Again in 2017, Class Action asked people from across the United States to vote for the Most Classist Comment of the year. The “contest” is an extension of our work to raise awareness of the classism that is spinning out of control in the United States.
U.S. Senator Charles (Chuck) E. Grassley’s comments denigrating average Americans (R-Iowa) was the “winner,” receiving 35.7% of the vote. During the first weekend in December, Iowa’s senior senator stated, “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
Work vs. Asset Appreciation and Inheritance
Senator Grassley does not seem to understand that unlike the super-rich who get most of their money from asset appreciation and inheritances, not working, most Americans strain to make ends meet. He seems to think that if those of us who are low-income, working-class or even middle-class would just stop spending our paychecks frivolously, we could easily save over $5 million, the amount of money subject to the estate tax.
Senator Grassley’s comments, made in defense of the very unpopular 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, are just the latest in a long tradition of insulting working people while pillaging the public treasury. Classist aspersions on the supposed bad habits of working Americans are the insult that justifies the injury.
Whenever politicians want to boost corporate profits by cutting health care subsidies, privatizing public schools, or slashing the safety net, they rant about the supposed moral failings of poor and working-class people.
Too Far Removed
Sadly, Senator Grassley’s comments were not the only ones made by a prominent person or public figure that demeans working-class or poor people, perpetuates classist myths and stereotypes, and illustrates a disturbing indifference toward class inequities.
The other 2017 Most Classist Comment nominees included U.S. President Donald Trump, 22.3%; former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, 16.1%; and Louise Linton, wife of Steven Mnuchin, 12.5, among other high profile owning-class individuals.
When addressing why his Cabinet was comprised solely of millionaires and billionaires, President Trump said, “And I love all people — rich or poor — but in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense? Does that make sense? If you insist, I’ll do it — but I like it better this way, right?”
Defending Congress’ efforts to end health care for less class-advantaged Americans through Obamacare, Jason Chaffetz stated, “Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone” Americans “should invest in their own health care.” And Louise Linton explained away the use of a government plane for a trip many believe was scheduled to view the solar eclipse with, “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 …”
It’s (Long Past) Time to Address Rampant Classism
We all must challenge people with class privilege when they spread myths about the “undeserving poor” and the “deserving rich” to justify drastic policy proposals that further widen inequality in the United States. According to research by Class Action board member Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie, such narratives have played a role in creating the type of inequality that three decades after trickle-down economics was introduced allows 400 multi-billionaires to have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 204 million people.
If we do not challenge these insulting and dangerous narratives, people like those nominated for the 2017 Most Classist Comment will continue to take away health coverage, employee protections and tax deductions from working people, while giving away billions to the 1% in 2018 and far beyond.
Class Action President Betsy Leondar-Wright contributed to this post.