It's three weeks since Food Stamps for 47 million Americans were cut with the expiration of a boost in funding that was part of the economic stimulus. The stimulus gave banks trillions, the military kept its nose in the trough, and the poorest Americans were spared a few billion for food.
Well, the banks are still laying down bets on derivatives worth more money than the entire calculable wealth of the global economy (no exaggeration); the Pentagon is still developing hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons far beyond the capability of any foreseeable future threat; and Homeland Security and the NSA spend billions on secret facilities and total data sweeps. But food assistance for society's poor is reduced.
And no one's really talking about it. Oh, perhaps a few headlines but the President and his party haven't really gotten worked up over it, perhaps because the poor are not in the middle class, though a lot of them used to be. The expansion of the food stamp program under President Obama was fueled by the stimulus money, but it was politically easy to increase funding by $10 billion a year when the financial and military sectors were being fed trillions. It's much more difficult to stand up for the poor, largely invisible in the media, in the face of the clamoring for funding by special interests and their lobbyists.
The Republicans of course are rabidly supportive of the cuts. If it were up to them, Food Stamps would go the way of the dodo. Thus they are trying to cut Food Stamps even further by adding measures to the Farm Bill currently being hammered out in Congress. Republican voters, according to the polls, support cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
This stands in contrast to Republican icon President Richard Nixon who sent a special message to Congress urging it to pass a food stamp program that would assure nutritionally balanced meals for every family. When you make Richard Nixon look like Mother Theresa, you've gone seriously off track.
It's no secret that the Tea Party and their lackeys make a great show of their Christian faith. They must have looked deep into their fundamentalist hearts and decided that Jesus really meant "starve the poor." Their Jesus would have worked the miracle of the loaves and fishes for the sake of a Ted Cruz fundraiser, thus increasing the take. The evangelicals may love Jesus but clearly they hate government more.
But it's not really government they hate. Government to them is some crazy nightmare image drilled into their minds by propagandistic catch-phrases much as Germany was entranced by the repetitious idiocies of Nazism. It is not an "idea" or "philosophy" of government that drives the most hateful policies promoted by a major party since the defense of slavery. It is a matrix of mental reflexes into which they've poured all their irrational fears and paranoia.
"The sleep of reason produces monsters": that's the title the great Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya bestowed on one of his etchings over 200 years ago. And indeed there is something monstrous about gleefully tightening the screws on our society's elderly, infirm, children, unemployed, and low wage earners. What can possibly justify that?
Hunger is a terrible thing. Throughout human history, the prospect of famine has been one of the great terrors of every society along with plague and war. For a government to allow—no, to encourage—the spread of hunger throughout the wealthiest nation in human history is, well, monstrous, as reason snores away in the nation's capitol.
Imposing such policies or not vigorously opposing them when one has the power is not just a political stance, it's personal. Not just because taking meals away from someone's kids or elderly parents is personal, although that too. But it's personal because to be as morally perverted as the current Republican Party, and as morally callous as so many Democrats, reflects above all an attitude towards other human beings.
The stuff about government, responsibility, budget deficits, etc. is only a derivative of one's fundamental view of human nature and human beings. And in the history of the most extreme cruelties (genocide, for instance), a prerequisite for marginalizing and eventually persecuting a target group is a step-by-step process that aims to dehumanize its members in their society's eyes.
These steps towards dehumanization are enacted through laws, media, and constant repetition of coded catch-words (for example, "welfare queens" for "inner city blacks"). The steps follow a downward path in which the targets are depicted, in ever more inflammatory ways, as 1) dangerous and "other", an insidious enemy intent on invisibly infecting the social body of clean, moral, "regular" people; 2) sub-human, not fully evolved or, in more "acceptable" and coded terms, "lazy", "ignorant", "lustful", etc.; 3) animalistic and sub-human, driven by the most loathsome appetites to attack traditional values; 4) insects or bacteria, actual disease-bearing vermin that must be eradicated; and finally, 5) as insensate objects, as the Jews were depicted by the Nazis, garbage to be swept away and incinerated.
We do need to recognize the general case that the Food Stamp cuts represent. On one hand, the monstrous moral failings of the Republican Party and the Tea Party/Koch brothers lobbyists that have Republican politicians groveling in the dust of their moral pretensions. Across the aisle, the failure of the Democrats, the President included, who allow these cuts to happen with only a resigned shake of the head, if that.
We're no different from any other society because human nature is always susceptible to the fear, greed, moral indifference, and paranoia that drive the mob to isolate and torment the outsider, the weak, the anomaly du jour. Like almost all other modern countries, the U.S. has committed its share of atrocities in the name of some greater good, and predicated on the hidden presumption that the victims are somehow "less than us", i.e., less than fully human.
Poverty envelops at least 15% of our population, most likely an underestimate. And the term "lower class" does not do justice to the poor's social position. More accurate would be the "Sacrificial Class." They are the cannon fodder of empire, the peasants toiling before the flood, the objects of aristocratic and middle class scorn who view them as a seething mass of danger and filth best swept into society's dark corners.
They are always hungry and always the first to suffer and the first to be blamed for their misfortunes. They exist to be sacrificed, our own modern version of an offering to Baal or the heart-rending (literally) mass sacrifices of the Aztecs. Instead of pyramids, we sacrifice our poor to the towers of Wall Street and the aspirations of a get-rich-at-all-costs society.
As long as we're considering the religiosity of the Tea Party and indeed, the ritualistic professions of faith required by almost every candidate for high public office, let us recall the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said "You shall know them by their fruits" rather than the falsities of those "which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
Politicians always wrap themselves in the cloak of the "sheep" (or the shepherd) when justifying the banality of brutality. Whether promising to restore cuts in some vague and distant future; explaining that the stimulus funds simply ran out (do they think the need for the funds automatically disappeared as well?); intoning that government should not create dependency (unlike hunger, which is a character builder, one supposes); pronouncing a pledge that no American shall go to bed hungry (unless they do); or arguing that vital legislation such as the Farm Bill or the budget needs to pass so of course we must compromise (and guess who gets "compromised" again?).
The outcome is eternally and drearily the same: we will fund our drones, pay our tithe to the Federal Reserve, conduct surveillance on every phone call. We shall know the poor by their being deprived of the fruits of the land. And we know our politicians by the mean-spirited, monstrous decisions that bear their "strange and bitter fruit" (Billie Holiday's song, "Strange Fruit"): sharper hunger pangs and all the physical and mental anguish that trail in their wake.
We'll give Jesus the last word, also from the Sermon on the Mount: "What man, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?" No man, perhaps, but Congress and the President will.
Note: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 50 million Americans live in poverty. The number would be higher if supplemental resources available to the poor— the so-called "safety net"—were not figured in. The poverty level also ignores those people just above the line for whom food stamps are the difference between having and not having access to after school programs, a family night out, repairs to the family car, preventive health care, and a host of other "non-critical" expenses that make life more hopeful and bearable.