This week, Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, was forced to apologize for an "insensitive" comment she made on Instagram. While this may seem like nothing more than a silly social media spat, Linton's comment is indicative of a much larger issue present in American conservative thought and public policy.
After posting a photo of herself exiting a government plane after a #daytrip to Kentucky, Linton shot back at jennimiller29, a commenter who’d said, “Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.” Linton’s defense invoked the theory of trickle-down economics: “Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”
According to Linton, the good folks at the top are actually burdened by their wealth, because their massive wealth provides a service to the rest of society. Not only do they “sacrifice” by the taxes they pay, but they're basically public servants of the economy. Never mind that the current tax system bolsters the wealthy through benefits that include the low capital gains tax rate, the mortgage interest deductions, and even a deduction for some expenses related to their yachts. The rich, with lifestyles so luxurious that the incautious among them will hashtag expensive brands on posts about government travel as Linton did (“#rolandmouret pants, #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf, #valentinorockstudheels,” she wrote), need even more tax breaks because they stimulate the economy for less worthy consumers. How can jennimiller29, and all the other lowly workers, be so ungrateful?!
The American idolization of the rich is threaded throughout society's discourse and policy, birthed from the bootstrap myth that has helped define America, falsely, as a land of economic opportunity. In this storyline, hard work always equals success, and success always comes from hard work. It ignores the systemic problems that make social mobility difficult (racism, classism, inadequate policies to address these phenomena), and provides justification for a tax and welfare system that favors the wealthy. This makes it easy to villainize the poor and venerate the rich.
Linton, in her response to jennimiller29, uses words like “adorable” and “cute”: “Your life looks cute” and “You’re adorably out of touch.” Such patronizing behavior toward someone less wealthy than her extends well past personal insults and into conservative policy proposals. Just last week, a bill was introduced in the Florida legislature to ban Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) recipients from buying soda with their benefits.
But like many uncomfortable social realities, it's essential that this love of class hierarchy remain unspoken. Let us not forget Mitt Romney's 47 percent remark, caught on a hidden camera, in which, as he put it, there are 47 percent of Americans "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
Presidential candidates aren’t supposed to talk that way—something that even the otherwise uncensorable Donald Trump understood.
Linton's outburst, complete with emojis, may well have come straight from the egos and ids of the very rich, and comported with actual conservative doctrine, but it violated their rule of omerta: You’re just not supposed to, you know, talk about this stuff if there's a chance of a leaked video—or with your Instagram set to “public.”