Message to Trump: Poor people have the answers to solving poverty
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This week, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAustralia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israeli capital, won't move embassy Mulvaney will stay on as White House budget chief Trump touts ruling against ObamaCare: ‘Mitch and Nancy’ should pass new health-care law MORE told local Iowans that he “doesn’t want a poor person” in charge of the economy.

Despite championing the cause of the American working class on the campaign trail, his administration has focused primarily on securing the positions of the wealthy elite and corporations.

With his cabinet worth a combined $14 billion, Trump has placed the interests of Wall Street at the center of his agenda.

While everyday Americans continue experiencing the downward mobility resulting from the Great Recession in 2008, 95 percent of the economic gains from its recovery went to the top 1 percent.

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While people lost their jobs, their homes and any sense of financial security, twelve of the nation’s largest Fortune 500 companies made $170 billion in profits from the bailout and only paid an effective tax rate of negative 1.5 percent.

 

There is growing consensus that more must be done for the 99 percent and this desperate desire for change is what some have argued elected Trump to the presidency. But his recent comments not only reveal his mistrust of the poor, but also reinforce the age old myths that wealth is only earned and poverty is a character flaw.

The truth is that more and more people are becoming poor because our economic policy stacks the deck against them.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign. It was an effort to bring together poor and dispossessed people from every race, religion and region to confront the injustice of poverty in the richest nation in the world. In calling for the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “a true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.

On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.

It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

When Trump says, “I love all people, rich or poor…. But in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?” the grim reality of our economy and those living under it echos back a resounding “no.”

Does a health care bill that strips health coverage from the poor and pours billions in tax cuts into billionaires’ bank accounts make sense?

Polls show 75 percent of Americans don’t think so.

If this administration is serious about creating the change being demanded by a majority, then it is the insights of the growing dispossessed, the hard working people of this country that must be at the center of our economic practices and policies.

We cannot expect billionaires who are left to talk amongst themselves to understand the needs of everyday people.

We can see that such practices result in tax cuts for the wealthy and endless resources for a war economy while no thought is given to ensuring the health care, education, water and housing needs of the 99 percent.

The problems with Trump’s cabinet are not simply economic; they are moral. This would explain the reemergence of the Poor People’s Campaign Dr. King envisioned.

It’s not just that Trump has billionaires at the trough serving their own interests; it’s that these billionaires feel morally justified in doing so.

This moral crisis is why a first step in building a new Poor People’s Campaign must be to change the perception of wealth and poverty as it exists in this country.

As long as Wall Street elites are seen as the experts and handed the reigns to manage the economy, the interests of the many will remain unmet.

Poor people, not the wealthy, have nothing to gain from this immoral system.

If organized, it is only the leadership of the poor that can ensure a reality where the basic needs of all human beings are met.

Charon Hribar is the director of cultural strategies for the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary.


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