David Azerrad in a recent post at the Heritage Foundation’s site, “What the Left Misunderstands about Poverty and Dependency” offers a long list of right wing assumptions: that housing, food, and medical assistance prevent people from marrying and working, that government assistance “erodes the virtues that allow people to flourish,” and most astonishingly, that “all Americans – conservative and liberal alike – believe in a strong safety net.” I sent him an email with several questions (if he answers, I’ll provide that in an update). Here is the first:

When you mention, “the virtues that allow people to flourish,” which virtues do you mean and what would be “flourishing”?

From what I can gather, when conservatives talk about flourishing, they mean working hard (but not in any public or government position, Republican politics excepted), going to college, getting married, starting a business, buying a house, etc.. If you’re really flourishing, you live in a gated “community,” go to a private school, own high-end cars, play golf, travel by air, help out with the Boy Scouts (while your sons are in a troop), and perhaps donate your old clothes to charity. And of course, if you’re at the tiptop of flourishing, you own a corporation, a jet, and perhaps support the Heritage Foundation. What you don’t do is take government handouts. All of this is pretty clear. What is not yet known is which virtues allow people to pursue this path?

A Flourisher par excellence: Donald Trump

One person who leaps to mind as a flourisher is Mr. Trump. You really can’t flourish much more than he does. But what virtues allowed him to flourish? First of all, his father was a real estate developer, and the younger Trump joined the business. Real estate development is a cardinal virtue, and poor people trapped in the safety net would do well to follow his example. Next Donald Trump attended three private schools: a military academy, Fordham, and the very exclusive Wharton School. Again, get off welfare and into boarding school. Undoubtedly, if the spiderlike web of the state didn’t clutch poor people in its fatal grasp, they would be acquiring real estate developers for parents and going to private schools like mad. (Why don’t they know this? What are our public schools teaching?)

But Mr. Trump has other virtues. When he moved to Manhattan (kaching!), he “became familiar with many influential people.” Unfortunately, some poverty-stricken, dependent folks just take the bus to the county hospital day in and day out, and when they’re done with that, they bring their food stamps to the grocery store. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You just don’t meet influential people living in the ‘hood, and it would be nice if poor folks would cotton on to that fact and move into nicer places like Manhattan. But they don’t, and it seems so clear that if government would get out of their way, they would. Living in slums and public housing is likely one of the “devastating effects that the Left’s indiscriminate approach to poverty relief” has had on poor people.

Trump and the Underclass Have Something in Common!

If you’re starting to feel that poor people have been so thoroughly and irreversibly victimized by government programs that they can never flourish, take heart! Donald Trump did set one example many poor people are following now! As Trump-observers know, his second wife was Marla Maples, and here comes the happy news: “The couple had a daughter two months before their marriage in 1993.” So out-of-wedlock children born while you’re still married to someone else should not be an impediment to flourishing (so long as you do eventually get married). And no worries. You don’t have to stay married more than four years. “He filed for a highly publicized divorce from Maples in 1997…” Perhaps poor people’s divorces are not highly-publicized enough. It’s hard to say. Certainly, they should work on their relationships with influential news organizations to be sure of front-page coverage.

Most Important: Think Like a Billionaire!

But to be fair, many conservatives consider helping the needy to be a virtue. And Mr. Trump is actually doing that with his book, Think Like a Billionaire: Everything you need to know about success, real estate, and life, which for only $7.19 on Amazon, shares his secrets with anyone in possession of that small amount of money (which you could easily earn by working an hour at McDonald’s. Please don’t go to the public library. Cut your dependence on the government and cut it now if you want to flourish). I clicked on “Surprise me,” and I was truly surprised by the virtues espoused on the first page: “In business, everyone is out to grab, to fight, to win. Either you are the under or the over dog. It’s up to you to be on top.” Quoted from Alice Foote MacDougall.

I’m embarrassed to admit that until now I thought virtue had something to do with spirituality or at least morality. That’s thinking like a government dependent, I sadly fear. No wonder I’m not a billionaire. I remember once driving around East Palo Alto (on a publicly-funded van from a publicly-funded school – sorry!) and I saw a church on practically every corner! You can bet they weren’t preaching about grabbing, fighting, and winning. Now I see the problem. I wish more people in poor neighborhoods would grab what they need or want from those around them. But it’s only a small minority who do, and half the time they end up in prison for it (although more and more it’s a private prison, thankfully). Why do the publicly-funded cops have to get in the way of virtues needed for flourishing? To put a spin on Diderot, we won’t flourish until we see the last cop strangled with the entrails of the last librarian.

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