, and because of that good blood, he’s infallible. The president said as much Thursday of Henry Ford, America’s most notorious antisemite and Adolf Hitler’s inspiration: “Good bloodlines, good bloodlines—if you believe in that stuff, you got good blood.”
Not all rich are cowards, and not all rich are fascist, but the rich do tend to set the tone for the rest of the country. They establish an attitude the rest of the country tends to emulate, consciously or not. In our advance capitalist society, where the rich have become richer than any time in human history, all are encouraged to be like the rich. The result, for most of us, is a tiring tension between material desire and empirical reality, a posture of longing chastened by limits. For some, though, there is no tension, because there are no limits that can’t be overcome with the swipe of a credit card.
Being a rich country, in other words, does something to us. It makes a challenge feel like a hardship. It makes a hardship feel like an emergency. It makes emergencies feel insurmountable. And it makes caring about others, and about our nation as a whole, not only dependent on whether it does something for me but an injustice for demanding that I care. The US is facing a multiverse of crises. One is of morality and the democratic spirit. And I can’t think of a better illustration of that than a recent column in which grown men and women pity themselves for having to do dishes.
Don’t forget the tip jar!
Yes, doing the dishes is something most people don’t think about. They just do it. But doing the dishes in an advance capitalist society that encourages everyone to be like the rich is an irony ideal for the Post’s Style section, where Ellen McCarthy penned a lament for this moment in which we must cook for ourselves, entertain ourselves, and clean after ourselves. “A sink perpetually brimming with dirty dishes is a proxy for all that is tedious and tiresome about life at the undramatic edges of this crisis,” she said.
It is incessant, like the quarantine. Repetitive, like our days at home. Demanding and messy, like the tasks that fill those days. And somehow fraught with shame and judgment: Who can claim to have their act together if they can’t fit their Brita pitcher under the faucet?
It’d be one thing to discuss the psychological impact of isolation, the trauma arising from rapid change, or the resulting depths of depression that can make ordinary chores seem gigantic. But no. The goal, apparently, is bewailing (while tactfully appearing not to bewail) the inconvenience of a pandemic that has killed more than 96,600 people and unemployed about 38 million more. The point, apparently, is complaining about the injury to one’s identity when one’s identity is wrapped up in the public performance of one’s social status. Complaining about doing the dishes is not somehow fraught with shame and judgment. It is, or it should be, so much so that any self-respecting newspaper editor would spike a lament for dirty dishes on sight.
Citizens, or members of a political community, do what needs to be done to achieve the ideals of self-determination and the greatest good for the greatest number. Consumers, however, don’t. Consumers want what they want whenever they want it, and they feel entitled to having every desire met immediately and completely. Consumers are not ready to sacrifice for the sake of others. Sacrifice means limits and limits are unfair. Who can claim to have their act together if they can’t fit their Brita pitcher under the faucet?
Many of our rich behave like citizens. Many don’t. Some, in fact, behave just like the president, and they encourage you, me, and everyone we know to be just like them.