Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross caused a bit of a stir yesterday during a CNBC interview when he said, in reference to federal workers affected by the government shutdown who’ve turned to food banks. “I don’t really quite understand why.” A few hours later, a reporter asked Donald Trump about Ross’ comments, and the president replied:
“No, I haven’t heard the statement, but I – I do understand perhaps he should set it differently. Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else. And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along. I know banks are working along of – if you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the mortgage – the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along.
“And that’s what happens in times like this. They know the people, they been dealing with them for years, and they work along. The grocery store – and I think that’s probably what Wilbur Ross meant.”
His disjointed rhetorical style often makes it difficult to understand what the president is trying to say, but in this case, I think I know what Trump is getting at.
In his mind, many Americans live in small enough communities that they can go to a local grocer, who knows and cares about them, and who will gladly let them buy groceries on credit.
This, according to the president, is “what happens.”
Except it’s really not. Ideally, someone would share Sarah Jones’ explanation of reality with the confused president: “It is not true … that hungry workers in need of a gallon of milk can show up at the local Foodtown and just promise to pay the store back later. We do not inhabit the world of Little House on the Prairie. Half Pint cannot go to the general store and place a dozen eggs on store credit until Pa’s farm starts to make money. If that were possible, workers would have taken advantage of this system already.”
I’d just add two related thoughts. First, Trump’s confusion may be the result of his own experiences in the private sector: he’s been in situations in which contractors, banks, and vendors did business with him, even when Trump and his enterprises were struggling badly.
In the president’s mind, working-class families must be able to do the same thing. They cannot.
Second, is there no one at the White House who can tell this guy how grocery stores work? Twice last year, Trump tried to argue in support of voter-ID laws by arguing that consumers need to show identification while buying groceries. As recently as two months ago, he explicitly said, “If you buy a box of cereal, you have a voter ID.”
Show of hands: who thinks Donald J. Trump has ever gone to a store to buy groceries?