BY JIM PURCELL
There are many issues about the poor, the elderly, the infirm and those who are traditionally marginalized in American society that are about to be revisited by politicians of every stripe in our nation.
The winds of political change have seen to it that a different kind of president has been elected to the highest executive office in the United States
, someone who has a great deal of affinity with the basest of reactionary elements in our society. And, the majority party in Congress, for the moment, is the most conservative collective on the national scene.
This president and this majority will remain so for at least the next four years. The stated mission for this president and this Congressional majority is to revisit the reforms of the past several decades and, with great impunity, wash away the contributions of progressive thought and social safeguards put in place by members of both party since before the 1980s (in many cases). This will create a dramatic seachange in everyday American life, and unleash considerable chaos, I believe.
Fundamentally, I subscribe to Dr. Abraham Maslow's theory of mankind's hierarchy of needs. Yes, I studied this psychological theory in college and seminary, but this is not the reason I subscribe to it. A half century of life has sufficiently proven this theory's merit to me, through both personal experience and observation.
What concerns me very much is there is a notion loose in the political streets that disadvantaged people do not wish to work
and, rather than working, they want to collect the paltry sums of money connected to state-funded relief programs for the poor. In addition, these people, debased because of this perceived malaise, should not, in the minds of the current president or the prevailing majority party, receive any form of guaranteed healthcare. I have great concerns about the future of Social Security, civil rights, women's rights and foreign policy, as well. But, I think the handling of America's poor is probably the flashpoint of my concerns.
In history, whether the discussion turns to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 15th century, the French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolution of 1917 or the Great Depression of the early 20th century in America, the power and the urgency of hungry stomachs destabilize governments, nations and peoples
. There are many more examples, of course, but these are the ones that come to mind most quickly for me.
Because of mankind's hierarchy of needs.
Those who are rich sometimes believe they are right because they have more than others. And, they believe their merit is weighed by their riches and that their riches are not a symptom of luck or circumstance, but of merit itself. So, I am saying someone believes they are right and good because they have wealth, to the exclusion of other consideration. So, in righteousness and goodness, perhaps they believe that they also possess wisdom -- great insight. And, it is this so-called wisdom and insight which moves them to seek to change the world around them.
It is a mistake to take what little most people have, even if a rich person tells themselves it is the morally right thing to do. Because empty stomachs, not just great egos, have written the history of this world. Wars and causes tend to get written about more than times of great peace. It is the nature of man's interest to be drawn to stories about conflict.
What is government?
What is government's responsibilities to the poor? This is an important question today. Well, in America, our manufacturing and industrial bases were very compromised during the latter 20th century by globalization and technological advances. The American middle class suffered heavily with unions being discarded, with factory jobs being moved overseas to Asia and the increased use of commercial robotics. People who were neither rich nor poor lost so much during this time.
An entire class of people used to working hard at non-office jobs were used to buying respectable homes, sending their children to good schools, wearing nice clothes, taking vacations and having small luxuries. Between the end of World War II, and into the late 1970s, the American middle class enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world.
Now, almost 50 years removed from that era, the American upper and middle classes are farther apart than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Americans are a people whose prosperity has been given away by politicians and captains of industry for so long that there is institutionalized resentment, frustration and enmity. Meanwhile, Americans are not a patient people. They want things solved now...not gradually; not eventually; but right now. And, when there is frustration to this level then reason and sense are abandoned in favor of wild attempts at immediate positive change. Of course, abandoning reason is a a horrible choice.
Make no mistake about it, the little this government provides to people who are disadvantaged is the cost of Big Business and Big Politics surviving and thriving in this country. Americans are not European serfs. They will not long endure deprivation on scales greater than they have become accustomed to already. People do want to work. They do want change.
But, what allows this country to function as a governmental entity is not its military, its many law enforcement agencies, its regulatory commissions, captains of industry, celebrities, wealthy or outspoken. What allows this country's prominent interests to enjoy the money and power they have siphoned off the middle class is, in fact, the tacit consent of the growing and staggering numbers of disadvantaged people in this country. If common people find themselves unable to find work, live in decent housing, have no access to healthcare, receive no material support to live, and face increased law enforcement authoritarianism because they seek social justice in lieu of actual economic opportunity, then there will be social and political instability.
Why did former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enact wide-spanning social welfare reform in the 1930s? Historians argue this until today. However, I believe President Roosevelt was fulfilling the most basic obligation of his office: He was keeping the union together.
Nationalism is not based on a flag, a strong man standing in front of indirect lighting, theme music or sports teams. Patriotism is based on a spoken or unspoken understanding of a complex network of understandings between those who govern and those who are governed. Wealthy people already achieved the 'best deal' they were going to get in the United States: Most people have been asleep politically for more than a decade.
Though life was not great anymore, though America was not the global leader in business or education or any of that anymore -- life was good enough. Now, however, the apple cart is looking at being upset. And, I think arrogant leaders of today should slow down and examine just what they are proposing to do in the name of self-interest. Media manipulation by the Right, authoritarianism and disinformation will only go so far. The great political leaders of today should not make great changes by further disenfranchising the already disenfranchised anymore than they have already been. It will become dangerous if this is done. Maybe this is inevitable. I actually believe it is inevitable. There is nothing that will stop the wheels of wealthy self-interest once it has begun -- until it meets the historically predictable power of the 'hungry stomachs.'
The hungry stomachs have cast down emperors, kings, czars, nobles and political leaders in every corner of the world, and throughout history.
Yes, some people who are denied human rights will always take to the streets and irritate for change. However, historically, they do not have great success in their efforts to unseat the powerful until they have the active cooperation of those who are not able to fulfill basic human needs. This political regime was put in office by the angry mob, who voted in an authoritarian American regime in frustration due to long-standing problems. This regime will not be able to fix anything by actively targeting vulnerable, at-risk elements of this society with more deprivation and punitive actions. It will lead to enormous social change, which will amount to anarchy.
Empty stomachs do not care about flags. They care about eating, having opportunity and sleeping indoors instead of in the woods. And, if they do not get that, and a reasonable amount of support, then there will be social unrest. Modern times are not set apart from history. Our days right now are simply another page. There is science to politics. And, scientifically speaking, this regime is putting itself in the position where it will relearn the lesson of what reaction takes place when a lit match is exposed to a swimming pool full of gasoline. It is so predictable and yet seems so inevitable.
If social welfare in its various forms is removed before the fantasy of promised economic opportunity for all is delivered, it will create a condition of extreme tension that will not peacefully hold the demographics of the United States. I am not talking about sparking revolution. In fact, I am saying that common people cannot spark revolution today. Revolutionary spark occurs from the lack of opportunity. FDR knew this, and he put in place social welfare to keep intact American borders, the itnegrity of American nationalism and the essential consent of the people to be governed by central authorities like the state and national governments. What he did was nothing less than preserve the union during times when the survival of America as a national entity was in question. FDR put welfare reflief in place until an actual economic boom blossomed in the form of, sadly, World War II. Social welfare was the band aid that government and the people needed until real solutions for prosperity were found. Removing the band aid before wounds are healed is a prescription for instability. Unfortunately, I am firmly under the impression this is exactly what is in the process of happening.
Well, philosophically, perhaps this is just a time when great instability was supposed to happen.
Maybe this situation was inevitable. In the long run, perhaps the coming time of social discord is historically necessary for some greater insight that will follow after the dust has settled. It is some comfort that, even after the worst of times, prosperity does return. Not all change is comfortable, though, and I think that will be the case in the coming years.