A theme is emerging this morning as I scroll Facebook that poor people deserve to be poor.
It precipitates from coverage of the new Republican plan to replace Obamacare – how it not only punishes poor people, but seeks to create more of them by:
- Taking more cash out of their pockets through reduced subsidies and higher insurance premiums, or
- Forcing them to go uncovered and risk the inevitability of bankruptcy if they become seriously ill.
The issue isn’t just that the plan is widely understood to be unaffordable for poorer people and a tax windfall for wealthier people; or that it means joining the corporate payroll may once again become the only viable source of health coverage for the middle class; but that it’s so completely out in the open.
GOP congressional leaders who decry redistribution of wealth down the economic ladder often fight for it up the economic ladder. But they used to do it by sneaking top-end tax breaks into obscure and unrelated legislation.
Now they’re putting it the headline without shame or concern that their motives will be discovered.
The Chicago Tribune, a legitimate media source that historically leans right, reported on the new program as a giant tax break for insurance companies (which, if you have noticed, have had a few very good years under Obamacare, as noted by the conservative Weekly Standard).
In Newsweek, Gerard Anderson, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health (I don’t know his politics, but his credentials are noteworthy), described the proposed Obamacare replacement as simply as anyone:
Essentially, it takes money away from the poorest and gives it to the more affluent.”
Even a few staunchly conservative Republicans in Congress are opposing the proposal because it reduces access to care for low-income elderly.
Still, Paul Ryan and his leadership are rushing to push this plan into law as quickly as possible, even before receiving analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which is standard practice.
Committees take first steps on ACA without CBO’s input
By Karen Tumulty and Max Ehrenfreund
WASHINGTON – You might think of it as the legislative equivalent of flying into a storm without instruments.
Two committees in the Republican-led House have begun drafting sweeping health legislation without the benefit of an objective estimate of its impact from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – a reckless move, critics say, considering that they are dealing with the well-being of tens of millions of Americans and an industry that accounts for close to one-fifth of the economy…
It feels like politics as usual, or at least what passes for usual in the Trump era. But it’s more than that. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and others who are pushing this proposal seem sincerely proud of it. They say it is fair, just and helpful.
I don’t think they’re lying. They know they are taking money from the pockets of those who have the least and putting it into the pockets of those who already have more than they or their descendants will need for generations to come. They’re proud of it. I don’t think for a moment they intended to “sneak” this by anybody; they consider it their privilege and mission — earned through hard-fought politics and God’s blessing.
This is not shameless legislation. It’s open pursuit of a doctrine that until very recently needed to be cloaked and whispered: the deeply held belief that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy and make bad choices. Jason Chaffetz just said as much.
This phenomenon isn’t new. Among the thematic entries that popped up on the Facebook feed is this excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, published in 1969:
America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
It’s almost as if God hates poor people. I’m no Bible scholar; I only read the headlines. And the headlines consistently say the opposite.
But not in America, not today, where a certain understanding of the Bible now dominates public discourse and — as is no longer being hidden from view — public policy.
If you haven’t heard of prosperity gospel, it essentially says wealth is bestowed upon those whom God loves — and conversely, poverty is God’s punishment to the unworthy. (There also happens to be a racial component to this belief, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Jason Chaffetz, and so many devout Christians in the high levels of government today have lived their entire lives in this uniquely American religious tradition. So have former heavyweights like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin. They believe it in their marrow, just as I believe that most people are poor due to policies that, intentionally or not, keep them poor.
To the degree Trump has any religious indoctrination at all, it came from this prosperity tradition too.
Would it surprise you to learn this tradition was invented, fostered and cultivated through aggressive support from the corporate sector over the past 80 years? The religious revivals of the early 20th Century, the rise of Billy Graham, the tradition of the national prayer breakfast, McCarthyism — all brought to us through the generous support of companies including General Electric, General Motors, Pepsi, Firestone, Marriott, Chrysler, Colgate-Palmolive, Disney and Goodyear.
Their early motivation, in the 1930s, was to win back the trust of consumers after the great stock market crash of 1929. According to Kevin Kruse in One Nation Under God, it was a sophisticated public relations strategy for the time. Corporations joined forces with influential pastors like James Fifeld, who were developing a new interpretation of the Bible that was a perfect fit with the American Dream. It said that climbing to wealth was a sign of God’s favor.
This didn’t come out of nowhere; it came out of preaching to the choir. Fifeld, for instance, had a wealthy congregation in Los Angeles and wrote sermons that would bring them in the doors and keep them sitting upright in the pews. His theology developed from there, and possibly from the promise of bottomless financial support that quickly started to come his way. How better for industry to become trusted than to support preachers who would tell their flock that corporate America was God’s design — the result of piety and hard work?
With encouragement from their large trade associations, corporations underwrote traveling revivals, publications and early mass media campaigns that supported the message of these church leaders, who said the only problem America had was a lack of God in daily life. And not just any God, but the one who loves rich people because of the way they behave.
The idea that he deplores poor people for the same reason was a natural corollary that took some time to develop. But once it did, it added an arguably un-Christian thread to the message, which has grown stronger and more pointed over time.
So in the days before corporations could just go out and buy a Congressman to enact profit-friendly policies, the corporate sector helped once-marginal preachers of prosperity gospel to grow fabulously rich and powerful in a strategy to increase corporate earnings.
Kruse’s book, subtitled “How corporate America invented Christian America,” is the authoritative history on the topic. It’s been positively reviewed for its depth and research (though reviewers on the religious right have taken exception to its conclusions).
So today, there is a proposed healthcare policy on the table that essentially requires one of two things to acquire health insurance:
- Great wealth
- A job in the corporate sector, where insurance as a benefit is a given.
Perhaps that’s ironic, because Evangelical Christian America’s God preaches self-reliance — not reliance on giant corporations for a paycheck and healthcare policy.
But government policy today also has fair amount of Walmart in it.
Walmart only sells fast-moving items; goods that don’t reliably sell at an established clip don’t get restocked. You can get anything you want there, as long as you want what most people want.
Similarly, federal policy under Trump and the Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell Congress rewards those who follow the widest, best-traveled path. It punishes those born with different skin, a different religion, different sexuality and, apparently, a whole range of people who — for any number of reasons — don’t go to work in the morning at a large company.
A monster, animated over a century by corporate America, is now openly writing policy that grants life-giving care to those who turn themselves over to the rich — and literally telling everybody else to go to hell.