By Kathleen Daugherty, Coordinator for the Coalition of Low Income Pennsylvanians.
While President Trump was meeting last week with Pope Francis, Jewish and Islam leaders, and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, his 2018 budget hit the streets of Washington. Trump appears determined to provide massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans while slicing billions from efforts that offer a hand-up to those on the lower end of the economic spectrum, to students hoping to afford higher education, and to those seeking job training. The juxtaposition of this presidential faith journey and the release of one of the most cruel budget proposals in history couldn’t be more stunning.
However one frames the issue, this budget proposal coming from a man who appears to have no moral core (and it’s likely that he has little to no idea what’s in the budget) is a reminder of the constant right/left debate about the responsibility of government. It’s fairly clear that the Trump Administration, from cabinet appointments to Executive Orders, is attempting at record speed to dismantle what many have come to expect as reliable government service and support. It is suggested that many services could be privatized or provided through creative partnerships. Those approaches have their own hazards especially when profit is a goal of privatization.
But the supports needed by low-income individuals and families are something different. There are frequent efforts from the privileged, including lawmakers, to blame people for their uncomfortable circumstances. This is often the prerequisite for staunchly denying or reducing benefits because, well, they “brought it on themselves”. Those holding this mindset often attempt to switch responsibility for supporting the poor and vulnerable to the faith community or other nonprofits with altruistic missions. With his billionaire status, it is probable that Donald Trump lives in this camp and one would expect him to contribute generously to human service charities. However, there is little public knowledge of his charitable largesse.
It is true that there are some highly successful people in the business and entertainment industries who devote enormous amounts of money and time to bettering the world for others. But that isn’t common. The theory that charity is a replacement for government led efforts to feed, house and educate denies the fact that charitable giving is capricious at best. The need is constant; charity as a solution is not.
Government fills the role of recipient and distributor of tax revenue. A great debate exists around prioritization of those resources and whether the needs of the human community, in the U.S. and around the world, rate a substantial focus in the Trump budget compared to military spending, subsidies to corporations and other efforts to enrich the wealthy. Alongside this debate is the never-ending discussion of cutting or raising taxes. We all live in this society and pay into its sustainability. Some of the most despicable comments by lawmakers in recent days, especially around the healthcare discussion, have involved a philosophical divide over whether the individual’s contribution should pay only for her/his situation rather than into the shared pool of resources. “Why should I care if it doesn’t affect me?” How did Americans become this insular?
Standing even more prominently than Donald Trump in pushing away from the broadly accepted common good function of government is House Speaker Paul Ryan. He is a known disciple of Russian-American novelist and philosopher Ann Rand who wrote, “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”
With leaders like Ryan and Trump, we are not only in combat over for American fiscal priorities during the 2018 federal budget debate. We are in a fight for America’s soul.