Just before 7 p.m. on Halloween, Donald Trump Jr. posted a tweet of his daughter tilting her orange bucket of candy toward the camera, and staring up forlornly at the photographer. Appended to the darling photo was a lesson, or an attempt at a lesson, by the father:
I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight & give it to some kid who sat at home. It’s never to early to teach her about socialism. pic.twitter.com/3ie9C0jv2G— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 31, 2017
The tweet immediately garnered fierce blowback, with replies informing Trump Jr. that, for example, Chloe Trump might not want to be a lifelong poster child for the lesson that sharing is bad. The tweet was both a ham-fisted attempt to politicize Halloween and a wrongheaded civics lesson.
First, on the point of Halloween, it’s bizarre to build a case for free-market orthodoxy on Halloween, since the holiday’s main activity is the antithesis of a market: It’s all handouts. Halloween is a hilariously bad object lesson on the merits of the free market and the moral dangers of freebies. Even if one insists that dressing up as a werewolf is a form of “labor,” there is a lot of daylight between redistribution—which is what Trump Jr. is actually criticizing in this tweet—and full-blown socialism, which would imply something far stranger, like federal ownership of Twizzler factories and government mandates on M&M distribution. (As it turns out Halloween is a far better metaphor for inheritance—with which Trump Jr. has some familiarity. Dressing up in clothes purchased by one’s parents, following them around on business, smiling hopefully as they make introductions to wealthy friends, and reaping the considerable bounty of their affluence and social networks is pretty much exactly what inheritance is all about.)
Second, who are these kids who just “sat at home” that Trump Jr. finds mockable? A great deal of them are sick children who rely on candy donations to children’s hospitals. Some programs, like Ronald McDonald House Charities, drop off candy for severely ill kids receiving treatment at home. Other children with curtailed trick-or-treating opportunities might include those living in higher-crime neighborhoods. The simple fact is that most kids want to walk outside with their friends in a funny costume and get free candy: Halloween is extremely fun, and not remotely hard labor. But Trump Jr., thinking of how charity or taxes feel to the well-off, seems to have little thought for the less fortunate humans on the other side of the taxation equation. A donation or a tax, to him, feels like a pure loss that might accidentally reward indolence. Of course, this isn’t merely a joke: The idea that the country would be better off if rich families contributed less of their income to the public support of sick and poor is the basis for the GOP tax and health-care plans.
Finally, Trump Jr.’s snark is a crystal clear example of the wealth gospel, the belief (which has arguably been enshrined as a secular American myth) that prosperity is automatic evidence of virtue and righteousness—and poverty is evidence of the opposite. The idea that the rich and poor inherently deserve their outcomes is a powerful assumption behind the conservative aversion to redistributive taxation—the sharing of winnings among rich and poor. Trump Jr. is arguing that the sharing of wealth is inherently wrong, since young Chloe worked hard for her Reese’s Cups. I have no doubt that she did. But even hard work cannot be infinite justification for selfishness.