The Criticism More People Should Be Making About Donald Trump

He’s a poster child for America’s increasingly entrenched class system


There is no shortage of reasons to dislike Donald Trump; indeed, disliking him is one of the few things that a large majority of Americans agree on. It’s not terribly surprising, then, that his Democratic opponent — who is also disliked to a degree but who is appreciably more reserved — would go after him concerning his temperament, calling him “unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.” After all, conservatives have made essentially the same critiques.

Likewise, criticisms of Trump that focus on his barely concealed racism, xenophobia, and sexism are to be expected. Even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who looks almost physically ill when forced to talk about his party’s presumptive nominee, described one of Trump’s recent statements as the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

But there is a fundamental problem with Trump that should be concerning even to people unmoved by his racism, sexism, and ill temper: his success gives lie to everything we want to believe about our country. We tell ourselves that ours is a nation where hard work and personal rectitude are the decisive factors in success and failure. But Trump is a living, breathing counterexample, Exhibit A in proving that the power of wealth frustrates the elevation of merit.

Everything Trump and his supporters proclaim as his virtues — the unfiltered comments, the confrontational approach to authority, the dealmaking acumen — works for Trump only because he was born rich and white. He is successful not because of these traits but in spite of them. He is, in short, a poster child for privilege’s execrable tendency not merely to protect mediocrity but to promote it.

We have all probably encountered people who behave as Trump does. We usually call them “assholes,” and they are the folks we sometimes can’t avoid at work or in public but whom we try to exclude from our circle of friends. Like everyone, I am required to work with them from time to time. But I’m a public defender, so most of the assholes I have to work with are not high-born white folks but poor people, predominantly people of color. For them, Trump-style insouciance does not close deals and open doors. Even in the face of official mistreatment that Trump himself has probably never encountered, it gets them locked up or gets their children removed by the state. I have read more child protection court decisions than I can count that point to a parent’s disrespectful attitude toward caseworkers or “lack of insight” into past mistakes as proof of ongoing unfitness to care for children.

Indeed, practically every brash move that Trump and his admirers hold up as proof of his realness is something that would sink a poor person — especially a poor person of color. Trump reports proudly that he was a contentious child, given to starting fights both verbal and physical in middle school, which led his parents to enroll him in a military academy in eighth grade. But formative guidance from a tough-but-kind drill sergeant at a private school is not what black and Hispanic pre-teens can expect when they fight in school. Instead, they get disciplined and arrested in school at disproportionate rates.

And as a lawyer who specializes in juvenile cases and has represented hundreds of children charged with crimes, I can assure you that when children of color come to court and engage in another favorite Trump pastime, criticizing the judge, they tend to get rewarded with a free stay in a state-run hotel that even Trump wouldn’t put his name on.

Practically every brash move that Trump and his admirers hold up as proof of his realness is something that would sink a poor person — especially a poor person of color.

Similarly, Trump’s favorite medium for dispensing insults doesn’t seem to yield such good results for people of color. Time and again in juvenile court, I have seen black and Hispanic children hauled before a judge for statements on Facebook and Twitter that differ from Trump’s only in their more limited reach. Kids are routinely charged with threatening, harassment, and even disorderly conduct for plainly harmless statements no more offensive than Trump’s routine Twitter sexism and racism.

Even his vaunted business savvy — his willingness to take risks, to drive a hard bargain, and so on — is predicated on an insulation from risk. Trump touts himself as a master dealmaker, but independent analyses suggest that his current prosperity is predicated largely on the prosperity he started out with, not on what he did with it. Even after arriving at the tender age of 32 with a net worth of $100 million, Trump vastly underperformed the real estate market as a whole, while taking on “a market-exceeding amount of risk in order to achieve his performance.” From the lottery to rent-to-own furniture to the sub-prime lending crisis, evidence abounds that when people without considerable resources devote what little they have to high risk investments, things do not generally end well for them.

So, while it may be deliciously tempting to hold up Trump’s cartoonish bombast and bigotry as proof of his unfitness, let us not forget his wholly undeserved success. The U.S. has been moving steadily away from class mobility for fifty years. Trump embodies that movement. He is a standard-bearer for our ever-more-entrenched class system.

Josh Michtom is a public defender in Hartford, Connecticut, but his writing here does not necessarily reflect the views of his employer. He likes making art.

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