Trump’s social darwinism

Really enjoyed this article from Chait last week:

Social Darwinism is a philosophy that treats the market as a perfectly efficient and moral mechanism for allocating wealth. Just as natural selection favors those species best adapted for survival, the theory goes, capitalism rewards the smartest and most deserving among us. It is the intellectual scaffolding, constructed by writers like Ayn Rand and various Austrian economists, behind the vision of conservatives like Paul Ryan and David Koch. Trump may not have read up on the theory, but he understands it viscerally. His father, Fred, inculcated his son with the unshakable belief that his own greatness would lead to enormous wealth.

Trump’s boast in Iowa about the “great, brilliant business minds” in his administration communicates a great deal about his innermost beliefs. “I love all people, rich or poor,” he explained, “but, in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person, does that make sense?” The richest people in the country are, by definition, the most brilliant and well qualified. Trump rejects the notion that circumstance, luck, or social advantage might play a role. In a 1990 interview, a more candid time, Trump expressed his belief that being born into poverty would not have arrested his rise. “The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” he told an interviewer. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it’ … You’re either born with it or you’re not.” …

Social Darwinism is the tissue connecting this shady conduct with the Republican Party’s highest policy priorities. Conservatives believe programs that tax the rich and benefit the poor illegitimately meddle with the natural and correct distribution of wealth produced by the marketplace. The Republican health-care bill — both what passed in the House and what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has brought to the Senate — confers a nearly trillion-dollar tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy. That appears to be its sponsors’ primary consideration. Secondarily, it strips away an equal amount in Medicaid and middle-class insurance tax credits.

Conservatives have little difficulty applying the logic of social Darwinism to justify punishing the sick. Vice-President Mike Pence explains that the administration’s health-care plan supports the promotion of “personal responsibility.” Kellyanne Conway implies that only an unwillingness to work would cause an able-bodied adult to have trouble affording health care: “If they are able-bodied and they want to work, then they’ll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.” The Republican plan, explained Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, will reduce “the cost to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy.” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, allowed that while people who “get cancer” should have a “safety net,” “that doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly, and gets diabetes.”


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Trump’s social darwinism

  1. Nicole K says:

    It embarrasses me that I used to wholeheartedly believe in these very ideas. But I learned how cruel this worldview is through personal experience.

    There’s not much I can do about having had an undiagnosed disabling medical condition that incapacitated me for my 20’s, which happens to be the decade that is most important to establish a person in a career.

    There isn’t much that I can do about the fact that my high annual medical expenses make me unemployable by smaller organizations that self-insure their employees.

    I am doing everything I can to improve my situation. My current plan is to hopefully go to graduate school to make myself more employable. But the idea that I could somehow figure out a way to change my circumstances immediately if I just “worked hard” to improve my life is absurd.

    The situation I have found myself dealing with isn’t the result of poor choices on my part. I desperately sought medical treatment for a decade because I knew that there was something seriously wrong with me. I didn’t choose to have every specialist doctor I went to to misdiagnose my condition (which is sadly the normal course of events for most people who have narcolepsy. The fact that it has a 10 year diagnostic gap is the cruelest part of the condition). I didn’t choose to make the medication that I need cost $140,000 a year.

    I guess that the aspect of libertarian ideology that I am most embarrassed about embracing is what Rand famously called “the virtue of selfishness”. I used to firmly believe in her creed “I pledge by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine”. Then I learned through experience that if everyone operated that way my life would not be possible. Without the help of of others, including my family and society, I would likely be homeless or dead.

    Libertarian ideology makes it a virtue to write off the very people who are most in need of help and support from their fellow man. I find it ironic that many of the people pushing this consider themselves Evangelical Christians.

    I don’t know how they reconcile their libertarian worldview with their Christian faith. It is pretty clear that Jesus taught the exact opposite of libertarianism.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    Social Darwinism relieves the wealthy of guilt. If one can look at a beggar and “know” that he could help himself if he would just get off his lazy backside, would you give him anything?

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