The optimists among us maintain that the arc of history bends toward progress, and at first glance they seem to be right. The last 50 years have seen significant advances for many Americans. Today, black lives matter. Women are woken. Gays are out. Hispanics are rising.
However, the largest group — the one that includes all genders, orientations, ages and ethnicities — is not doing so well. Poor people. But then no one really cares about poor people. In fact no society in all of history has much cared about poor people. They are so easy to get rid of. Starve them (see Mao, see Stalin).
We have compassion for those who are born black, gay or female. Poor? Not so much compassion. You see, it is thought that their poverty is somehow a result of their poor choices. What choices? The choice to be born in a hospital with a high infant mortality rate? The choice to come home to a small, badly maintained under-heated apartment in a violent neighborhood? The choice to attend a low-performing, gang-ridden school?
There are no choices. Just the bleak imperatives of not enough money to play the rigged game of capitalism where the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. So many turn to drugs, booze and opioids. Why not? Who wouldn’t?
They get the short end of every stick. Food deserts. Inferior medical care. Bad schools. Limited employment opportunity — except for selling drugs, which often results in lengthy prison sentences and the disqualifying stigma of being an ex-con.
Poor people do serve one function: They make the rest of us feel better about ourselves. The poor get what they deserve. We made it. They had their chance. At least we aren’t poor.
And yet things are about to get worse. Careful review by the current administration has resulted in the conclusion that poor people have it too good, so cuts in food stamps, public transportation, health care, and education are in order to ever so slightly reduce a gaping deficit, resultant from tax cuts for billionaires and increases in defense spending that’s Darth Vader’s wet dream.
And the poor bastards are stricken from voter rolls, gerrymandered and discouraged from voting. Poor people have no lobbyists or organization. The next meeting of the House or Senate Poor People’s Caucus will be the first. Not much marching for the impoverished. You’re screwed, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The conceit of capitalism has been that a rising tide lifts all boats, but poor people have never even gotten in the boat. The worst part is that no one really cares. No one has ever cared. Will we ever?