Home > Uncategorized > Heartwarming Stories About Individuals Helping the Homeless, Churches Paying Medical Debts, and Gritty Students Undercut the Need for Government Aid

Heartwarming Stories About Individuals Helping the Homeless, Churches Paying Medical Debts, and Gritty Students Undercut the Need for Government Aid

December 29, 2019

I read a recent Rolling Stone article by Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren that described how Russian trolls are planting “heartwarming stories” that attract liberals who are later fed stories and memes that are divisive. In analyzing how the Russian trolls work, they offered the story of former pro football player Warrick Dunn and his inspiring charity work building houses for single mothers, which was uplifting and inspirational. What Mr. Linvill and Mr. Warren failed to note, though, was that the story itself insidiously reinforces the notion that tough problems like homelessness among single parents can be addressed by big-hearted individuals. That is, tough social problems do not need any government intervention because there are virtuous individuals who will step in to solve the problem. The story may well entice people to follow the “individual” who posted it, but the content of the story effectively undercuts the role of government in providing housing assistance as do the “heartwarming stories” like the recent one I read about a mega church paying off the medical debts of people in LA.

And there is a subset of “heartwarming stories” that pro-school-choice and pro-privatization advocates promote. Stories that tout “gritty” students who overcome the deficient homes they are raised in. Stories that talk about heroic teachers like Jamie Escalante who can help disadvantaged children score high on AP Calculus tests despite gaps in their schooling they experienced prior to entering his classroom. Stories that champion the success of “start up” charter schools whose students score higher than their cohorts who remain in “failing public schools”. All of these stories reinforce the idea that there is sufficient funding for public schools and social services. If one student with grit can succeed then ALL children could succeed “if they put their minds to it”. If one teacher can teach calculus to disadvantaged urban students then ALL teachers could do so if they replicated the methods used by one. If one shiny new “start-up” charter school was able to succeed because it was freed from regulations and “competed in the marketplace” then ALL public schools should be able to do the same.

And these “heartwarming stories” contribute to divisiveness in communities and district in government as surely as the story about Warrick Dunn does. And the real message that these “heartwarming stories” reinforce is that there are cheap, easy and fast solutions to complicated problems. Unfortunately, even if such cheap, easy, and fast solutions exist, arriving at them requires a democratic process that is often more costly, slower, and more complicated.

The apocryphal story about the demise of democracy in Italy is that the voters got behind Mussolini because he was able to get the government operated trains to run on time. The fact is that Mussolini got the trains that served well-heeled tourists and affluent Italians to run on time knowing that by doing so he would generate positive publicity in the West and the support of the plutocrats in his own country. He also spent millions of dollars upgrading roads for the few Italians who had cars and airports for those who could afford to fly. If 100 people were killed building a train tunnel in the Alps and hundreds of poverty stricken residents were displaced to build roads and airports that was not at all problematic. After all, there would be jobs for them in the military, the police force, and guarding dissidents who were placed in prisons.

Our democracy is in peril because we are willing to ignore the costs or providing a sound government. We have elected a President and political party that favors deregulation and the dismantling of agencies that enforce whatever regulations remain in place. We have elected a President and political party that favors the privatization of public services even if it means diminishing compensation for a whole set of workers and diminishing levels of service for the majority of people. We have elected a President and political party who have lowered taxes for the most affluent based on the false promise that— like Warrick Dunn and the Los Angeles mega-church— they will share their largesse and expertise to ensure that everyone else benefits. I hope that voters will examine that premise carefully when they cast their ballots in 2020.

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