Minimum Wage, Maximum Anger
I’m Facebook friends with a guy I grew up with whose dispiriting feed consists mostly of posts about how much he hates his job, posts about how good he is at his job, posts about how much money he makes at a job he hates but is very good at, and posts about how much he loves sports and also smoking marijuana.
He’s a proud Republican who seems personally offended and insulted by attempts to raise the minimum wage even though he himself makes the minimum wage before commissions. Like a disconcertingly large number of poor, or struggling, or working-class people, he seems disgusted by what he sees as the unfairness of burger-flippers at McDonald’s making the same living wage as people whose lives and jobs he deems more worthy.
From the outside, it seems counter-intuitive for someone who makes minimum wage to be so strongly against raising the minimum wage. Then again, it also seems counter-intuitive that poor people in the United States would continuously vote against their own economic interests and put their hopes in a kinder, more equitable and healthy future and economy in the hands of an evil, hateful billionaire with a golden elevator.
I forget the source, but there’s a great line about how there are no poor people in our country, just future rich people who haven’t made their fortune yet. I suspect part of the reason my childhood associate feels such misplaced anger towards the very idea of a livable minimum wage is because he is an entrepreneurial, enterprising small businessman type who does indeed seem to see himself not as a man struggling at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder but rather an accomplished and driven hustler who hasn’t quite made his fortune yet.
Poor people and working class people are often willing to vote against their economic interest if they’re given someone, or something, to feel superior to. Trump was savvy enough to know that the masses would be willing to do something crazy like elect an at least moderately evil reality TV star to the Presidency if he endlessly flattered their egos and sense of belonging and entitlement by continuously giving them people to look down on.
The people Trump invited his audience to feel superior to are of course immigrants, illegal primarily, as well as Muslims (natural born or otherwise) and the righteously enraged activists of Black Lives Matter. But he also invited enraged followers to look down on people at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder he insisted were being given an endless series of hand-outs and gifts like medical treatment and a living wage.
Trump and his ilk are able to deceive angry white working class voters into thinking there is a leisure class among the poor who enjoy decadent luxuries like, um, phones and TVs and air conditioning and sometimes even medical services for their children thanks to the taxes of hard-working, patriotic white American Trump voters.
Trump seems to have assumed, as a matter of principle, that capitalism is inherently good and moral. It follows that the people who drive capitalism are not opportunists but Objectivist heroes making the world work while the takers parasitically suck away at their labor.
For all of his populist posturing, Trump sees the world in rigidly hierarchal terms, with himself and the fellow masters of industry at the very tippy-top and illegal immigrants, criminals, the media and burger-flippers at the very bottom.
In online debate over the minimum wage, the mythical “burger flipper/janitor” is invariably trotted out as the sort of person who performs such a shitty, useless job that they don’t deserve to be able to support their families with it. That is repellent to me. People who make hamburgers at McDonald’s perform an exhausting, thankless job that’s essential to the functioning of our goddamn economy. We sure as shit could do without Donald Trump but remove a million McDonald’s employees and suddenly our society doesn’t really function the same.
Yet burger-flippers are trotted out as the least worthy employees in existence because even poor people like to be able to enjoy the luxury of classism, as it’s one of the few luxuries we’re afforded. So I'm going to say it bluntly right now: EVERYONE deserves a living wage, particularly burger-flippers. They serve a much more important function in our society than the rancid orange in the White House, and it’s about time they’re adequately compensated, as they are human beings with dignity, even if our violently classist culture has a hard time seeing them as such.
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