Donald Trump isn’t called by God.

So if you search around much on the internet, you’ll stumble across a growing movement of Christians saying that Donald Trump is called by God to strike fear into the heart of America’s enemies.  I think this is something to prayerfully consider, testing it against the word of God.  Anyone who knows me personally won’t be surprised, though, that I find it deeply troubling.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

 I won’t link to these blogs- if you’re curious, feel free to Google.  I don’t want to lend further notoriety or money to a movement which I do not trust.  But I do want to discuss why I feel that the Bible provides sufficient evidence that anyone claiming Trump was anointed by God is a false prophet.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

What fruit has Donald Trump’s tree borne?  Divisiveness, fraud, corruption, a kingdom built on taking advantage of the poor, skirting the system, idolatry and bigotry.  How could such a person be called by God?  To claim such a thing is true shows a spirit either blinded to the knowledge of Trump’s true character, or a spirit which (I think this is far more likely) is taking advantage of the trusting nature of Christians and the language which codes belonging to them in order to further the agenda of a very dangerous man.

  1. Trump’s kingdom is built on idolatry.  Trump covers all of his properties and businesses in his name and his own likeness, often plating them in gold and only the finest of materials in order to further the idea that his name, not God’s name, is synonymous with prosperity.  His kingdom is a temple to his self, not the principles of the Bible.
  2. Trump’s kingdom is built on principles of taking advantage of other people, the political and legal system of the United States.  Trump’s real estate empire owes it’s success, in part, to his ability to buy up properties that were lost in bankruptcies, raze them to the ground, and build ostentatious new properties in their place.  Often this has been accompanied by complaints from impoverished communities that have been literally over-towered by Trump:  as commercial properties encroach on poor neighborhoods, people are forced out of their homes.  This is further compounded by the fact that Trump has taken advantage of bankruptcy laws in order to force government subsidizing of his own financial risk taking- he has LOST an incredible amount of money trying to game the system, and he’s passed those losses on.  Furthermore, he has padded his ability to do both of this things, skirting zoning laws, having cities pay for the right to have towers bearing his name, etc, by shamelessly buying politicians.  In what could not be a greater bit of irony, when Hillary Clinton was the Senator for New York, Trump often gave money to her own causes and invited her to bless his.
  3. Trump’s kingdom is built on bigotry.  Trump has called for the wholesale slaughter of Muslim women and children so that terrorists will stop, as if killing their women and children wouldn’t be MORE of a reason to hate the United States.  He has accused all undocumented immigrants of being drug-dealers and rapists.  He has called for large-scale deportations of the like that the United States has never seen, which would leave children born in the United States without parents and would tear families apart- but even worse (if you are a capitalist, like Trump) it would cripple American industry and leave thousands of fields empty of hands to pick food, slaughterhouses empty of workers, and factories bare of the people needed to pack and ship.  Perhaps because I am a woman, though, the type of bigotry I find the most disturbing from Trump is his open contempt for the opposite gender.  He calls breastfeeding mothers “cows,” he tells women they’d “make a pretty picture on their knees” and his favorite insult for any woman, be her the nominee of a party or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is that she isn’t pretty and his women are “prettier,” as if a woman’s worth starts and ends with her physical characteristics.  This contempt for the fairer gender, contempt for women who were made by and loved by God, based off of nothing but a callous assessment of their potential as sexual objects, is abhorrent.  No man of God condemns a woman for not being a valuable enough sexual conquest.  Let’s not forget that a good portion of Trump’s wealth comes from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, a gleaming temple to the idolatry of beauty as the sum of a woman’s worth.
  4. Trump’s kingdom is built on divisiveness.  From the petty divisiveness of pitting Apprentice against Apprentice to the large-scale divisiveness of pitting Republican against Republican, Mexican against Caucasian, Muslim against Christian, Gay against Straight, Pro-Choice against Pro-Life, and on down the line, Trump has built his world on pitting people against each other.  His campaign includes almost no (if not literally no) actual agenda.  Other than banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall between here and Mexico, and ending our trade deficit with China, he has said nothing of any real substance.  How would he HELP people?  How would he grow the economy?  How would he improve foreign policy?  His answer to that is that we can’t trust Mexicans, Muslims, or the Chinese.  Divisiveness, pure and simple, not solutions.
  5. Trump’s kingdom does not value truth.  There is almost too much to write here- but suffice it to say that Trump’s world is riddled with inconsistencies like a tree trunk laced with termite trails, to the point where stunned onlookers often wonder how much longer it can stand.  His stance on abortion, gay marriage, trade, his own wealth and business acumen, and so much more have changed with the winds so many times it’s impossible to keep track of what he has believed when.  He has been accused of fraud and is losing that case, he has often conserved his wealth by refusing to pay contractors and then suing them when they file for payment, he has often protected his own assets in shady legal maneuvers to allow companies to die and go bankrupt without putting his personal wealth on the line- often to the grave expense of his employees.  Some people will argue back against this accusation, saying that what Trump does is “good business,” but where in the Bible does it say that we can manage our worldly goods in a way that contradicts Biblical Principles and then still claim to act for God?  If Trump is a man of God, should not the fruits of his business be a testament to God’s goodness, instead of a testament to avarice and fraud?

So no, I do not nor will I ever believe that Trump was called by God.  All the evidence of Trump’s works on Earth can be seen in the faces of my students, when they write poems describing how much he scares them, when they beg the adults in their vicinity to vote against him, and when I literally hear them praying for Trump to fail.

Unless the “enemy” Trump has been called on to strike fear into is American women and children, he has not nor could he ever have been called by God.

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Why the politics of Gay versus Christian hurts everyone (but the politicians).

Indiana.

Oh, Indiana.

Over the past few days, I’ve drowned in a barrage of posts from my Indiana-based friends expressing outrage and dismay at a legislature that doesn’t represent them.  The comments I’ve heard have ranged from the mild, “I never thought this would go through” to the brutal “I feel like the state senate has turned against us, and they aren’t going to stop until Indiana is stripped down to nothing but spare parts for big business.”  For those who don’t currently live in Indiana and aren’t terribly immersed in state politics, let me just say that Indiana has a well-storied history of it’s people being ignored.  I can’t say precisely why the idea of a representative democracy is so far from a reality in Indiana, but over the past 10 years there have been a number of significant changes to the state’s operations and laws that the people have openly fought tooth and nail, yet have been celebrated in the press and true victories.

So, many Indiana citizens watched the drama unfolding as what would become SB 568 came into being, in horror.

I’ve seen people asking where the Christians who opposed it were.  They were in Indiana, actively fighting against the law being passed.  Many churches, from the Disciples of Christ to the Mennonite Church to the Episcopalians, did in fact organize and fight the bill being passed.  A common fear they expressed was that the bill could not only be used to discriminate against gays but could also be used to discriminate against other Christians.  This may seem like a ridiculous idea, but let’s not forget that the Mennonite church, highly prevalent in Indiana, found itself in the United states after it’s founders were being burned at the stake for heresy by other Christians.  The common idea of “religious freedom” touted in America today may be the freedom to not participate in society at will, or to discriminate when the Bible can be cherry picked in defense, but that isn’t what free religion meant in the days when this country was founded.  There are some of us with a long enough memory to feel like freedom is still the right to not be persecuted by others of our same faith.  

No one has the right to dictate to an individual what their faith should be: not the government, and not other parishioners.

Now, post-passage of the bill, people are asking where the Christians are.  “Business men are speaking out, sports organizations, but where are the Christians?”

Well, for one, they are still speaking out.  Many churches and religious leaders have openly denounced the law, but a google search for this won’t yield much, since most news organizations have focused not on the religious opposition to the bill, but to the possible ramifications as businesses and public organizations cancel events which quickly rack up millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue.  It’s been said before that dollars talk, and that is the same here.

The sad, bitter reality is that no one cares about the spiritual ramifications of the bill or whether or not the religious support that Pence has touted is actually real.  The tone of the story, from the beginning, was carefully controlled.  Yet major news organizations aren’t asking some very real questions about why.

Let’s look at some of that now:

  1. Politicians have, for years, used fear mongering tactics to pose a false “battle” between gay rights and Christian ones.  This is never more apparent than in the tales of poor elderly Christian baker-ladies who are dragged to court and reduced to Victorian-era poverty when their religious scruples don’t allow them to bake a cake for Adam and Steve’s wedding.  While there have been cases of bakers being sued for refusing to make cakes, what is interesting is that we rarely hear about the baker sued for not making an ANTI-gay marriage cake.  Not to mention the fact that these lawsuits are only possible because the Civil Rights Act ensures that any business offering services to the public at large must not discriminate in their practices.  If you are going to make a cake for Susy and Bill’s shotgun wedding, or Mary and Mark’s atheist wedding, or Jane and John’s jewish/Christian wedding (oh, hey, the Bible openly condemns that one) you’ve got to bake that cake for Adam and Steve’s gay wedding, too.  If you don’t want to bake cakes for weddings that offend your sensibility, maybe stick to just baking cookies.  After all, I can guarantee you’ve baked cakes for sinners.
  2. The news media has very little motivation to cease posing any issues over gay rights as a battle.  Conflict sells, and the more heartfelt the conflict, the better.  There’s not much news to be made from stories that read like this:  “Religious leaders form coalition to lobby for equal rights for gay people.”  Why?  Where’s the conflict?  On the other hand, “religious organizations picket funeral of public figure to protest gay rights” almost always makes the headlines, even when numerous groups have condemned such things and even staged counter-protests that outnumber the original anti-gay gathering.  The truth is that even amongst well-established religious communities, support for gay rights has become nearly ubiquitous, but there’s no headlines to be made by saying that religious opposition to gay rights is becoming a minority belief.
  3. Politicians have everything to gain by continuing to monopolize on gay rights as a campaign tactic.  While gay rights may have widespread bipartisan support, the people who oppose gay rights are loud, rich, and politically motivated.  Political science majors the world over are familiar with a very simple truth:  even if the majority are middle-of-the-road, campaigns can be won by a very active minority who feels there is an immediate danger to the other side winning.  No one fights harder than someone who feels outnumbered and as if their way of life is at risk.  So what do we hear from the politicians?  That “sacred” marriage is at risk, that the “family” is eroding, that the American way of life is ending, that society is on the verge of collapse, that homosexuality led to the fall of Rome, and as the numbers become more marginal the rhetoric gets more hateful and louder.  But let’s look at Indiana specifically.  How did this particular bill get passed?  Again, you have a very vocal minority.  The amount of Christians in Indiana who truly felt their personal liberty needed defending from gays may have been minimal- but they were there, and they were loud.  The bill was originally introduced as a necessary protection from contamination by secular sources.  And as soon as the bill was introduced, concerns were raised.  Often by other Christians who felt that the legislation was too problematic and unnecessary.  (A common quote was, “why defend rights that already exist naturally?”)  In order for the legislation to pass and the minority, who have huge political clout, to be appeased the tenor of the debate had to be carefully controlled.  It’s no wonder that even as evidence mounted that Indiana as a whole did NOT want this bill passed, the legislature continued to stonewall and repeat the basic message that this bill was wanted by the people and absolutely necessary.
  4. Once a tone is set, it continues. Like the basic physics concept that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, once something has hit the news the story tends to stay the same.  The people with the loudest voices tend to be heard first, and the people with the loudest voices tend to be the ones with the most political clout or money.  As an example of this, think about the woman who burned herself on McDonald’s coffee.  By the time the story had hit the mass media, it was reduced to a handful of words that made it sound as if someone had spilled coffee on themselves, was annoyed, sued, and somehow wrongfully was awarded millions.  The actual facts in that case (that the burns were so severe they were disfiguring and the woman had to be hospitalized) were overlooked.  The media had decided from the moment the story was first aired that the tone should be that a corporation was being wronged by fatuous lawsuits.  The actual story?  Irrelevant.  There are hundreds of cases of this where by and large the national coverage of a story is one-sided.  That is also the case with Indiana, where the only coverage of widespread opposition to the bill is from small local reporters who know their cities well.  National news coverage doesn’t seem to know, or care, that the people of Indiana themselves feel wronged.  The only local voices being heard in the national stories tend to be ones who support the bill, or gay people who oppose it.  Where are the Christians who oppose the bill?  Unheard of, despite existing.  How can I be so sure that’s the case?  I’m originally from Elkhart county, Indiana, and my friends and family there are deeply concerned that the bill will make things worse, instead of better.
  5. The outcry that Christians who oppose the bill are staying silent is a false story.  Like Muslims who condemn extremism, Christians who condemn extremism in their faith seem to be largely ignored.  Everyone listens to the Pat Robertsons of the world calling gay rights a steamroller obliterating the faith, but when Christian groups band together to support gay people, no one listens.  This is no different than the constant outcry that Muslims don’t condemn extremist Islam.  Muslims do, regularly, both publicly and privately.  So why isn’t it heard?  One reason is because, like moderate Christianity, it just doesn’t make good headlines.  “99% of Muslims go another day without participating in or condoning violent acts” just doesn’t push papers, does it?  Plus, there’s a lot to be gained from continuing to pose the dialogue the way it is.  People who want to remain with their prejudices aren’t going to seek out evidence that they are wrong, similarly, the people involved in the political wrangling between ultra-conservatives groups and gay rights don’t have a lot to gain from realizing that the moderate middle ground is growing.  So what do they do?  Continue the conversation as it is.

One could question if when the Moral Majority first entered politics if they were a majority at all.  What they were was a political powerhouse that monopolized on both a certain brand of politics and flavor of faith.  That amount of political clout has incredible power to guide the national narrative and quash any minority voices.  And while the “moral majority” may no longer exist as such, the truth is that they forever changed the landscape of politics for moderate, socially liberal Christians.

The best way forward, both for gay rights and for Christian freedom, is to take back the power from the political machine.  And we have to do that by partnering together and no longer allowing the dialogue on the national stage to pit us as natural enemies.  After all, we aren’t enemies.  Moderate Christians want the preservation of basic civil rights just as much as gay people do, and we as moderates also have much to lose if moral extremists are the ones making laws.  The same people who want to keep Adam and Steve from marrying have proposed laws that would force me to be investigated for infanticide if I don’t carry my child to term (even if I miscarried naturally!) and have said such vile things as that “rape is like the weather, and you’ve just got to relax and enjoy it.”  (No link, google “republican politicians on rape” if you dare.)  Moderate Christians fear legislation that will punish single parenthood and women who work outside of the home.  Moderate Christians question the logic of tying together religion with lax gun restrictions or other questionable stances.  One of the greatest of these is the policy of rewarding corporations with generous tax write-offs while cutting back social services to the mentally ill, disabled, and poor.  We need to be partners in fighting the political ideology that uses religion as a crutch while spitting in the face of some of the basic principles of brotherhood and good citizenship that Christ so fully embodied. If moderate Christians are going to take their voice back from the politicians who have bent and twisted the faith for personal gain, we need the support of others.  So if you are talking about cases like the Indiana Religious Freedom law, be sure to point out that moderate Christians do not support it.  If you are a journalist writing about divisive politics, bring gay and moderate Christian voices together.  If you want to see more moderate voices in the political landscape, donate to churches like the Disciples of Christ, the Mennonite Church, and the Episcopalian Church, specifically to their political action committees who have a well documented history of supporting gay rights.

We can take back our fair country from the hands of bigotry together.

why I wish my thesis were entitled “don’t be dicks”.

Yesterday I abstained from the Superbowl so I could catch up on homework, like a responsible citizen.  While everyone else I knew (with a few exceptions) was having an intensely emotional reaction to some sort of sportsing mishap, I was reading an Educational Psychology textbook and still vacillating about what I wanted to do my thesis proposal on.

I’ve felt emotionally pummeled in more way than one, this past week.  It’s been a week of attempted suicides, public figures having sex-change operations and being eviscerated by the press for it, three year old children shooting their parents with a loaded gun they found in a handbag, global warming studies being more or less ignored, and oh so much more.   It’s been a week of listening to my author friends express their concerns about the changing publishing landscape, reading my classmate’s heart-rending journal entries about the fears their preschool children have about being black in a white justice system, and trying not to get dragged down in unending debates about the widening education gap.  Oh, then there’s the continuing struggle of women to be respected in the workplace and “reverse misogyny” and all of that other stuff, which I seriously don’t even want to contemplate being a thing that people actually discuss.

As I sat on my couch trying to decide what, given the breadth to write about anything at all I could research, I wanted to say, I found myself coming up completely empty.

I wish I could write a thesis about why people just have to stop being so incredibly shitty to each other, but a thesis proposal called “please stop being dicks, ‘kay?” just doesn’t seem all that professional.

I found myself, at one point in time, actually being asked to defend the fact that I didn’t care more about football.  No, really, someone asked me why I posted a meme that I thought was funny, in which a grumpy cat said that it wished both teams would lose, and they wanted to know why I was being a jerk about football since football is a beautiful expression of group passions.  It’s like a coming of age ritual, it’s like a pseudo-religious expression of community and togetherness.  Which I do understand, mind you.  I get how football is a way for people to bond, it builds a sense of community and it also becomes a way to express frustrations and hopes and even aggression that otherwise society would diminish.  Football isn’t just a meaningless sport.  Just as the gladiators of Ancient Rome and the Warriors of the Aztec engaged in ritualistic aggression to assuage the frustrations of the populace, we’ve got our muscular men in tight pants throwing pigskin around so we have a way to assuage our own angst- and it works.  Look at the painted faces in the crowd and you can see how it, like a good old fashioned tent revival, gives us somewhere to pin our hopes and leave our anger.

But what interests me is the fact that we can be SO passionate about a game, while there is all this other meaningful stuff that we brush aside.  How many children have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook elementary?  How many transexuals have been beaten or shamed in the past year?  How many suicides have their been?  How many children have had their educations trampled into the dirt by persistent inequality?

But god save us, we care about football.

If we took an ounce of that passion, an ounce of that funding, imagine what a difference we could make.

But oh, a friend points out that football makes us feel good and talking about teen suicide rates or child death rates does not.

True that.

If only educating our children were a game, then maybe people would stop rolling their eyes when we talk about the literacy gap.  If only.

But in the meantime, I drafted a thesis proposal about how systemic poverty affects the education system.  My kids came home from watching the game and my son asked me if we can still root for the Seahawks since they are losers now, and we have a good talk about how no one can win every game and what makes someone a great sportsman over time is how they play every game, even the ones they lose; people aren’t only defined by winning.

And we talked about how we all have times when we feel like we “lose” in our own lives and we need to keep rooting for ourselves, anyway.

And I laid in bed late at night, thinking about all of the fights I’ll probably pick up in my own career, knowing that I’ll probably lose them.

And I wished I’d drafted a thesis proposal entitled, “don’t be dicks.”

Another time.

Societal oppression, dish soap, and knives.

The last few weeks I’ve been working on an essay project that has to do with societal oppression and the Bible.  (I’ll post the full text at some point.)  Of course throughout the whole thing I find myself ruminating about the families in poverty I work with.  Couple this with ongoing political debates about the Affordable Care Act, and I’ve felt like an emotional cocktail for the last month.  Of course, emotional cocktail means blog post eventually, because why feel and think about all of this stuff if not to lay it at your ever-patient feet?

The first thing I was thinking about was dish soap.  For the average family, dish soap is something you use to wash dishes.  You know you’re poor when you realize it also cleans floors, can be used as a body wash in a pinch (but not your privates- that stings), as a laundry detergent, to clean floors, and to bathe puppies.  Oh, yes.  When I was working at the shelter, we used to have families that didn’t like the Tide detergent we provided for free (for use in a High Efficiency front loading washer) and would use dish soap instead.  The first time I had to mop several gallons of soapy water off the floor because the seal started to leak I thought it was mildly amusing.  The fifth time, I was spitting angry and already knew to wipe the seal down with baking soda first, then with canola oil, then to run canola oil and baking soda through the dispenser to kill the suds.

The dish soap would leak out from the shower, too.

Dish soap is only the first thing which people in extreme poverty have special knowledge about.  The other is knives.  Not hunting knives.  Kitchen knives.  Did you know that if you don’t have kitchen scissors, steak knives work well on cardboard and tearing open freezer bags?  They do.  And a thin fillet knife is just the thing for opening a can of beans if you don’t have a can opener.  I, personally, wouldn’t have realized that a can opener is a luxury.  But yet I cannot tell you how many times I was supervising lunch prep and someone went at a can with a fillet knife before I even knew what had happened.  It didn’t occur to them that we would have a can opener, they didn’t even know what one looked like.

The normal person is blissfully unaware that there are everyday habits we engage in as members of the middle class that people in poverty do not know because they’ve never had the opportunity to engage with them.  Our clothes washers need fussy soap.  We have kitchen utensils which only have one purpose.  Some people have ten, fifteen things in their kitchen that can only be used for one thingIf you have to pick pennies out of your couch to scrape together the money to ride the bus to work, you do not own single-use utensils unless someone else bought them for you.  Garlic crusher?  Fuh.  No.  Juicer?  What the…? No.  Cappuccino machine?  It is to laugh.

It’s interesting to me when people disparage the poor, saying things like they aren’t smart enough to be rich.  Sorry, buddy, you ain’t smart enough to be poor.  The people who stayed at the shelter had MAD skills.  They memorized bus schedules, they knew who gave what away on what day and what thrift stores dependably had what kind of stuff.  “Don’t go to Salvation Army for kids clothes, they never have any.  This store drops prices towards the end of the month.  Go there in the evening, sometimes you catch that store right when they are throwing out the day old bread and it’s still good for a while…”  And on, and on.  Repositories of knowledge that people with cash in their pockets simply don’t ever need.

And the middle class has it’s own rules.  Knowing what is good debt and what is bad.  Knowing what the hell a Roth IRA is and why you would want one.  Knowing where to get secondhand clothes with good labels and what stores discount what clothes in what season.  Learning those skills can be the hardest part of transitioning to a new class.  The quiet judgment of the women who wonder why you got your kids clothes there.  The panic the first time someone asks you to bring a cold plate for brunch.  (Why does the plate have to be cold?  What do you put on it?  If you go into Kroger and ask for a cold plate will they know what it is?)  There are a million things that people take for granted as a part of their lives, as common knowledge, simply because it’s what they grew up with.  And asking?  Asking is the worst kind of shame because it tells the world that you don’t really belong.  If you belonged, you would know.

They say that there is always someone richer.  You tell someone who makes $60,000 that they aren’t too bad off and they’ll point to the person who makes $100,000.  Tell that person they are doing really well and they’ll point to the person who makes $200,000.  Tell that person they are really quite fortunate and they’ll point to the millionaire, who points to the multi-millionaire, who points to Bill Gates, who I’m sure is jealous of someone.

When you’ve got a family of five and you feel lucky to break $30,000, everyone is rich.

When you’re homeless, anyone with a roof of their own is a lucky bastard.

We all have things we take for granted that we shouldn’t.

But the thing that bothers me the most right now?  Last week I washed a few loads of laundry in dish soap and baking soda, because I had made buying my kids warm clothes for winter a priority.  And in the midst of all the political arguments, I kept wanting to tell people I just couldn’t listen to them because they didn’t know about dish soap and knives.

What they picture as poor doesn’t reflect the effort and knowledge and work that goes into being poor.  Food stamps will keep you fed, if you’re smart about how you use them, but they won’t keep you from scrubbing your rump with dish soap when you run out of body wash.

It won’t keep you from opening the can of beans with a knife.

It won’t keep you from shaking out the couch cushions for the money to ride the bus.

It won’t let you take a single thing for granted, like the majority of this country does every day.

Why don’t the poor just get jobs?

No matter what you are debating, when it comes to talking about socioeconomic status, inevitably there will be that one voice of someone saying,

“Well, isn’t it their fault they are poor?”

There are so many different perspectives that can answer that question, and for some reason today I feel like laying out some of them.

  1. Poverty plays a role in society; as long as society functions off of the same rules that govern it, poverty will continue.  This is the most straightforward, and perhaps the most harrowing answer to that question.  The honest truth is that there are a whole lot of jobs out there that require part time, seasonal, or unpredictably changing work hours.  Those jobs have to be filled by someone, and the likelihood that they would be filled by someone independently wealthy who simply happens to like picking strawberries, assembling children’s toys, flipping burgers or making farm equipment is really low.  So there are a number of systems in place to reinforce those jobs getting filled by people who honestly have no other choice, because society depends on them being there.  Our educational system self-selects for people who can get ahead and can’t, quietly reinforcing that.  Our legal system sets up safeguards to prevent some people getting on in society.  (Insuring there will always be work-release workers on those factory floors.)  There are tacit rules to each class that cannot be broken or communicated, insuring that someone born poor is fated to stay that way (with little exceptions, usually brokered by someone being willing to cross class lines, like a schoolteacher), and so on.  You can hardly blame the poor for filling the role in society which society has proscribed for them.  But, I have to admit, it certainly does make a fun pastime on Facebook and can boost your self-esteem, so if you really want to blame the poor there’s nothing stopping you other than the truth.
  2. The educational system selects some kids for failure.  It sucks, but it’s true.  Teacher’s expectations of children pay a huge role in how successful those children are, and it starts on day one.  There are so many different classroom behaviors that tacitly reinforce certain rules and expectations, and while a teacher may believe they are giving a child what that child needs what they may really be doing is reinforcing a standard that grooms that child to be good for nothing other than the service sector or failure.  Studies have shown that when a teacher is told that a child is poor performing, or is expected to perform poorly, that child inevitably does badly.  When a teacher is told a child is high performing that child performs well.  This principle is true regardless of the child’s history of performance, and is based solely off of the teacher’s opinion.  So what happens when a teacher knows a child comes from an impoverished family and the parents are illiterate?  The system selects the child for the same fate.  “Oh,” the counter-cry inevitably comes, “so I might feel bad for little kids, but once you are an adult…”  Yes, sure.  And I know many semi-illiterate adults who are in college trying to get ahead.  They’ll have to go to school for several more years than the kids who were selected for success, and they still have to deal with instructors low expectations because of that fact.  I’m all for addressing personal responsibility, but personal responsibility doesn’t absolve society of it’s obligations when society is actively damaging people.
  3. It can take several years to get out of poverty, and sometimes families are borderline for an entire generation.  Of course we all are familiar with the talking point that government aid should be capped, limited, and offered for only a short period of time.  But if a family could be borderline impoverished for the lifetime of the parent in order to provide for the opportunities of the child- and even then it may take the child a few years to be considered solidly middle class.  The idea that all a family needs is one parent working two jobs for a little while is unreasonable.  After all, cars break down.  People get chronic illnesses.  There are legal problems.  Houses burn down.  Families are forced to move.  The economic instability of the poor goes far deeper than just the amount of money coming in.  There is a culture there, how the money gets used, how poor communities work together, how emergencies are handled- and breaking out of poverty is addressing the entire culture.  The idea that help is only needed for a short amount of time is looking at the problem from an upper class point of view.  As in, “if I need money to get by, I can work more for a little while.”  That is disingenuous.  To address poverty, as someone impoverished what all would have to change for them to have a new economic status.  Trust me, it will blow your mind, because you have never had to think of everything that factors into the class you are in.  Why should you?  Yet, it is way more than what six months of benefits can provide.

Poverty is a fact in our society.  It is part of how our economy functions, and while some individuals may give the appearance of having chosen it, the fact that poverty exists is not due to the choice of any individual person.

Healthcare, Education, and Deep Sighs.

Last week I had a health scare, which may not have been the least bit scary if I had insurance.  As it was, I spent a week vomiting with the most painful diarrhea I’ve ever experienced, and I just waited it out.  I’m lucky, because the likely culprit is my family’s tendency towards food sensitivities, and not some kind of illness that would have required medication or hospitalization.  I stopped eating crackers and bread, started eating more bananas and yogurt, and have gone a whole day without my innards exploding.  Success!

As I was fighting with the sensation that Freddy Kreuger was trying to claw his way out of my bowels and wondering if I’d ever sleep through the night without crapping my pants again, I spent a lot of painfully wakeful hours in the bathroom ruminating over the things I was studying in school.  It was, to say the least, surreal.  My main topic of study, aside from linguistics, is cultural relations and race theory.  We’re reading the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, so in my mind I keep going back to the homeless shelter and thinking about my experiences there.  One of the main themes in my class journal is the way in which access to education creates systems of oppression.  “Wait,” the immediate response of classmates inevitably comes, “in the US everyone is guaranteed access to education!”

Access isn’t the same thing as success, I reply dryly.

Besides, you may have two roads- one clear of debris and potholes, guarded on both sides by a gate and gatekeeper who knows you by name.  The other is a dirt road which is washed out by rain half the time and prowled by wolves.  They may both grant you access to the city, but you really can’t fault the people who live at the end of the dirt lane for never moving beyond their immediate surroundings.  “Access” to education doesn’t mean that anyone is getting educated.

But that has nothing to do, really, with how sick I was last week.  The reason the two are inextricably tied together is the fact that my sickness started to really impact my education.  I was spending half of classes in the bathroom, I was distracted while reading, I was exhausted and out of sorts even when feeling “better”.  But I couldn’t go to the doctor, because I couldn’t pay for it.  If it was a food allergy that was starting to rear it’s ugly head there was no way I’d ever be able to pay for the bloodwork, colonoscopy, and other fancy tests to confirm it anyway.  Either I’d get better or I wouldn’t.

Yet in our society there are still swaths of people who look at students in my situation and tell them it’s their fault.  “WORK,” people will say, “SO YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”  As if picking up a second job wouldn’t have a pretty harrowing effect on my own health as well as the well-being of my children.  Hell, two short years ago I was working 40+ hours a week WHILE going to school full time, and my job didn’t even offer me benefits because I was technically “on call” even though all the hours I worked were scheduled- and I couldn’t afford to buy insurance because once groceries, rent, bills, and childcare were taken care of (my only expenses aside from school) I’d have $50 left at the end of any given month.

God help me the times the kids needed clothes, or I needed clothes, or anything went wrong.

At least the government covered the kid’s health care.

But I’m 30 now.  Time to start worrying about breast cancer and ovarian cancer and cervical cancer and heart disease.

What if any of those strike in the 2 years before I get my teaching certification?  What if they strike after I have my teaching certification and I can’t keep teaching?

Wonderful things to worry about while hugging a toilet seat at 3am, let me tell you.

And then for whatever reason, a rash of friends started whining about “Obamacare” on Facebook, and I felt my blood starting to boil.  The Affordable Care Act, for what it’s worth, will allow my whole family to have healthcare coverage.  It’ll mean the difference between being able to see a doctor after 24 hours of vomiting and holding out for a week to see if I get better.  (Anything more than a week is just too dangerous, even if it means going into debt I have no way to pay.)  I really don’t know if I have the words to know how to address it, but I feel like I have to try.

Not everyone has access to the kind of job that provides health care.  More and more, employers are hiring people as part-time or on call to avoid having to provide health care coverage.  Even jobs that traditionally gave benefits, like in the health care industry, are no longer dependable sources of coverage.  Soon, the only entry-level jobs that will offer coverage are ones that you have to have a high-powered degree to secure.

So for working class people, the idea of “get a job” to get coverage is a bit laughable.  My husband and I are both employed.  He easily works 50 hours a week, I work 15-20 and go to school full time.  We’re within 20% of the poverty line.  We budget, we pinch our pennies, but at the end of any given month what is left over is in the double digits, not enough to pay the $600 a month it would cost to get insurance through his job.  I consider myself fortunate to be able to go back to school and eventually have a job that will provide benefits for me, but in the meantime I’m on the orange-juice-and-crossed-fingers health care plan.

So let’s look at some of the lovely arguments I’ve seen for why the government shouldn’t provide health care to lower-income families like mine:

  1. It’s taking money from the rich and giving to the poor, and that’s communism/socialism.  There are many reasons why this argument is flawed.  This argument implies that nothing of merit is given back to the rich in return.  First, if my family has health care coverage we are less likely to be a bigger burden on the community in the long run.  We’ll get antibiotics before we have to go to the emergency room, for instance.  By doing that we’ll avoid racking up bills that we can’t pay, which means the costs currently incurred to pay for families like mine will be avoided.  The hospitals will be less overburdened, they’ll have to send less statements, they’ll have to employ less bill collectors and payment adjusters, and in the meanwhile working class people will miss less days of work, meaning they’ll be overall more productive and have more money to spend.  $$$, “Sweet!”, you should say, because that means a lower overall cost of providing health care which is more cost effective, doubled with a higher gross domestic profit which benefits all.  Hooray!  The second implication of this argument, and the one that I resent even more, is that families like mine somehow do not contribute to the overall well being of society.  We give charitably, we do our jobs well without complaining, we’re raising responsible kids who hope to have bright futures.  All of that is worth preserving, isn’t it?  The cost/benefit calculation shouldn’t start and end with “My money being spent on me > My money being spent on those jerks.”  It should take into account who people are capable of being when society better helps them meet their essential needs.  After all, we’ve already decided it is to society’s benefit that poor people with children be able to provide food for their kids, rather than those kids ending up in the system.   Health care is just as essential to a productive childhood as food.  Being healthcare unstable, or having parents who are healthcare unstable, is damaging to a child.  Trust me, it was not in my kid’s best interest that I spend a week puking up my guts and incapable of being able to devote my attentions to them.  It hurt my entire family.  Me having affordable access to healthcare will mean that my kids have the best possible parenting both in sickness and in health that I am capable of providing.  Having that means that they are better able to be successful in life and school and thus contribute to the economy when they are grown.  That’s good for me but also good for you- because an able worker is a funded consumer, and that should make sense to people who see $$$ as the bottom line.  We don’t want to raise a generation of kids who flunked out of school because they had to pick up the slack when their working poor parents with no healthcare got cancer- do we?
  2. I have to work for my healthcare, why does that asshole get it for free?  Trust me, buddy, If I could work for my healthcare I would.  I don’t have that option.  Not because I’m dumb, not because I’m irresponsible, not because I have no goals but because the career I have chosen requires me to be in school.  If I wasn’t in school, none of my employment options would offer health care.  I am one of so many of my peers left in the same boat- working diligently, saving pennies, trying to do the right thing but still creeping further and further behind as the rising cost of gas and wheat and milk and cheese and meat and school supplies and kids clothes and shoes and paper and everything else drags us further and further behind.  Oh, and the garbage bill and electric bill and water bill are all higher than they were two years ago, too, while paychecks are not rising.  Essentially, this argument says, “there is an entire class of people in our country who are not deserving of what I have because they aren’t as smart or privileged as me.”  Oh, buddy, trying saying to my face that I’m not as smart or deserving as you.  (I know I’m not as privileged, that’s cool, I don’t need to be.)  Not only are you saying that this entire class of people- really, the bottom half of “middle class” that is too poor to buy out of pocket insurance but not poor enough for government benefits, is not as valuable to our economy as everyone else.  If you really think that, I don’t know how to respond.  People who are sick, overworked, and worry don’t consume goods, and people who don’t consume goods don’t keep the economy going.  Giving the lower middle class a little relief ensures that they continue to consume- the only other option be that they improve their lot independently (impossible, as new jobs being created tend to be either lower in quality than current jobs being lost, or requiring licensure that means going back to school) or just give up and go on benefits- which means they will contribute to the economy even less.
  3. Everything Obama Does Must Be Bad.  (Or- MARK OF THE BEAST.)  If you disagree with everything Obama does because, well, you feel obligated to, why are you reading my blog? If you think that anything equating to socialized health care will lead to the mark of the beast, allow me to reassure you.  The Bible says that everyone (I.E, EVERYONE) will be forced to wear the mark of the beast to buy and sell.  It doesn’t say for healthcare.  So, there are two ways to look at this:  one is that healthcare isn’t buying and selling, so this isn’t the mark of the beast.  The other is to realize that the mark of the beast is a prophetic inevitability, so wondering about it is an exercise in fear mongering that God really would never encourage.  The spirit he gives us is not a spirit of fear.  Yet, if you want to be concerned about the Mark, here’s something to be more concerned about:  More and more, buying and selling is happening based off of unique identifiers or user IDs associated with the codes imbedded with mobile devices.  You can totally walk into your favorite coffee shop with presets in your phone that let them know what you want for breakfast, and then walk back out without any money changing hands!  It’s all automatic!  How long before your unique identifier is tattooed onto your hand or forehead?  Now, if you want to worry about the mark, worry about that.  Give me my health care, please.

Honestly, health care is an essential human right.  I believe that.  No one should ever have to face their body being damaged because they do not have the money to keep it in good health.  Without our bodies, we have nothing.  Yet there are hundreds of thousands of people who have to suffer unnecessary complications, face ridiculous health risks, or wallow in stressful uncertainty because they do not have the money to pay for health care.  Are those people really any less valuable to society than you?  If we want a society where everyone thrives, that has to be a society where no one faces an untreated chronic illness because they can’t afford a doctor, where kids never have to watch a parent unable to get basic care, where kids never drop out of high school or college to work because a parent is diagnosed with a chronic illness without healthcare and cannot provide for themself, and so on.  A healthy society is one where health care is available to all, so all are the most free they possibly can be to contribute and consume.

The Affordable Care Act is just the first of many more measures that need to be taken to be sure that America is a place where everyone is healthy and contributing.  This is necessary for the survival of our society, and I strongly believe that.  I hope this rambling explanation is in any way helpful in explaining my reasons.

Government waste/Societal need

When I worked at the homeless shelter, the knowledge that our budget depended on the government’s generosity never could truly leave our minds.  Most of our donations were won through tax incentives that we needed to continue to be passed, and others came from community development grants and other charitable contributions that all seemed to lead a trail back to capitol hill.  While the churches that housed our guests and the people that fed them every night did so out of charity, my paycheck and the paycheck of those I worked for, the money that kept the lights on and put gas in the van, all traced back to the government.

This is even more true at the residential treatment facility I worked for, where huge portions of the funding were directly tied to social security and medicaid.  Without those programs, we would have had no one to treat and our patients would have been homeless, fully symptomatic, and dangerous to society.

In both places I can say with absolute certainly that the work we did improved our communities, kept them safer, and filled vital needs.

In both places I can say that I am worried what the future holds.

When people talk about the Government’s “wasteful spending” I am horrified that the things most people point at are tax incentive community development programs, medicaid, and welfare.  The argument usually goes like this, “these benefit programs create a dependency that deepens the problem they are meant to address.”  Let’s look at that for a moment.  The first assumption of that argument is that if people didn’t have government incentive programs to develop their communities, they’d be equally able to do it on their own.  It also assumes that people who receive welfare and medicaid are capable of providing for their own needs if they didn’t receive help from the government.  To further that logic, the assumption deepens into a belief that we are wasting our money by giving to people who are capable of, and should be, caring for their own problems.  I will concede that such programs are self-feeding.  (That is, that by giving the benefit they often weaken resolve to move beyond the need for it, or in worst case scenarios the program actively works to keep people in it.)  What I don’t understand is the logic behind the assumptions being made.

Why were these programs created in the first place?  If we believe that people are both capable of providing for these needs on their own and would do so if the government didn’t have them a check, then why would the government have ever handed them the check in the first place?  These programs address real, persistent problems that people can’t fix on their own.  Poverty has always been endemic to our society.  Sociologists will say things like that it fills a societal need by creating the impetus for people to work jobs that are necessarily low paying, or by saying that since there is a conflict over necessarily limited resources it is inevitable that there are people who end up without insufficient resources for survival.  The debate as to the reason extreme poverty exists is ongoing, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that even God himself is quoted as having said “the poor will always be among you.”

It’s a fact of life- the need exists, whether or not a program is created to address it.

The reason the government took on the burden is because it is demonstrated that by raising the basement and making even the poorest in society capable of achieving more,  everyone benefits.  It is beneficial to all of us that the children of the very poor have healthcare.  It is beneficial to all of us that children do not starve or have the meal they eat at school as their only meal of the day.  It is beneficial to all of us that community development programs offer tax incentives that drive community members to donate more to food banks, homeless shelters, and beautification programs that remodel the homes and apartment complexes that the very poor live in and cannot care for by themselves.

Do these programs create a self-feeding cycle?  Perhaps they do.  But even so the money is not wasted, the more the programs are cut the more people end up starving, or homeless, or literally insane and on the streets.

It isn’t safe to cut them without a backup plan, and I’ve yet to hear any backup plan other than social darwinism.

And do you know what social darwinism leads to?  Dead babies.