Does anyone in the White House understand the meaning of the word “empathy”?
It’s bad enough that 800,000 government workers, and a million or more federal contractors, are about to miss their second paycheck because of the five-week partial government shutdown.
It’s even worse that some of them are being forced to stand in food lines, or choose between medicine and mortgage payments.
Now the affluent within Team Trump are admonishing these workers that their plight is really no big deal.
Lara Trump, wife of the president’s son Eric, tells federal workers that “we all get” that the shutdown over the proposed border wall is not fair, “but this is much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain … for the future of our country.”
A little bit of pain?
Tell that to furloughed federal employee Quashawn Latimer, who is fighting stage 2 cancer and must choose between chemotherapy and rent.
Or to Kim Harmon, with the Commerce Department, and her husband, Kevin James, with the National Park Service, waiting in line recently with other federal workers at a Giant grocery store food bank in Alexandria, Virginia. “This is pretty humiliating,” Harmon told a reporter.
Her boss, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, seems clueless about such hardships. Ross, who is worth an estimated $700 million, is befuddled that moneyless federal workers don’t just go out and get bank loans to pay bills.
Ross told CNBC on Thursday he doesn’t “quite understand why” federal workers are going to food banks instead of getting loans to survive the “liquidity crisis.” After all, the shutdown will end some day and back pay will flow (though not necessarily to laid off federal contractors).
“There really is not a good excuse why there should be a liquidity crisis,” Ross said. Never mind that many financial institutions don’t offer personal loans (unless you’re rich like Ross), or that payday lenders typically charge an arm and a leg in interest on short-term loans. Even Commerce’s own credit union is charging at least 8.99 percent.
These people in high places don’t seem to understand the tenuousness of average American lives. Even with the robust economy, a Federal Reserve Board report from last year found that 40 percent of adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would have to sell something or borrow money.
The shutdown is an unalloyed calamity for many of the federal workers caught, like pawns, between government factions warring over a partial barrier on the southern border, one that Trump had promised Mexico would pay for.
On Thursday, the Senate rejected two proposals to end the shutdown, triggering new rounds of discussions about border security and reopening government.
As we’ve argued before, the shutdown needs to end. Now. Taxpayers need their government services. Workers need their paychecks.
Too many of them are running out of money, much as the penniless of 18th century France had no bread. Telling struggling people to eat cake is no more palatable now than it was then.
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