The current tempest in Washington’s teapot has to do with the use of private aircraft by a number of Trump administration officials: HHS secretary Tom Price and Treasury boss Steve Mnuchin have charged taxpayers for private-jet service, and Mnuchin’s offense was compounded by the aggressively stupid conspicuous-consumption antics of his D-list actress wife, who likes to advertise her expensive haute couture on social media like some kind of off-brand Kardashian. (EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has also been hit with these stories, but probably not fairly, as Teddy Kupfer argues.)
It’s the perfect populist scandal. Like state dinners and presidential vacations, private-jet travel comes at an expense that might be shocking to ordinary taxpaying Americans but really amounts to approximately nothing in the greater scheme of federal spending, which is dominated by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and national defense. All of the corporate-jet travel undertaken by all federal officials, including the president, doesn’t add up to a day’s spending on Social Security.
But it does offend some Americans’ sense of propriety, and Americans aren’t entirely wrong to be offended. From the success of Mark Leibovich’s This Town and Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class to the election of Donald J. Trump as president of these United States, there is a sense that what really is sticking in the great American craw is not so much a dispute over policy differences — you don’t go to Donald Trump for policy insights — but resentment over the entitlement and arrogance of something Americans long told ourselves we did not have: our ruling class.