President Donald Trump has said he wouldn’t want a “poor person” holding a top economic post in the White House.
Mr Trump said his wealthy appointees, such as Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (net worth: $2.5bn £2bn), had “brilliant business minds”.
“That’s what we need,” he said at an Iowa rally. “And I love all people, rich or poor.
“But in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?”
For many Americans, the answer is, basically, yes.
The president “should have worded that better”, said Michael Washington 42, of Brooklyn, an assistant manager at a messenger service in New York.
Mr Washington said he disliked the implication that poor people are stupid.
But, he added, “it makes sense to hire someone rich because they’re business-minded. I would agree with that”.
Attitudes towards the poor
American attitudes toward the poor have shown signs of improving.
About two-thirds of Americans think the poor are hard-working, up from half in 1985, according to a 2016 survey conducted for the Los Angeles Times.
And about 55% of Americans believe the poor and non-poor have job skills that are “pretty much the same”, up from 44% in 1985.
Caitlin Quigley, 27, who works at a charity in New York, said Mr Trump’s conflation of wealth with talent rankled.
“Just because a person’s rich doesn’t say anything about their capabilities or qualifications or how they’d help us and represent us,” she said.
But Mr Trump’s belief that success and talent can be measured in dollars has a long tradition in American life, particularly among conservatives, said historian Nancy Isenberg, a professor at Louisiana State University and the author of White Trash: The 400-year Untold History of Class in America.
“The truth is that this is something that Americans are quite comfortable with,” she said. “We talk about equality but we’re quite comfortable with class hierarchy.”
Up by your bootstraps
Even with evidence that social mobility is falling, the up-from-your-bootstraps belief that wealth is a sign of merit holds strong in the US.
In a 2014 survey by Pew Research Center, about 57% of Americans disagreed with the idea that success is determined by outside forces.
That was a higher percentage than in almost any other country of 44 included (in the UK that percentage was 55%).
In the same survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans said it is important to work hard to get ahead in life (that percentage was 60% in the UK).
Mr Trump has “an obscure way of saying things”, but he also has a point, said George Paragon, 46, of Yonkers, who works in human services.
“We wouldn’t want a shoemaker to fly a plane,” he said.
Susana Navas, 64, of the Bronx, a financial supervisor, said she sees risks in plucking policymakers from the ranks of the mega-rich.
“They don’t know much about the people’s economy,” she said. “They know about being rich.”
Studies suggest that the rich pay less attention to others and have less empathy.
They’ve also been found to be more likely to ascribe identity and status to inherent traits.
Indeed, Professor Isenberg said the president’s proposals – which include tax cuts for the rich and a reduction of health assistance for the poor – are more telling about his attitudes to poverty than Wednesday’s remarks.
“The healthcare bill has a lot more to say about his disregard for the poor and indifference than this comment,” she said.