If you're a millennial, you probably don't know about the time George H.W. Bush found his way into a supermarket and was surprised to find electric scanners that read the bar codes that were on every product in the store. Like lots of really rich people, Dubya's daddy didn't get out much, at least not to those places where the commoners do the stuff us commoners do, like buying our own groceries or pumping our own gas.
In that vein, I was thinking recently about all the things Donald Trump doesn’t do, and may have never done, a thought that came to me as I was cleaning the cat box. I'd lay odds that Donald Trump has never cleaned a cat box in his life. If I limited the wager to his adult life, the odds would be even longer.
Once I had that thought, a whole bunch of similar thoughts rushed to mind, a list of things I'm pretty sure Trump has seldom if ever done, or things that have seldom if ever happened to him. For instance, I seriously doubt if Trump has made his own bed since he was off at that military academy when he was a kid. And I'm pretty sure he hasn't done the dishes in decades, or changed the oil on any of the cars he owns. It's unlikely he's gone grocery shopping, ironed his own shirt, shined his own shoes, or driven himself through commuter traffic.
It's almost certain that it's been a very long time since he was required to wait in line, or to have someone tell him he couldn't have something he wanted. Unlike the majority of other New Yorkers, it's almost certain he hasn't ridden the subway recently, or ever. He's never cleaned a toilet or scoured a bathtub, never found himself pushing a vacuum cleaner or a Swiffer. Chances are, the word "Swiffer" would puzzle him, as would the names of products like Armor-All or WD-40.
He's a man who spends more on the maintenance of his hair than most people spend on rent, so it's certain he's had much experience with eating leftovers, or taking out the trash, or using a plunger to free up a clogged toilet.
He's never known the experience of standing in long lines at the airport, or having to worry about the weight of his bags. He's been spared a great many worries, in fact. He's never known that shortfall between when the kids are hungry and the money runs out before payday. He's not likely to be familiar with the feeling generated when an unanticipated medical emergency can undo months or years of careful and penurious household budgeting.
He's a man who spends more on the maintenance of his hair than most people spend on rent, so it's certain he's had much experience with eating leftovers, or taking out the trash, or using a plunger to free up a clogged toilet. He's never been made to wait weeks to see a doctor, or to stand in the rain hailing a cab. He's never had to change a tire in the rain, nor has he ever scraped the ice from a windshield, or if he did, it was decades and decades ago.
He's seldom had to pay for tickets to see top line entertainers, or sporting events. He's comped most places he turns up.
He has never had to buy a sofa on the installment plan. Though he thinks of himself as the world's most successful deal negotiator, he's never had the experience of trying to consummate a car deal with an oily salesman who disappears at odd intervals to go run everything by a mysterious voice in another office somewhere. Though he's filed bankruptcy several times, his eligibility for low interest loans has never been impaired. The rate he pays for money borrowed is never close to what working people pay for credit.
He's never checked his wallet nervously, fretting about the possible humiliation that will come if the tab for groceries the checker is ringing up exceeds his cash on hand. He's never worn a pair of old socks with a hole in them because they were the last clean pair. He has, in fact, had little or no experience with self denial.
He's never had to pull up stakes to relocate for a job, never rented a U-Haul to move his stuff. He's never painted a room, or washed a window with Windex. He's never gotten up at night to quiet a crying baby, heating formula on the stove. He's never attended a PTA meeting, never had to pawn a personal possession, or face eviction after being laid off.
He's never run out of gas and had to walk miles to a gas station. He's never scanned a menu, making his choice based on the price of the cheapest offering there. He's never worried about where the money will come from to buy new school clothes for the kids, or Christmas presents for under the tree, if there will be a tree.
Money can't buy happiness, we're told. But it can buy an exemption from lots of the trials and tribulations, the daily struggles and frustrations that attend the lives of people who have too little of it. The irony is, of course, that this president-elect, who presented himself as a populist, a man of the people, an advocate for the working class, has less personal knowledge of their lives than perhaps any man who has ever elected to hold the highest office in the land.
Does it matter? Perhaps not. But policy begins with understanding, and understanding is surely rooted in empathy.
Perhaps we should assume Trump possesses the best empathy, however, just as he claims being simply the best at everything else. Except, perhaps, cleaning the cat box.