“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
“So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative… of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or a quick one out of it…They made a great many other wise and humane regulations…”
—Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
This is the United States of America we live in today: five international megabanks that were previously fined for their involvement in the Libor scandal have again had those fines waived (the Obama administration was the first to grant waivers on the fines). While candidate Trump promised not to go easy on big banks, perhaps his decision as president to waive those pesky requirements has something to do with the fact that he owes one of the banks more than $130 million.
And while the bankers celebrate their presidential stay, American Medicaid recipients will now be forced to work for their medical benefits. Yes, those freeloading families of four who make less than a whopping $28,000 a year will now be put to work for the basic healthcare they need to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Of course, the people with disabilities who make up a significant portion of Medicaid participants will be excluded from this new legislation—oh wait, what it actually says is that “the state would be required to make ‘reasonable modifications’ such as a reduced hourly requirement to ensure that the requirements don’t disproportionately hurt people with disabilities.” The Trump administration doesn’t care about hurting poor and disabled people; they just want to be sure the states are hurting them proportionately.
This is not the America I learned about in school. This is not the America that beckons the poor, homeless, tempest-tossed, huddled masses to find refuge on her shores. This is a new America penned as a Dicken’s novel, where the wealthy put the poor and sick to work for the most meager of supports. Where are the workhouses? Today I fear they may be right around the corner.
And although protecting the rich and abusing the poor are more than a foundation for the new American Bleak House, there’s so much more. NPR just reported that the Trump administration decided to keep the chemical Chlorpyrifos on the market, even though two years ago the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposal that would have stopped farmers from using it. Not only does this pesticide kill more than thirty-eight species of endangered marine life, including the Sockeye salmon and the orcas that feed on them, it also causes brain damage in human children. The exposure to our children isn’t from run off or some detached threat; it’s from the residue remaining on foods like broccoli, strawberries, and other citrus fruits. It’s in our grocery stores.
And while I wrote the paragraph above it was reported that our president said, regarding immigration, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway.”
I am not so naive as to think the US was perfect before we voted Trump into office. But our political dialogue has never been so coarse. The disregard for human dignity, environmental conservation, economic equilibrium, equality, justice, and the wellbeing of future generations has never been so blatant.
George Orwell’s novel 1984 had record sales in 2017, and it’s easy to understand why. The current administration seems to seek power entirely for its own sake. They don’t show empathy toward others, but are interested solely in the accumulation of power. The Trump administration is different than previous administrations that believed (or just pretended) that they were leading the nation toward a “paradise where human beings would be free and equal.” For Trump, power is not a means to a better America; it’s an end in itself. He can sexually assault women and call an entire continent a shithole without serious personal or political consequence. Orwell crystallizes the authoritarian mindset as: “The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” And what is more intoxicating to an oligarch seeking power for power’s sake than openly asserting his right to domination on the backs of the poor and ignorant without repercussions?
If ever we needed a superhero to swoop in and save the day, it’s now. But, as our genetic mutations have not reached the superhero level yet, we regular, everyday human beings must stay outraged. We can’t let the frequency of injustices desensitize us to the political inappropriateness coming from the White House. I know you’re tired. So am I. The temptation to turn off news alerts and watch sitcom reruns can be overwhelming. We all want a dose of intellectual Novocaine. To quote Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Our current administration is transparently racist, sexist, and in every way misanthropic. If ever there was a time for humanists to stand up and work together to protect civil rights and fight for positive change in this country, it is now.