Skittles, Smarties and Selfishness: Why Donald Trump, Jr.’s Candy Analogy Applies Only to the 1%


Every time you think the Trump clan can’t get any more obnoxious (and dangerous), they do just that, because that is the logic of this illogical campaign season. This week, it was Donald Trump Jr.’s turn on bigot duty (again!), and he made daddy proud with this:

Yes, according to Jr — using an analogy originated by a bona fide, hanged-at-Nuremberg Nazi, illustrated with an image taken without permission from a photographer who identifies as a refugee — refugees are a bowl of Skittles, and a few of them might be poisonous. Trump Jr might want to watch his Skittles analogies in the future, though, because this time they’ve come back to bite him in the ass — and in more ways than one.

As far as refugees go, there’s a thorough rebuttal of the analogy here, which I encourage you to read if you’ve any doubt that in addition to being evil, the analogy is also fundamentally and depressingly stupid.

There are various reasons set out as to why this is so, but the one we’re interested in is as follows:

Not poisonous to you: even if you happen to come across an individual from group X that fits with the stereotype does not mean that you are in danger. For instance, most crimes are committed by a small number of criminals and therefore most criminals commit very few crimes. Thus, even if the person of group X you come across happens to be a criminal, it does not automatically mean that you are in any particular danger. However, in the analogy, the poisonous M&Ms are obviously poisonous to humans in general.

Why is this argument of particular interest? Well, let’s imagine for a moment a situation where this is not the case. Instead of Skittles that are most likely not poisonous to you, let’s assume that the Skittles really are as Donald Trump Jr. suggests: they’re Skittles that are so toxic, so malevolently venomous, that they’re poisonous to anyone and everyone. They’re so poisonous, in fact, that if you add one of these evil Skittles to a bowl of ordinary Skittles, the entire sample will end up poisoned and useless to everyone. Just one of these awful people in a population will endanger everyone. To suggest refugees fit this description is offensive, awful and worthy of all the opprobrium that’s been raining on the hapless Trump scion for the last 24 hours.

But funnily enough, there is one group to whom such an analogy might apply. What does it mean for a Skittle to be poisonous? In Trump Jr.’s analogy, a poisonous Skittle is a person who represents a danger to those around them. Clearly, Trump Jr. is envisaging a person who represents a direct physical danger to their fellows: a murderer! A terrorist! A rapist! But really, what kills Americans? It’s not terror attacks, clearly, and it’s not poisonous Skittles. (I’d imagine the mortality rate for each of these things is pretty similar, to be honest.)

The top five killers of Americans as of 2016 are heart disease, cancer, lung disease, accidents, and strokes. There’s a direct correlation between income and every one of these (for citations, we have heart disease, cancer, lung disease, accidents and stroke.) There’s also a correlation between poverty and diabetes, the #7 killer of Americans and, as noted above, the main cause of loss of limbs.

So, poverty can — and, indeed, does — kill you. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it’s the most important single factor in an untimely death. On face value, this seems insane: the US is a prosperous nation with an abundance of resources and wealth — and yet, relative poverty rates are higher here than in many other comparable countries. Why is this?

Well, let’s return to the candy bowl and imagine a slightly different situation. This time, we still have a bowl of Smarties, but instead of worrying about whether the Smarties are poisoned, we’ll focus on the people eating them. It’s a big bowl of Smarties — so big, in fact, that there’s enough for everyone on the planet to take a handful. Except, there’s the occasional person who takes more than a handful. They take way more than a handful, actually — they take so many Smarties that they don’t know what to do with them, but nevertheless, they continue hoarding them, slapping away anyone who dares to get too close to their ever-multiplying stash. As a result, the pleasantly even distribution of Smarties is skewed, so that eventually the vast majority of them end up in the hands of the few people who just can’t get enough.

You can see where this is going, right? What if, in our analogy, we found that 20% of the people around the Smartie bowl had stashed away 80% of the Smarties, leaving the other 80% to fight over the remaining 20% of the candy? We’d call them greedy. What if we found that the greediest 1% had hoarded 38% of the candy for themselves? We’d call them an active danger to their fellow Smartie-eaters; by hoarding such a disproportionate amount of Smarties, they’re leaving everyone else to starve.

Of course, this is as simplistic an analogy as Trump Jr’s. Or is it? You might argue that in the real world, there’s not a finite number of Smarties. There are always new Smarties being made, and everyone has the chance to grab them if they’re fast enough! Capitalism has long been predicated on the idea of infinite growth, on the idea that some people can hoard all the Smarties because there will always be more Smarties filling up the bowl. Indeed, we’ve been told that it’s good that we have Smarties-hoarders, because in their sugar frenzy they create jobs, which will allow the Smartie-less masses to earn their own Smarties!

What we call “late capitalism” is really capitalism in an age where we realize that that’s not the case; not that capitalism is a zero sum game, but that we live in a world of finite resources, and that growth is fundamentally limited by the availability of those resources. In such a world, there aren’t just more and more Smarties to go around. There is a finite number of Smarties, and an ever-increasing number of those who want Smarties. In such an environment, those who stash away ludicrous amounts of candy are a danger to the survival of their fellows.

They are, in fact, presences so poisonous that if they were Skittles, their very presence would affect every other Skittle in the bowl. Of course, not all the rich, or even the super-rich are like this. Many of them don’t keep everything for themselves; they share their wealth around to the extent the system allows it. But if you’re Donald Trump, Jr., that doesn’t matter — the mere potential for poison is justification enough for throwing out the entire bowl.

So, being as I’m not a Trump, thank god, I’m not going to suggest that we round up the 1% and deport them to Syria — but if you had a bowl of Skittles that had a chance of having a Koch in it, would you be brave enough to eat the rich?