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The “Undeserving Poor” vs. the “Undeserving Corporations”

December 24, 2016

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included a link to a Washington Post op ed piece by Charlotte Rampell titled “Why the White Working Class Votes Against Itself”. In the article, Ms. Rampell suggests that many Trump voters supported him because they “..believed any Big Government expansions would disproportionately go to the “wrong” kinds of people — that is, people unlike themselves.” But I felt the most compelling rationale for the Trump support is found in this paragraph:

Rhetoric this election cycle caricaturing our government as “rigged,” and anyone who pays into it as a chump, has only reinforced these misperceptions about who benefits from government programs and how much.

Diane Ravtich emphasized a different element of Ms. Rampell’s column. She wrote

Trump played the demagogue role perfectly, stirring  resentment of the Others, the equivalent of Welfare Queens, living an easy life because of government benefits.

The narrative of the “undeserving poor” and “welfare queens” who live “an easy life because of government benefits” gained traction in the Reagan era and has not been countered effectively since. But the narrative conveniently overlooks a large group of “deserving poor”: children. As educators we should repeatedly emphasize the point that children born into poverty didn’t make ANY “bad choices” and don’t “deserve” the consequences of the presumably “bad choices” their parents made.

And here’s the conundrum: public education and public agencies could make a difference in the lives of children born into poverty if they were given the resources… but giving more money to “the government” is seen as “wasteful spending” and, as Ms. Rampell notes, “…anyone who pays into it is a chump”.  So the public tends to sympathize with corporations who pay no taxes to “the government” and view the President-elect’s unwillingness to pay taxes as evidence that he is a “good businessman.” And voters fail to see the connection between corporate tax avoidance and their own tax bill. When corporations offshore their profits to avoid paying taxes to the government and seek tax benefits from all levels of government in exchange for low-paying jobs, is it any surprise that local and state taxes increase for the average citizen?

One would hope that those born into wealth would be full of gratitude for their good fortune. But many (if not most) of the billionaires who inherited their wealth (e.g. the Kochs, the Waltons, the and– yes– the Trumps and DeVos) fuel narratives about how the “undeserving poor” need to work harder and how “the market” can solve virtually every problem, especially if the market is free of regulation and turned over to private enterprise. And when those same corporations suppress wages, send jobs overseas, and spend billions on automation to maximize the profits of their shareholders, is it any surprise that there are fewer jobs and lower wages in our country?

The only way to break this vicious circle is to make voters aware of the way the economic system is rigged against them and for the billionaires. Until that message penetrates we will continue to have billionaires scolding the rest of us for the bad choices we made and lecturing us about the way the invisible hand guides the economy in a fair and just fashion.

Somewhere Ronald Reagan is smiling benignly and assuring us that it is morning in America…. And from the same place, FDR is  thinking America should be in mourning.

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