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America’s New “Separate and Unequal” Societies
After studying the 1967 U.S. urban riots, the Kerner Commission’s report indicted White America’s institutions and society for creating and condoning a destructive environment of segregation and poverty in the racial ghettos, and warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Bantam Books, 1968, pages 1 and 2) Today our nation is again moving toward separate and unequal societies, with tens of millions of White people joining Black, Latino, Asian and other citizens at the bottom of a hierarchy of access to economic and political power controlled by the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures reveal that, in 2011, “over 46 million Americans lived at or below the poverty threshold of a household income of $23,201 per year for a family of four, and that “one in five of our children live in poverty and over one-third of black and Latino children are struggling through impoverishment.” (“Record Poverty Persists While Gap Between Rich and the Rest of Us Increases, by Karen Dolan, Institute for Policy Studies Blog, Common Dreams, Sept. 13, 2012) The growing economic inequality in America is also documented in a recent Pew Research Center study, prophetically called, “THE LOST DECADE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS, Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier,” which shows “the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all– of its characteristic faith in the future.” (www.pewsocialtrends.org, Aug. 22, 2012)
Ironically, the present, growing gulf between the rich and the poor is continuing during the administration of a Black president. The widening gulf actually reveals a low intensity class war, fueled in part by the racism of white citizens, including many assumed Tea Party members and evangelical Christians, who can’t stand to have a Black man occupy their “White” House. A treasonous class war that seeks to empower the few, rather than strive for a “more perfect union” for the many.
A secret video of an exclusive fund-raising event reveals Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declaring class war against a huge cross-section of Americans. With luxurious background noise of food and wine being consumed, he told his wealthy donors, “There are 47% of the people who will vote for president no matter what . . . 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it (italics added).” Before his audience of feasting 1%ers, Romney continued stereotyping and demonizing all kinds of non-rich Americans: “I’ll never be able to convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” (“Mitt Romney Video Transcript: What Exactly He Said that Is Getting People Angry,” By Elisa Sanchez, www.enstarz.com, Sept. 19, 2012) Paternalistic and vilifying words from a man who has never had to worry about struggling to live from paycheck to paycheck, and who puts his extreme wealth in overseas safe havens to avoid paying taxes.
This patriotically camouflaged class war is belied by Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. He said of President Obama’s 2008 election, “The president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections.” He further professed Republican support for the Obama administration with, “We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us.” A moment later he told an even bigger elephant-sized lie: “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promise gave way to disappointment and division.” Romney then pivoted: “This isn’t something we have to accept. Now is the moment we CAN do something. With your help we will do something.” (“Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Acceptance Speech,” www.npr.org, Aug. 30, 2012)
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” said the man who has been running for president for at least six years. Mitt Romney should have spoken these words to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said, as the 2010 midterm elections approached, “The single most important thing we (italics added) want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” (“Top GOP Priority: Make Obama a One-Term President,” by Major Garrett, National Journal, Oct. 23, 2010)
The constant obstructionist behavior of national Republican leaders is treasonous. They wanted to make President Obama a “one-term president”—and the well-being of the American people be damned. They were not about providing bipartisan support for “America to succeed,” but about waging economy-devastating partisan war on Obama’s legislative initiatives. Their priority was not job training centers, nor job growth, nor compensation checks on which laid off workers and their families depended, nor stopping home foreclosures, nor revitalizing public schools and education, nor rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure, nor taxing the 1% their fair share on behalf of the common good.
Congressional Republican leaders voted for two immoral wars, and funded them on credit which ballooned the national deficit— profit-making wars, benefiting energy and military industrial complex corporations that filled Republican campaign coffers with money. These leaders want to give the 1% more tax breaks, and reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor and middle class and their children. Children? There was a time when we were told, “In America, any child can grow up and become president.” Children, outside the womb, are not even on the Republican Party’s radar screen.
The number one, traitorous, goal of Republican leaders has been to legislatively undermine, and thus “overthrow,” the Obama administration, making President Obama “a one-term president”—no matter how much it hurt the American people. The aim was to stonewall any legislation that addressed the economy and provided security for Americans, so that Mitt Romney, and other Republican leaders, could now say, “This president cannot tell us that you’re better off today than when he took office.” (“Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Acceptance Speech,” Ibid)
Economist and New York Times journalist Paul Krugman reveals the conspiracy of the Republican Congressional leaders in his piece, “Obstruct and Exploit.” He writes that Republican stonewalling blocked President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which was estimated to “add 1.3 million jobs by the end of 2012.” Krugman argues that “the most important consequence of that stonewalling . . . has been the failure to extend much-needed aid to state and local governments,” forcing them “to lay off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and other workers, and those layoffs are a major reason the job numbers have been disappointing.” Krugman brings the treasonous deceit of Republican leaders into sharp relief: “Having prevented Mr. Obama from implementing any of his policies, those same Republicans are pointing to disappointing job numbers and declaring that the president’s policies have failed. Think of it as a two-part strategy,” Krugman says. “First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. . . . It’s the Republican’s best chance for victory in November.” (The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2012)
The treacherous behavior of Republican Party leaders is dramatically reported in a Daily Kos story by Jon Perr called, “Guilty as Charged: How the GOP Killed Washington.” Perr begins, “It’s rare that a criminal publicly announces his intent to commit a felony. But when it comes to their scorched-earth campaign of obstructionism to destroy the Obama presidency, GOP leaders weren’t shy about their plans.” Perr states, “While 15 top Republicans schemed in private on the night of Obama’s inauguration to ‘challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign,’ conservative mouthpieces like Bill Kristol and Rush Limbaugh promised gridlock at every turn.” Perr continues, “From its record-setting use of the filibuster and its united front against Obama’s legislative agenda to blocking judicial nominees and its unprecedented (and repeated) threats to trigger a U.S. default, the most conservative Congress in over 100 years has stopped Washington dead in its tracks.” (May 23, 2012)
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed.” If Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan succeed, America’s current, widening, separate and unequal, societies will severely worsen. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sounded this alarm in response to Ryan’s budget, which Romney had called “marvelous.” “In essence,” Greenstein wrote, “this budget is Robin Hood in reverse—on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history). (Mar. 21, 2012)
CBPP President Greenstein lists the programs that would be slashed: Medicaid, SNAP (food stamp) benefits, Pell Grants for college. And “everything from veterans’ health care to medical and scientific research, highways, education, national parks, food safety, clean air and clean water enforcement, and border protection and other law enforcement.” Also, “programs to assist poor or otherwise vulnerable people such as low-income housing; child care for the working poor; Head Start; the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC); and home-delivered meals for seniors.” (Ibid)
Mr. Greenstein concludes by warning about the growing divide between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else.:
Chairman Ryan says these changes in domestic programs are necessary due to the nation’s severe fiscal straits. The nation’s fiscal straits, however, surely do not justify massive new tax cuts for its wealthiest people alongside budget cuts that would cast tens of millions of less fortunate Americans into the ranks of the uninsured, take food from poor children, make it harder for low-income students to get a college degree, and squeeze funding for research, education, and infrastructure. Under Chairman Ryan’s budget, our nation would be a very different one—less fair and less generous, with an even wider gap between the very well-off and everyone else (especially between rich and poor)—and our society would be a coarser one. (Ibid)
“The president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections.” A New York Times editorial saw through Mitt Romney’s lie, in citing the Republican Congressional leaders’ obstructionism, and the racism driving certain of that obstructionism. “The president and his tight inner circle were oblivious to the Republicans’ explicit warning that he would not get the slightest cooperation from a party and a Congressional caucus driven by an implacable hatred of Mr. Obama that is mostly ideological but also fueled by his race,” the editorial declared. “It took nearly three years for the Obama team to recognize that central fact.” (“President Obama’s Second Chance,” Sept. 7, 2012)
Following the National Republican Convention, another New York Times editorial doubles down on the Republican Party’s obstructionist betrayal of the American people’s security. The editorial declared, “The truth rarely heard this week in Tampa, Fla., is that the Republicans chartered a course of denial and obstructionism from the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated, determined to deny him a second term, by denying him any achievement, no matter the cost to the economy or American security—even if it meant holding the nation’s credit rating hostage to a narrow partisan agenda.” (“Mr. Romney Reinvents History,” Aug. 31, 2012)
A third New York Times editorial addresses the disingenuousness behind Mitt Romney’s statement, “This president cannot tell us that you’re better off today than when he took office.” The editorial states, “Boosting tepid job growth requires stimulative fiscal policy—including spending to rehire teachers and to build schools, roads and other infrastructure, as well as loan modifications for underwater homeowners. Mr. Obama has proposed all of that, while Republicans have blocked such measures and the Republican agenda rejects them.” (“Jobs and Politics,” Sept. 8, 22012)
The treasonous behavior of Republican leaders is exposed in a final New York Times editorial on “The Better Economic Question.” It says, “”At every step, when Mr. Obama and Democrats have proposed measures to reduce the risk of the kind of recession still haunting the economy, Republicans have opposed them. Mitt Romney,” the editorial goes on, “regularly sneers at the most fundamental protections against Wall Street excesses and promises to repeal them.” The editorial continues to point out just how uncaring Republicans are of the citizenry: “House Republicans, including Representative Paul Ryan, . . . have sent a clear signal to the corporate executives spending hundreds of millions to elect Mr. Romney that he need not worry about restrictions on their behavior, no matter how destructive to the economy or the lives of millions still struggling to get back on their feet.” (Sept. 6, 2012)
The real question we need to ask is, “Would America be better off today if the Republicans in Congress had represented all of the people, rather than the 1%– and their own power-maintaining and White House-regaining interests?
“The president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us.” Norman Ornstein, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has a different take on the Republican leaders’ overwhelming response to President Obama’s election. He writes, “This is the political season. So you can expect to hear a lot of lies and, we do.” Like, “’The stimulus did not create one single job,’ (John Boehner)” Like “’Barack Obama is the most dangerous president in modern history.’ (Newt Gingrich)” Like, “’I was a severely conservative governor.’ (Mitt Romney) . . . But,” Ornstein goes on, “they are small potatoes to the biggest lie of all, the one we hear most often, from almost every politician, pundit and talk show host. You’ve heard it a thousand times: ‘Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for today’s gridlock in Congress.’ If you want the real story,” Ornstein says, “read Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s book ‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.’” (“Norman Ornstein – First thoughts about,” first-thoughts.org, Sept. 7, 2012)
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are Congressional scholars, with a long history of studying Washington politics, and reported to be “renowned for their carefully nonpartisan positions.” (“Extremism In Congress: ‘Even Worse Than It Looks,?” by NPR staff, www.npr.org, Apr. 30, 2012) They dispose of the evasive equality of blame dynamic in writing, “We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we see it this dysfunctional. In our past writings,” they state, “we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.” (italic added) They then get specific: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” They then point to the threat to America’s security presented by today’s Republican leaders: “When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.” (“Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” The Washington Post, Apr. 27, 2012)
As cover for the Republicans’ treasonous sacrifice of the well-being of Americans to win back the White House, Mitt Romney invoked the name of “God.” Inspired by the Democratic Party’s initial omission of the word “God” from its platform, Romney reportedly “metaphorically wrapped his stump speech in” the Pledge of Allegiance at a Virginia Beach rally. “That pledge,” Romney began, “says ‘under God.’ I will not take ‘God’ out of the name of our platform. I will not take ‘God’ off our coins, and I will not take ‘God’ out of my heart. We’re a nation bestowed by God.” (“In Romney’s Hands, Pledge of Allegiance Is Framework for Criticism,” By Ashley Parker, The New York Times, Sept. 9, 2012)
Mitt Romney won’t take the word “God” out of the Republican Party platform, but nowhere in that Paul Ryan budget-inspired platform is the footprint of the prophet of Galilee who said “the Spirit of the Lord” had “anointed” him “to bring good news to the poor” and “to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4: 18) Nowhere in that wealth-determined platform is reflected this godly prophet’s caring words, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-40) The word “god” may be in the Republican Party’s platform, but the aim of that Party is to take care of their campaign-influence-funding wealthiest Americans, not those who are hungry and thirsty and strangers, those lacking clothing, those needing adequate medical care, and isolated, neglected prisoners. The word “God” may be in the Republican Party’s platform, but Republican efforts at voter suppression are in full swing in swing states—just in case “God” fizzles out.
It is time for far more religious leaders and congregations to get on the bus with the Catholic Nuns, who have been vigorously opposing the Republicans’ budget plan to throw millions more Americans under the bus. As reported In July, the Nuns on the Bus “were concluding a two-week bus tour through nine swing states to protest the Ryan budget proposal, contending that it undermined Catholic teachings to serve the poor and vulnerable.” Rallying “outside the United Methodist Church’s D.C. offices,” their leader, Sister Simone Campbell, head of the “Catholic social justice lobby called NETWORK, . . . denounced the proposed cuts to food stamps, child care, and other programs for the needy.” She said that Ryan’s plan to reduce “the federal budget deficit through substantial cuts in spending . . . would hit low-income people hard.” She then referred to the Republican Party’s traitorous agenda, saying “that Ryan does not generally go into detail about specific programs for the poor that will be affected. He’s trying to avoid enumerating them.” Why? “The truth is,” she said, “there’s a shift of money to the top—tax cuts for the wealthy.” Sister Campbell’s battle cry: “Question austerity!” (Budget smackdown! Paul Ryan vs. Catholic nuns on a bus,” By Suzy Khimm, The Washington Post, July 2, 2012; “Catholic Nuns Gun for Paul Ryan,” by Abigal Pesta, The Daily Beast, Aug. 16, 2012)
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops heard the Nuns call and got on the bus. Bishop Stephen Blaire, chair of the Council’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human development, wrote to the two top leaders of the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture: “On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs.” Sympathizing with the “difficult task” Congress faces “to balance needs and resources,” Blaire said, “Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifices by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs. The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria. We join other Christian leaders in insisting ‘a circle of protection’ be drawn around essential programs that serve the poor and vulnerable people.” (“Letter to The Honorable Frank D. Lucas, Chairman and The Honorable Collin C. Peterson, Ranking Member, Committee on Agriculture, April 16, 2012)
At the same time, Huffington Post reported that “some 60 Catholic social justice leaders, theologians and clergy” jumped on The Nuns’ Bus, “and also released a statement saying that ‘this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.’” (“Catholic Bishops Say Ryan Budget Fails Moral Test, By David Gibson, Religion News Service, Apr. 18, 2012)
Mitt Romney apparently wants to confine “God” in the Republican platform statement, but “four members of the religious group Faith in Public Life—Rev. Jennifer Butler, Jim Wallis, Rev. Derrick Harkins, and Father Clete Kiley— got on The Nuns’ Bus, and made it clear that “God” is more than a word in a document. They held a press conference and declared, “What we’re saying in the faith community, across the spectrum, is that a nation is judged—our Bible says—by how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. Period. That’s what God says to us. That’s God’s instruction to us. To be faithful to God, we have to protect poor people.” (“Religious Leaders: GOP’s ‘Ayn Rand’ Budget Targets Poor, Goes Against Religious Values,” By Alex Seitz-Wald, Scott Keyes and Travis Waldron, ThinkProgress, June 4, 2012)
Author and theologian Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, got on The Nuns’ Bus, stating that “a budget is a moral document. . . . To roll back tax credits for the poor to help fund tax breaks for the rich is morally reprehensible, and the faith community needs to speak out.” (“Ryan’s budget is immoral,” let to the editor by Joyce Luedke, The Lakeland Times, Aug. 24, 22012)
Jim Wallis himself spoke out, loud and clear, in a prophetic piece in Sojourners called, “Woe to You, Legislators!” He wrote, “Two-thirds of the [proposed tax] cuts come at the expense of already struggling people and families, while corporations posting record profits get tax breaks. In short,” Wallis continued, “the most vulnerable members of society are being attacked by Ryan and his supporters. This makes them bullies.” Apr. 4, 2012)
Jim Wallis was just getting started: “Ryan has chosen to help people who need help the least,” he stated. “Wealthy individuals and companies reap a windfall of benefits in Ryan’s plan—with tax cuts and breaks, continued subsidies and loopholes for every powerful special interest, and increased corporate welfare payments from the government.” And, Wallis added, “Congressman Ryan and his supporters have carefully and faithfully rewarded rich people who make their campaign contributions, and, in most cases, have also rewarded themselves as rich people. This makes them corrupt.” (Ibid)
Jim Wallis wasn’t finished: “And as self-professed budget hawks,” he continued, “they have completely ignored the most consistently egregious, wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget—our endless and unaccountable military spending. Paul Ryan and the Republicans would cut nothing from the Pentagon profligacy. This makes them hypocrites.” (Ibid)
Strong words? Yes. Jim Wallis then quotes the prophet Isaiah:
Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you? (Isaiah 10: 3, The Message)
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson got on The Nuns’ Bus at the crossroads of humanity, declaring, “The Ryan budget robs the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable of the safety net so integral to their survival . . . By any measure of civility and regard for one’s neighbor, it is an immoral disaster.” Rabbi Jackie Moline, standing beside Robinson on The Nuns’ Bus, said, “Whatever one thinks of Congressman’s Ryan’s ideas, it is unimaginable to look into the face of a child who would go hungry without government assistance and say, ‘Sorry—we need to reduce the deficit.’” (“Faith leaders Blast House GOP Budget As ’Immoral Disaster’ That ‘Robs The Poor,’” By Travis Waldron, ThinkProgess, Mar. 21, 2012)
Religion’s role in American politics should be to use the democratic process to empower people, not gain power over them. Religion’s aim should be to intervene on behalf of the common good, not seek to use elections and influence to impose sectarian beliefs on citizens. For so many Christians, it is the politics of religion that keeps religion out of politics—out of political issues that are critical to people’s well-being, but potentially divisive. The overriding concern of many Christian leaders and congregations is not what would Jesus do, but what should they do as Democrats and Republicans. The ringing silence of religion, in the face of serious public issues that affect people’s security, reveals the extent to which partisan political belief can dominate religion and stifle public discourse. To such Christians, it is as if “God” is a Republican or a Democrat—or a word, or a period of silence, or neutral, or neutered. Such a deity is a far cry from the one about whom Prophet Micah declared, “What does the Lord require of you, but do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (6: 8)
Today’s religion needs to be reminded of the prophetic call of 19th century American preacher and social justice activist Theodore Parker. He wrote, “A church that believes in inspiration now will appeal to God; try things by reason and conscience; aim to surpass the old heroes; baptize its children with a new spirit, and, using the present age, will lead public opinion, not follow it.” (“The Coming Church,” Great Companions, Vol. I, The Beacon Press, 1927)
The gulf between the rich and everyone else is widening. Get on The Nuns’ Bus!
This article was inspired by a conversation with Mel King, long-time Boston community activist and organizer, political leader, educator and author.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, has just been published and is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.