I confess my wariness of the political media distracted me from the “character” of Donald Trump. Count me among the two-thirds of Americans who perceive journalists as promoting their personal agendas rather than objectively reporting the news. The more the media tarred Trump a racist, a fascist, or whatever ist word they chose to label him with, the more I tuned out.
Trump’s weekend tweets about Baltimore forced me to acknowledge the truth about the man: He lacks decency, empathy, and an ability to show even a modicum of kindness. Unlike the media, I don’t regard the tweets as racist because Donald Trump doesn’t think along racial lines. In his mind there is “The Donald” — and the rest of the world. If Rep. Illan Omar were to tweet that she viewed Trump as a genius and praised him for his handling of China, Russia, and North Korea, Trump would pay homage to the “fine immigrants from Somalia” and possibly name Omar secretary of state.
Parts of Baltimore are in fact dangerous and rat-infested. And Trump is correct that “no human being” would willingly choose that sort of environment. But Trump, and countless other Americans of privilege, mistakenly believes that poverty is a lifestyle choice and that the poor want to remain that way. Escaping poverty in America is exceedingly difficult, particularly when there are people like Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, who set the poor back.
ProPublica two years ago published a story entitled The Beleaguered Tenants of ‘Kushnerville’ that continues to weigh on me. Quite simply, Kushner, and his family, are slum landlords and they have extensive holdings in the Baltimore area. ProPublica provided numerous instances of Kushner-controlled companies harassing low-income former tenants with petty or questionable lawsuits and then garnishing their wages if they didn’t pay up. The media describes Kushner as a “modern Orthodox Jew,” so it’s noteworthy that Jewish law and tradition explicitly states the poor are to be protected, particularly when they are in debt.
One of the featured Kushnerville victims was Kamiia Warren, a single mother of three who was taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration and planned to open a small assisted living center. That dream was shattered after a Kushner-controlled company garnished Warren’s wages and bank account for monies that ProPublica indicated she didn’t even owe. Instead of opening her business, Warren had to borrow money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills.
Former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in 2017 issued a statement saying that Kushner controlled properties incurred more than 200 code violations. The Kushner companies made repairs only after the county threatened to withhold HUD rental payments and levy fines. Even then, nine properties had code violations.
“It’s been our experience that working families have been preyed on at the benefit of Mr. Kushner and his company,” Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. told the Washington Post.
The Trump Administration has also moved to make it more difficult for poor people to receive food stamps. According to Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen, whose insightful commentaries distinguish her from most media pundits, some three million poor people will lose their benefits. Olen does an admirable job explaining the “cluelessness of the struggles of the poverty-struck” in America.
The Republicans aren’t alone in being complicit in the exploitation of poor people. John Oliver on his HBO show Last Week Tonight featured a segment about how several of the major private equity firms and a company controlled by Warren Buffett have gained control of the mobile home industry. The influx has resulted in higher rents and people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder losing their homes.
“The homes of some of the poorest people in America are being snapped up by some of the richest people in America,” Oliver said. “It’s going terribly.”
As Olen has noted, private equity is “a benign way to describe an often heinous practice” of acquiring companies with other people’s money and then looting them for personal gain. According to a study by advocacy groups, 1.3 million Americans have lost their jobs because of private equity takeovers in the retail industry. Women and people of color have disproportionately been impacted. I’ve previously written about other private equity cancerous ways and practices (see here and here).
Private equity firms are major contributors to both Republican and Democratic candidates and it’s unlikely either party will curb the industry’s predatory ways. Regardless of who is in power, the rich will benefit at the expense of the poor.
In Trump’s view, that’s what makes America so great.