In a Christmas message issued by the White House over the recent holidays, President Donald Trump called on Americans to follow the example of Jesus Christ by coming together and fostering “a culture of deeper understanding and respect.”
Was this for real? Or was it a mad midnight tweet, a Christmas covfefe?
Consider that while Trump, who has exploited our basest instincts for political gain, was calling on us to be our highest and best selves, his administration was preparing to implement new regulations that will severely restrict the ability of the nation’s poorest adults to receive food stamps.
The new rules, which go into effect in April, will tighten existing work requirements of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. As a result, some 700,000 adults nationwide may be kicked off the food stamp rolls.
This is no small thing, particularly in Louisiana, which is one of the poorest states in the nation and has benefitted from the waiver the new rules would do away with. As many as 90,000 people in this state alone stand to lose their benefits should the rules survive a court challenge. Of those, some 97% live in poverty, while 88% have a household income at or below 50% of the poverty level—a mere $600 a month.
Just let that statistic sink in for a minute.
While the narrative that these changes will force those who are allegedly “lazy” and “gaming the system” to find work has been propagated by the administration and the media outlets that do its bidding, there’s no reason to think that cutting off someone’s food assistance will make it easier for them to secure gainful, steady employment. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest it makes it more difficult.
Granted, there are problems with SNAP, as with all government programs, and there is plenty of room to improve the system. But the new rules do nothing to address the reasons so many need food assistance in the first place—namely, decades of intergenerational poverty, homelessness, poor education, insufficient job training and discrimination, among others.
Also while the White House was waxing wistful about the need for greater understanding and respect, more than 4,500 asylum-seeking refugees were spending the holiday season behind bars in rural Louisiana prison facilities, where they are being treated as convicted criminals and have little hope of being granted the protective status they seek.
These are not undocumented migrants who snuck into this country illegally, by the way—not that our government treats those desperate souls with compassion either. Rather, they presented themselves at the border, as is their right under our constitutional law, seeking protection from the terrorists, drug gangs and despotic governments that have made life in their homelands so unbearable that they left behind family, friends and all they know and love in search of safety and survival.
We have responded, not like the Jesus Christ who hung out in the Bible with lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, but by locking them up in privately operated prison facilities in remote outposts like Oakdale, Jena, Basile and Pine Prairie, where it’s difficult to monitor their treatment and almost impossible to provide them with adequate legal representation.
Not that they have much hope of being granted the asylum they seek anyway. More than 98% of those in Louisiana prisons whose cases have been heard by immigration judges have been sent back home, which, in many cases, amounts to a death sentence.
But then, this is an administration that has vilified and dehumanized brown-skinned people and those from developing nations, or “shit hole countries,” as Trump has called them when not in such a soft-hearted holiday spirit.
It would be such a blessing for the new year if the president’s wishes for greater understanding and respect were heartfelt and sincere. But there’s no reason to think they are.
This is a president who has mocked the disabled, bullied his enemies, bragged about assaulting women, embraced evil dictators, and insulted deceased war heroes.
Indeed, in the wake of the Christmas message, Trump was tweeting about how much he literally hated the governors of New York and California, while also chiding them for their inability to get a handle on their states’ homeless populations.
In what kind of world is this acceptable?
In what kind of country is it ok to not only stand idly by and allow this kind of discourse and behavior to continue in the public space, but to celebrate it, as so many do?
Certainly not one that looks to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Because whether you believe Jesus was a Messiah, a prophet, a good man or just a really interesting character in a very long book, his message was the same. It calls on people to put the needs of others, especially those you don’t like, ahead of your own in a spirit of compassion, service and love.
Though this is the best way to live, it’s not always the best way to make policy decision or conduct geopolitical affairs. That is the political reality of the human condition. Still, it remains the best way to treat one another in daily life.
Given its track record these past three years, this administration has repeatedly demonstrated how little it cares about respect, understanding and, really, basic human kindness and decency. To suggest otherwise, while invoking the name of Jesus, no less, is beyond hypocritical and, really, too much to let go unchallenged.