What Trump’s Obsession With Genetics Says About Modern Inequality

Our president is rarely pale. Considering that he spends executive time indoors, it seems reasonable to assume his steady maintain his trademark orange glow during the drab depths of a D.C. winter is the product of a tanning bed or spray. But, at least officially, that’s not the cause. In February, an unnamed White House staffer attributed Donald Trump’s perma-tan to “good genes,” That deep tan background doesn’t explain the fishbelly-white circles around Trump’s eyes, which look suspiciously like the outline of tanning goggles, but whatevs.

As The New York Times noted, his complexion is but one of a many attributes the Trump camp chalks up to his fortuitous genetic inheritance. It’s blatantly false. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be dismissed. Trump has an aristocratic faith in the divine right of good genes

Last year, Trump’s doctor said the president’s incredible genes kept him in excellent physical health despite a steady diet of junk food. While Trump’s not a trained rocket scientist, he believes being the nephew of the late MIT physics professor John Trump, grants him insight into the inner workings of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (“a very complex subject,” in case you were wondering).

And of course, Trump’s congenital genius is evident in his descendants: when video of granddaughter Arabella Kushner went viral in China in late 2017, with Trump ascribing the toddler’s proficiency to DNA and left unmentioned the Manhattan language school which costs her parents, Ivanka and Jared, $75,000 a year in tuition).

Trump’s weird obsession with genetic superiority overlaps with the violent quackery of eugenics, the late 19th and early 20th century effort to improve racial “hygiene” that culminated with the Holocaust, after which the movement was relegated to the shameful past. Trump, who is virtually shame-proof and probably oblivious to the controversial nature of his beliefs, continues to espouse what one of his biographers, Michael D’Antonio, has called a “racehorse theory of human development.”

Such a theory is probably useful for Trump, whose father, Fred, whatever his other faults, was a legitimately self-made success who built the empire his heir nearly lost to bankruptcy on multiple occasions. Half-baked biological determinism allows a mediocrity like Trump to bask in the reflected glory of his blood relations, like a dead moon lit up by a brilliant star.

Trump’s use of his pedigree as a credential is more than just a laughable attempt by a profoundly insecure screw-up to make it seem as though he knows what he’s doing, however. In America in 2019, the idea that some people are just “born with it” and others are not takes on a dark, disturbing resonance.

Income inequality is now back to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, and a growing share of the nation’s wealth ends up in the hands of those who, like Trump, inherited it. Socioeconomic mobility, a measure of one’s chances of doing better than their parents, has plummeted in the former land of opportunity.

At the same time, the very concept of one person, one vote has been under systematic assault, and laws to combat almost nonexistent voter fraud are just the least of it. Twice now since 2000 a Republican has been elected president by an Electoral College majority, not a real one of flesh-and-blood citizens. That same party, through parliamentary maneuvering in the Senate and long-term demographic trends, is consistently able to thwart the will of most Americans and advance a small-government agenda favored in red states with lots of land but few people. This is largely the same agenda favored by members of the yacht-owning class, who can now lawfully purchase legislators thanks to a right-leaning Supreme Court that has defined bribery so narrowly your typical plutocrat can sidestep any legal problems as easily as skipping over a puddle.

In her book Democracy in Chains, scholar Nancy MacLean notes that our lurch away from rule by the people began decades ago as a “deliberate attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.” Born as an initiative by states-rights advocates to curtail the reach of the federal government following the court-ordered desegregation of public schools in the 1950s, MacLean shows that the effort has now morphed into “a return to oligarchy.”

And it is through this lens that Trump and his preoccupation with genes must be viewed. Like George W. Bush before him, Trump would almost certainly have remained utterly anonymous if but for his parentage; instead, he is judged not so much for what he’s done on his own– as lesser mortals are—but for who he is. Trump’s Cabinet and advisors aren’t technocrats or academics. They’re a menagerie of fawning courtiers, including unqualified family like his son-in-law Jared, another bumbling real-estate heir with no discernible talents. Trump feels bound by the results of elections only if he wins. Trump, whose primary home is literally a gilded penthouse, expects Congress and constitutional officers, like the Attorney General, to serve him personally, not the nation or their constituents. Meanwhile, he feels at ease with world leaders like third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un and Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The rightward drift of America’s politics over the last 40 years was initially touted as a blow for individual freedom against an oppressive nanny state. Today, it has become increasingly clear that what’s really happening is an entrenchment of the already-powerful at the expense of the rest of us.

A wannabe king in the White House should come as no surprise.