By William K. Black
January 14, 2019 Bloomington, MN
Queen Marie-Antoinette of France was libeled by the claim that when she was told that her starving peasants could no longer find bread to eat, she responded “then let them eat cake.” (If you want to get precise she supposedly said let them eat ‘brioche.”) There is no evidence she said any such thing.
Trump, however, really said the modern equivalent. His remarks, despite being made in response to a question about his empathy for government workers losing their pay due to the government shutdown, revealed how bereft of human understanding our autocrat-in-chief is.
“Mr. President, do you relate to the pain of federal workers who can’t pay their bills?” a reporter asked.
“I can relate,” Trump said. “And I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. And they’ll make adjustments.”
Yes, when you suddenly lose your sole source of meaningful income you “always” “make adjustments.” That was the point her libelers portrayed the Queen as making – the peasants will adjust to their inability to buy bread by buying cake (or brioche). The goal of the libel was to picture the rich and powerful as being so blind to the life of the poor that they cannot imagine a real economic problem. Even when the media asked Trump about empathy and responded that he did empathize, his next sentence demonstrated his lack of understanding and empathy. Trump’s life is one without painful adjustments. He thinks the same is true of federal workers. Forty percent of Americans, however, cannot suffer a $400 shock (an unexpected expense or loss of income) without facing a crisis in which they have to sell assets or borrow money to avoid default. The “adjustments” that normal federal workers have to make when they suffer a lost income shock that is already about three times more severe than $400 – are dramatically more painful to federal worker families. There is no end in sight to Trump’s shutdown of the federal government, so the ‘adjustments’ will soon include selling cars, losing the home, and missing the ability to cover the application fees to get your kid into college.
Our next big chance to “make adjustments” comes in a little less than two years.