The chasm grows wider. Being a believing American while staying a believing Christian gets harder. Most say that the whole purpose of the economy and of the government itself is to advance each individual, even if those with more get more. All else is an obstacle. To suggest otherwise is to declare oneself an outlander, someone from another planet. Yet two years ago Pope Francis echoed what previous popes going back to the 19th century said about why nations have economies, and in fact why people have nations: to make human life better even for poor people, since all are images of God deserving recognition as such, however little material goods they might own. Yet our reigning national thought is that we are what we own, and we exist to propel the economy as a patriotic duty.
The purpose of government according to Catholic social doctrine is to make life better for all people, not make life richer for the rich. To many Americans, most of whom are not rich, this is heresy. To many wealthy Americans, it is beyond heresy. It is communism. Lawmakers elected by voters influenced by well heeled lobbyists are supposed to make laws benefitting the payers. Since there is no free lunch, if you paid for it, you are entitled to it. It’s a service transaction, like buying a burger.
An economic policy called trickle-down economics, which Pope Francis condemned by name, claims that three steps will bring prosperity and happiness ever after. They are 1) slashing the taxes of the rich, 2) gashing the safety-net programs for the poor, and 3) cashing upwards the defense budget. This latter is designed to provide jobs for the arms industry even though the Department of Labor has long ago shown that money spent there provides far fewer jobs proportionate to what socially useful jobs, like nurses and teachers and infrastructure workers, would provide. Taxpayers indignantly deny this, preferring to believe that the weapons subcontractors in all 435 congressional districts will put out the hiring sign. However, the makers of the cybernetic weapons being bought by the Pentagon hire fewer and fewer highly skilled, highly paid workers.
But then, polls show most Americans believe that U.S. foreign aid makes up between a quarter and a third of our annual government budget. In fact, less than half a percent does. And our foreign aid, as most of our countrymen do not know, consists largely of coupons to foreign governments like Israel and Saudi Arabia, useful only to buy American-made weapons. It is neither cash nor excess crops. Giving away bumper crops was long ago found to cripple the agriculture industry of receiving nations. But then, most of us resolutely ignore that for the last 60 years two-thirds of that national budget has gone for arms every year since we are the arms supplier to the world. It’s one thing we make a lot of, and make very well, but at a cost. The Multi-Strike Force F-35 jet is setting records for cost overruns. And yet some recently rejoiced that President Trump sold $110 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, a ruthless violator of civil rights whose state schools teach violent jihad.
Speaking of commonly held American group-think gaffes, there is the one saying if we vote for politicians who favor the rich, we will become rich. This has not happened in a century, yet true believers still await the arrival of the gravy train. They are cleverly distracted by those fomenting hatred of undocumented immigrants. These are the ones accused of taking the jobs of native-born Americans and who, when unemployed, gobble from the trough of public welfare. But native-born job applicants have an overwhelming advantage at any hiring site because they can speak English. Many of the undocumented cannot. Something else that fails to dawn on those so cold to refugees fleeing poverty, violence and death is that crop growers have to spend in order to bring in and house undocumented workers for the hard jobs that locals refuse to seek. When Alabama a few years ago outlawed the hiring of workers without documents, they fell so short of field hands that the growers had to petition legislators to undo the legislative damage they had done. With such massive, deep-rooted malignant thinking, it is easy to see why the vision of Pope Francis is ignored.