Why Do We Hate Poor People?
In the same Washington Post interview where he very candidly conceded that there was literally nothing Donald Trump could do to endanger his support among evangelicals, including, it stands to reason, standing before the United Nations and declaring himself the Anti-Christ, second-second-generation garbage monster/evangelist Jerry Fallwell Jr. spoke of Jesus’ little-known preference for super-rich sinners when he argued, “There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country. Think about it. Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.”
I am perpetually astonished by our culture’s seething hatred of poor people. But it’s one thing to see those kinds of sentiments expressed by Facebook commenters convinced that paying the people who prepare our food and look after our children and clean our offices enough money to pay their bills and afford healthcare would single-handedly destroy capitalism and send us hurtling into a nightmare Marxist dystopia of endless bread lines and widespread despair. It’s another to hear it coming from an ostensible man of God. If I remember correctly, that Jesus dude didn’t have a whole lot of money and did not seem to have a terribly high opinion of people who did.
Falwell Jr’s odious sentiments really underline just how much hostility, if not outright hatred our culture has for the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Falwell is drawing a preposterous dichotomy between the inherent good of “free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth” and the evil of being poor, a state that, by Falwell Jr’s definition at least, completely negates one’s ability to contribute anything meaningful to society.
We live in a country that relentlessly demonizes people who receive public assistance, who get food stamps or welfare or free lunch to keep their families from starving. “Why aren’t these parasites working like the rest us?” Conservatives ask indignantly but if someone does get a job working at a fast food place and they want to make a decent enough wage to pay their bills, feed their family and possibly even afford crucial medical care, they’re derided as greedy and delusional and intent on destroying free enterprise and capitalism as a whole as a result of their greed and entitlement.
Socialism is derided as a lazy, non-functioning, amoral system of “free stuff.” Poor people looking for a hand up are mocked for wanting things they did not work for and earn but I’ve noticed this apoplectic, fiercely political rage towards people who do not work for a living, who get things handed to them rather than earning them through their furious labor does not extend to the idle rich.
I never hear Conservatives talking about how inheriting vast fortunes that allow playboys and socialites to spend their days jet-setting around the world doing club drugs and hunting endangered species makes rich people lazy and amoral. On a similar note, I don’t see Conservatives getting angry when corporations like Amazon are given huge handouts or Trump gets out of paying taxes for a decade by taking aggressive advantage of loopholes.
The problem, clearly, is not hand outs or free stuff. Conservatives seem to think that corporations and children of privilege and celebrities getting unlimited free stuff for already having so much money and power is anything but soul-corrupting but free lunch or medicare for all? That shit will send us as a nation marching straight to hell.
As Falwell Jr’s statement betrays, there’s an unmistakable moral element to it as well. Poverty is irrevocably linked to laziness, to sloth, to greed, to not being willing to work for a living while in Falwell’s mind, and the minds of countless others, “free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth” are inherently good even if, I would argue, people generally become billionaires and titans of industry not because they are good, moral people deeply concerned with helping others, but rather because, like Donald Trump, they’re sleazy, amoral sociopaths who fuck over their employees and recognize no morality beyond or above the bottom line.
By demonizing the poor, Trump and Falwell Jr. have given a resentful white working and middle-class someone to blame all of their problems on. They’ve convinced the working poor that they are struggling not because capitalism is an inherently cruel system but rather because there are non-white bogeyman all over the country angrily demanding free stuff, and that the cost of that free stuff is what keeps society from being more equitable, not the greed of the one percent.
This appeal has always been race-based in nature. Trump doubled down on the racism endemic in this gambit by scapegoating not just non-whites, like the “thugs” of Black Lives Matter, but also Muslim and Mexican immigrants.
Trump and his cohorts have convinced the poor that their redemption and future lies in further tilting things in favor of the people who already have so, so much and against those who have very little.
Then of course there is the argument that if people who perform widely mocked jobs at McDonald’s received a fifteen dollar minimum wage that would allow them the unimaginable luxury of, um, being able to live with some dignity, then that would be spitting in the faces of people whose jobs are more valued by Conservatives, like cops or nurses.
Trump needs losers in order for him and his followers to feel like winners. They’ve found them in the most vulnerable, least powerful people in our culture, immigrants and minimum wage workers and sex workers and struggling minorities and the trans community.
Oh sure, Trump and his gang are convinced that if we paid a livable minimum wage companies would be so overwhelmed that they’d go out of business. The argument seems to be that if an increased minimum wage puts too much pressure on businesses than it shouldn’t even be considered. No one seems to be asking what to me is the more important, relevant question, which is whether a system that cannot, or does not provide a living wage or any real financial security for a huge percentage of its citizens should be radically reconsidered, or even abandoned.
You know, there are systems other than capitalism. It may just be time to give one of them a try because maybe it’s just me, but this whole capitalism thing doesn’t seem to be working out great for everyone.
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