You, dear reader, know more than I do as I write this.
You have the results of the election. Well, at least if they aren’t being contested. I, though, haven’t a clue about what happened November 3.
But I can still address some comments made by President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, and by Trump himself, during the days leading up to the vote.
Or, to be more specific, what the controversies that followed in the wake of those comments tell us about contemporary American society.
In an October 26 Fox News interview, the First Son-in-Law contended that the president’s economic policies have benefited the African-American community. Policies, he said, “that can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about.” But, he added, the president “can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.”
Pretty run-of-the-mill self-help talk. Yes, Christopher Buckley famously asserted, “The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one.” But countless successful people have attributed their achievements to having taken counsel like Mr. Kushner’s to heart.
In fact, “motivational speakers” are quite popular. Research firm Marketdata estimated that the “self-improvement” market in the US is worth more than $9 billion annually.
No one sent Mr. Kushner a check, though. True, he doesn’t really need the income. Still, it would have been a nice gesture.
Quite the contrary, he was accused of committing a contemporary crime. As a New York Times headline put it, “Kushner, Employing Racist Stereotype, Questions If Black Americans ‘Want to Be Successful.’” The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board titled its attack: “Jared Kushner Spews Stereotype to Black Americans: You Have to Want Success.”
Well, yes, all Americans, actually, you do. There’s no guarantee that you’ll achieve it, of course (unless you write a really good self-help book). But short of winning the lottery, there’s little chance of achieving financial security without making an effort.
Is there something sinful in recommending to a group of citizens who are disadvantaged by a tragic history of slavery and discrimination that they can, and should, determinedly embrace their potential for economic and social success?
Then, the very next day, the president, campaigning in Lansing, Michigan, sought to appeal to suburban women, a constituency whose support of him was reportedly waning, by declaring that he was “getting your kids back to school” and “getting your husbands…back to work.”
That latter sentiment drew heavy fire. A Huffington Post sub-headline read: “The 1950s called. They want their line back.” One of many sarcastic tweets mocked, “Do…‘suburban women’…not…work? Because…I live in the suburbs and…I work. Am I doing it wrong? Was there a memo?”
Now, I fully comprehend the necessity many women have these days to be in the workforce. Two-income families have become an unfortunate norm in the modern economy. But Mr. Trump’s image of an earlier time (and for some, a current one), when mothers stay home with their children, no matter how unrealistic it may be for many, shouldn’t be seen as a joke but as an ideal.
Motherhood as a full-time vocation, no matter how unrealistic it may be for many, is nothing to be ashamed of. Research and experience (not to mention common sense) have confirmed the benefits for children of having a parent at home all day.
Many are the hands that are wrung over the more radical changes in contemporary society, the normalization of things once seen (and by some of us, still seen) as, well, abnormal.
Like the redefinition of marriage and an increasingly cavalier attitude toward life at its start and at its end. Or people being offered the “choice” today to be identified in ways at odds with their biology. (I’m still trying to identify as a 7-foot, highly skilled basketball player; the NBA continues to discriminate against me.)
But just as disturbing, and perhaps even more dangerous because of their insidiousness, are the more subtle changes in societal attitudes, the ones that see bigotry in worthy advice and absurdity in traditional homes. l