by Bob Schober
This section is devoted to studying the local impacts of specific issues the Trump Administration or Republican Congress will propose.
“The Bible insists that the best test of a nation’s righteousness is how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable in its midst.” Jim Wallis, Christian writer and social activist
Artwork by Hilary Cole
September promises high drama in Congress, as Republican factions fight over how much to slash the social safety net. Conservatives want more and deeper cuts, moderates fewer and less painful in the House GOP’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018. GOP senators, as of this writing, haven’t released their blueprint.
Many House Republicans, many of them church-going Christians, praise their proposed budget, claiming it will make life better for all, solve the country’s fiscal problems and add to our military security. Most seem little hesitant to extol their faith, yet the details of how they propose to eviscerate help for the poor only underscores their hypocrisy.
Words are cheap, easily bantered; only behavior — in politics, policy — reveals true character. Policies and budgets are moral documents having profound effects on the most vulnerable among us.
Let’s consider how these proposals compare with the admonitions of Jesus and Mohammad and the Talmud to care for the poor.
At his Phoenix campaign rally on Aug. 22, 2017, Trump put his policy goals this way:
“It’s called ‘Make America Great Again.’ We want every child to succeed, every community to prosper and every struggling American to have a chance at a better life.”
Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan apparently believe “great” means slashing low-income energy assistance for poor families and children; cutting the already, oh so generous $1.41 per meal low-income children and their parents receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Add to that cuts for community health programs, housing assistance for low-income families, as well as funds for job training, no doubt for the very folks marooned by vacant manufacturing plants many Republicans think should just get a job and get off the dole.
In case you didn’t know, the 2016 poverty rate in Whatcom County was 14.4 percent, higher than the national rate of 13.5 percent.
Read what Jerry Falwell, Jr., a loud evangelical voice supporting Trump the man and his policies, thinks about Matthew 25:31-40: “Jesus taught that we should give to the poor and support widows, but he never said that we should elect a government that would take money from our neighbor’s pockets and give it to the poor.”
Compare that hypocrite’s statement with this from Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop from 1964-1985: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Here Are the Facts
The GOP plan is outrageously simple: more guns, more tax cuts for the 1 percent to be paid for with cutbacks to programs aiding poor families and children. The GOP’s House budget blueprint calls for $200 billion in cuts to non-discretionary programs, which will surely help needy children, the working poor and low-income families all achieve better lives.
Consider the following proposals, all true facts:
• Slash the food stamp program SNAP by $10 billion immediately and by $150 billion within 10 years. In 2016, 86, 985 households in Rick Larsen’s District 2 and Suzanne Delbene’s District 1 participated (44 million individuals nationwide); that budget item is projected to cut 5,597 families in those congressional districts from the program in 2018, and 23,258 by 2027 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Ninety percent of SNAP funds provide food help with benefits averaging $1.41 per meal flowing mainly to poor children, working parents, seniors and people with disabilities.
• Slash funding from the Housing and Urban Development, which supports Section 811 housing for people with disabilities. In 2016 in Washington state, 604 homes aided the disabled, but 121 of those homes are projected to be affected.
• Cut Medicare by $487 billion over 10 years, and low-income seniors will feel the greater pain.
• Slash funding by one-third for 13 major housing, health and social service block grants in 2018. It eliminates six of the 13, including funding for Low Income Energy Assistance Grants; the Community Development Block Grant Program, which helped fund construction of the Eleanor Apartments for low-income seniors nearing complete at State and Champion streets in Bellingham. It also cuts 40 percent of funding for job training and 26 percent of funding for community health services.
• Slash funds for the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides grants to help needy students go to college. Sixty percent of Western Washington University students receive financial help from a variety of sources, including Pell grants.
There are more details to be told, but space is limited. But read what other Republicans have said about this budget:
Here’s Diane Black (R-Tenn), House budget Committee chairman: “Now is the time to put forward a governing document with real solutions to address our biggest challenges.”
Here’s Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of the Budget: “It’s a bold effort that follows the leadership of President Trump in making America great again.”
Black was listed as unaffiliated/Protestant and Mulvaney Catholic in their religious affiliations at the Jan. 6, 2015, swearing in of the 114th Congress, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project. That’s all well and good, but read what Billy Sunday, America’s most prominent evangelist in the early twentieth century, said about public posturing:
“Going to church on Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian any more than
standing in a garage makes you a car.”
Those Who Do Not Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It
That headline, a quote of philosopher George Santayana, seems chillingly apt as our democratic principles, religious values and belief in facts and reason come under assault by Trump, some Republican and evangelical leaders and re-emerging neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Lies, ad hominem attacks and assaults on the free press echo from eight decades ago, and we need to remember the warning signs.
Here are some to think about:
• Cyril Brown, Berlin bureau chief for The New York Times, wrote the following in “Nazi Party in Bavaria,” published Nov. 21, 1922:
“Another condition favorable to the outburst of the movement is the widespread discontent with the existing state of affairs among all classes in the towns and cities under increasing economic pressure.” Reads like a 2017 dissection of Trump supporter anger and angst.
• “The fake news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.” (Trump tweet of Feb. 17, 2017) At recent neo-Nazi and white supremacist gatherings, some placards show the word “Lügenpresse,” which translated means “lying press.” That term was coined in 1914 to slur foreign propaganda against the Kaiser’s war. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, used that same term, calling Hitler’s critics “members of the Lügenpresse apparatus.”
• Here’s Trump talking about his inauguration crowd, which he insisted was much bigger than former President Obama’s inauguration crowd in 2009 despite photo evidence to the contrary: “I looked over that sea of people, and I said to myself, wow! And I’ve seen crowds before. Big, big crowds. That was some crowd.” He later insisted that “a million, million and a half” people attended. The National Park Service stopped providing crowd estimates in 1999. The District of Columbia had planned for about 800,000 for Trump’s inaugural; an estimated 1.8 million attended Obama’s 2009 inaugural.
And this from Sean Spicer, then Trump’s media spokesman: Trump “drew the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the world.”
Joseph Goebbels again: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”
And again: “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
All this sounds glum and fatalistic, but the surge in public participation in protesting, both physical and digital, bring lots of hope. Trump, like all bad times, will pass, but all of us need to stay aware and be prepared to write our congressmen, make placards, keep informed and gather information. One of the best books lately is “On Tyranny: Lessons From The Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder, available at the Bellingham Public library or for sale at bookstores.