When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me,” he inadvertently foreshadowed the shutdown of 2018-19.

Fitzgerald was alluding to the wealthy class, which he’d earlier portrayed in “The Great Gatsby,.” Old money is also different from new, as Jay Gatsby himself discovered during his futile attempts to buy acceptance.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ recent comment about furloughed government employees – that he didn’t “really quite understand” why unpaid workers were visiting food banks – confirmed Fitzgerald’s point. The very wealthy are different – and they think differently.

Ross furthered his disassociation from reality, saying that “the obligations that they (federal employees) would undertake – say, borrowing from a bank or a credit union – are, in effect, federally guaranteed, so the 30 days of pay that some people will be out is no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it.”

Yes, quite, quite.

Then again, if you’ve never lived paycheck to paycheck, as nearly 80 percent of Americans do, you might not be expected to really quite understand what it’s like. Although some credit unions and banks have, indeed, been helping out with zero- to low-interest loans, it wasn’t clear that everyone would be eligible. Even the fully employed suffer less-than-perfect credit.


The notion, meanwhile, that all will be rectified in due course is cold comfort when you can’t meet your financial obligations. Now that the government is reopened – for three more weeks, at least – federal employees are still likely to face days of paperwork and telephone roulette as they try to correct their credit history and satisfy debtors.

This isn’t end-of-the-world stuff, obviously, but the shutdown certainly wasn’t a “vacation,” as President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, suggested. Ross, who made his billions partly by buying distressed debt, further revealed his own cluelessness by dryly noting that the 800,000 furloughed and unpaid workers represent only one-third of 1 percent of our gross domestic product.

Why all the sad faces?

Thanks to Fitzgerald, we learn that being blessed with wealth “does something to them … that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.” Which is to say, we have a failure of mutual understanding.

Ross and Trump are primarily businessmen and, thus, perhaps see people more as commodities than as human beings. Despair is a market fluctuation that cool-headed investors simply wait out.

Nevertheless, Trump, whose philanthropic pursuits end where the casino parking lot begins, felt compelled to weigh in, saying that although he hadn’t heard the commerce chief’s statement, “I do understand that perhaps he should have said it differently. Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else. And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along.”


In this case, there’s actually some consolation folded into Trump’s translation of Wilburnomics: “Local people know who they are,” even if Ross doesn’t.

Locals and nonlocals alike also know who forced the government to shut down over an unpopular, costly and likely ineffective border wall. Compute this: Landowner lawsuits and appeals over eminent domain could last years; construction of 1,000 miles of steel barriers could take a decade; and technology gallops along. How soon before passenger drones are delivering migrants to Oklahoma?

This may seem far-fetched, but so, too, were cellphones not so long ago.

Meanwhile, we face problems more pressing than our dysfunctional government. Recent polling shows that America may be drifting away from capitalism and toward socialism. In 2018, Gallup found that fewer than half of young Americans view capitalism positively and 51 percent view socialism favorably. According to a Fox News poll released Thursday, 40 percent of Democrats think a move toward socialism would be a good thing and only 34 percent disagreed.

Republicans are against a socialist shift (80 percent), but they also tend to correspond to a graying demographic.

When the very rich are exposed as oblivious to American daily life, it becomes far easier for socialists to make their ideas, such as wealth redistribution, attractive. Ironically, Trump’s true legacy may not be the wall but the fall.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. She can be contacted at:


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