My local Police Department and certain businesses recently put together a “Don’t Feed the Habit” campaign aimed at discouraging people from giving money to the homeless. There is definitely an underpinning of disdain for the homeless within my community, I am ashamed for some of the comments I read on the local paper’s website. No empathy whatsoever. No thought of “There but for the grace of god, go I.” None of that, only criticism, judgment, and heaping suppositions about the person’s life. (Two caveats: I work on the main strip where many of these ‘ne’r-do-wells’ come into my lobby and I have to shoo them off. I myself was homeless for a while, and worked three jobs at the time – I know the gig intimately. Read: I understand the homeless issue from both sides of the coin.) And then there are the Facebook posts: “Why should the girl in front of me that has an iphone and tats be able to pay with food stamps?” “Why should I feed a homeless person and his dog?” “We should drug-test every welfare recipient and generally micro-manage their lives.” Unfortunately, there are million variations of this theme: blaming the poor for being poor.
…What I’ve heard and read just today: from Bloomberg TV, “Banker compensation has now outpaced shareholder profit,” and “16 Giant Corporations That Have Basically Stopped Paying Taxes — While Also Cutting Jobs” or “From 1987 to 2008, corporations paid an average of 22.5 percent in federal taxes. Since the recession, this has dropped to 10 percent — even though their profits have doubled in less than ten years.” There are a million variations of this theme: the rich getting richer at the expense of their fellow Americans.
We are witnessing The Greatest American Failure to date: blaming the poor while allowing the wealthy to escape accountability.
We sneer and blame the down and out for being down and out, assume they are lazy and without ambition, and blame them for taking money out of our pockets so they can at least survive.
Meanwhile, the real moochers, the real psychopaths, the real thieves and villains sit in their palatial surroundings without a word of condemnation from us. They finagle and manipulate in a way that no welfare queen could dream of doing. They break the laws and pay no penalty. They are without government oversight, or if they do have oversight, their overseers tend to ignore any discrepancies. They take money out of our pockets so they can maintain their extravagant lives.
Then…..they manage to convince us that the poor are the parasites of society since they expect entitlements and a free ride without putting forth any effort, they milk the system and drain it dry.
Then….our focus is distracted and we fail to observe that the real expectants of entitlements are the wealthy. They ‘expect’ their government to keep their taxes low; somehow they are entitled to low taxes because of their high income. They ‘expect’ that we will trot along with their schemes like blind, haltered horses; somehow they are the only ones entitled to freedom and vision. They ‘expect’ that their illegal activities will go unnoticed; somehow they are entitled to immunity from the law because they are wealthy. They milk the system and are draining it dry.
But because they are far off and difficult to see, we end up condoning the behavior of the wealthy by default – that is we don’t hold them accountable. The homeless and poor however, because we see them every day, bear the burden of our focus and derision. Tough crowd.
What does it say about a nation whose willingness to blame the poor is greater than the effort to bring justice to bear and hold the wealthy accountable?
One could interpret it as a Great American Failure.