Ben Stein’s column comparing Trump to an Appalachian coal miner — whom he writes is a “self-made man” — is particularly disheartening because of what it says about the Trump voter’s sense of reality.
An Appalachian coal miner is a self-made man because he actually owned a coal mine. Perhaps because he was already rich, Trump voters have a tenuous grasp of reality, for they think that someone out of the blue, an outsider, comes into their lives and “makes” them. Perhaps because they think that they are the only people who have ever been “self-made,” the others are all you workers at the bottom, who were less lucky than them.
But suppose that a coal miner actually had to pay off his loans, and that he had to borrow money in order to purchase equipment, keep his mine open, and operate it. If a “self-made” coal miner worked hard, invested in what he owned and made a real contribution to his community, the perception of him would be fundamentally different.
Those who sell to and to whom a coal miner owes money aren’t just unfortunate. They are thieves, stealing from a “self-made” man for their own profit.
Even the man who runs a successful company — the successful coal miner — isn’t “self-made” because he has done all the things that a father of a viable company does: pays taxes and puts money aside for retirement and dependents.
We have been doing this for hundreds of years, from the beginning of our country.
This isn’t conjecture. These are the facts about coal mines, of the sort that lie at the heart of the Stein column.
Given this reality, the column’s claim that Trump voters were “self-made” is demonstrably false. Indeed, the logical implication of Stein’s column is that people made themselves into coal miners, while few people made themselves into presidents or successful CEOs. If this is the case, then Trump voters are far more likely to believe the misstatements of his predecessors.
People who think the president is a self-made man shouldn’t be surprised by the president’s failure to understand economics or the value of free trade. These people don’t believe in anything — they believe in themselves.
With this view, voters who are mainly concerned about their own futures are unlikely to support policies that would help the broader society. Think, for example, of the workers who turned out in 2016 to protect Trump and Republicans from unfavorable courts and the highly unpopular GOP tax cut bill.
There is nothing “self-made” about these voters: They are not self-made. They are happy to play the class card, but they are more concerned with defending their own interests than with anything else.
Many Republicans have failed to grasp this fact, and it is their inability to appreciate the real purpose of government that has contributed to their defeats. Any party that won’t consider reducing taxes for most Americans, isn’t going to continue to win elections.
We also know that voters are more likely to be patriotic when their leaders behave aggressively — and that it is high military spending that sometimes explains votes for Trump. Even if Trump is sincere in his defense of American workers, his constant denunciations of trade partners who aren’t massively paying American workers more make clear he has no interest in American national greatness.
Finally, let’s take Trump’s “Make America Great Again” meme to its logical conclusion: Why be an American at all, when your country just can’t sustain itself without you? Such thinking would permit the United States to destroy itself through military, economic and environmental disasters.
The song “Peaceable Kingdom” is a heroic call to love your neighbor, one of the founding tenets of American democracy. Allowing Trump to define American greatness in such a way not only betrays those values, it destroys the core value of our democracy.
If you use the word “self-made” frequently, you may appear to think of yourself as a “self-made man.” If, however, you acknowledge that many others made their way up, you can actually begin to know yourself. So let’s hope that Ben Stein says “I’m a self-made man” fewer times, before he changes his tune.