Trump and the Luxury of Failure

As expected, even a small sliver of Donald Trump’s tax returns proved to be interesting and infuriating. The rise and fall and rise (and fall, and rise) of Trump serves as a primer on success and failure in America.

The business fortunes of Trump have oscillated from runaway success to total disaster multiple times. However, the situation gravitates towards money- his fortunes are rooted in the money and connections he inherited. Thus, even when his net worth was well below zero, he could act in a way that most broke Americans could never. Failure as a celebrity real estate mogul seems to resemble deferred success. And as his tax returns show, massive loss can be turned into gain. Never mind that most American carry around debt for years, if not their whole lives.

But the ability to fail is in itself a privilege. Many Americans fail once financially, and never return to a place where it could happen again. Hardship is not a short, confined phase in a larger journey, but rather becomes built into the structure of life.

Yet seeing the continuous wave of protests against police violence in cities, it becomes clear that whole population can never fail, for the system has not and will not let them succeed. There is no money for food, childcare, the same benefits that well-off children and their families have. The school system is dysfunctional and higher education is both remote and expensive. Deindustrialization, trade pacts, and outsourcing have stripped communities of decent work with benefits. Reading Matthew Desmond’s Evicted a few weeks back, his case studies lacked the money to both pay rent and do anything else. Kids attended a dozen different schools, grew up more often in the streets than in the home. Hardship was passed down generation to generation.

In America, only the wealthy can succeed and fail like Donald Trump has.

 

Affording college should not be a carnival game

I’m somewhat disgusted from watching the college football conference championship games. Not the quality of the games- they were pretty engaging, and go Spartans- but the halftime contest between two people competing for college tuition money. The Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway had two contestants throwing footballs into a hole in a giant soda can to win $100,000 in scholarships.

I don’t have a problem with a corporation handing out some money for college- it’s certainly not the most destructive way to gain publicity, but it does feel strange that people in the United States have to compete for the right to graduate debt-free. One of the long-term threads to American prosperity, especially if that prosperity is to cross class lines, are people of all ages pursuing some form of post-secondary education. High tuition rates discourage poor and lower middle class students from applying at all. And America is rapidly losing its edge in overall attainment:

Credit to The Century Foundation

And struggle in STEM majors:

STEM Graduation Rates1 600x486 The U.S. STEM Graduation Rate Is Very Low Compared To Other Countries

I’ve previously written a detailed speech on the idea of free tertiary education in America, which you can read here. It seems that intelligent and perceptive people should focus on learning, and not fret over balance sheets unless they take an accounting class.

Dreams turned into debt

Dreams turned into debt

I’ve wondered how you would encapsulate the economic era that most Americans live in. The fundamental costs of living have skyrocketed. Many Americans are lucky to have zero retirement savings, because others are mired in long-term debt.

I decided to draw this graph to encapsulate what the post-industrial era had brought. With the death of high-wage unskilled labor and declining investment in training and education, wealth has turned into a sea of debt.