How Trump Helps Us Hate Poor People
Perhaps your doctor hasn’t mentioned it, but you have Behavioral Immune Syndrome (BIS). And so does everyone else, and so do most animals on Earth, and BIS can lead to deadly consequences.
Research has linked BIS to xenophobia and fear of obesity, disfigurement and sexuality as well as social conservatism and general intolerance – even when intolerance has no empirical justification and poses no immediate threat.
BIS has noble biological origins and applications, though. In laymen’s terms, it is among the first line of defense in our immune system. Before calling our white blood cells into action, we are hardwired with a fear and repulsion of the “other” and inclined to see it as a pathogen or a threat. When these threats are perceived, it tells us they can be dangerous and should be avoided or disposed of.
Consider those terms above: other, disgust, repulsion, fear, dispose. In reaction to putrid milk or green pork, those feelings can save a lot of health care costs. But in the context of society and politics, and according to myriad peer reviewed studies, this immune response can be misinterpreted and detrimentally employed during ordinary human interaction.
This inner BIS voice, designed to keep us from rubbing Poison Ivy all over our bodies, is the same inner voice perceiving as pathogens the poor people across town who can’t get housing; the brown person in your neighborhood who is from another country and working hard to put his children through college, or the white CEO making more while sleeping than people can fathom. Based on which category you are in, the others might appear as just so many pieces of green pork.
BIS can be manipulated and shaped by society and its leaders, and the Trump Administration is collectively doing its best to be this year’s poster child for BIS-Gone-Wrong Syndrome. Arguably, Trump is a tweeting BIS manipulation machine. Knowingly or not, he might be capitalizing on the fine line between chemistry and sociology. Found a transgendered person in the bathroom? Toxic. News? Fake. Democrats? Scum.
BIS-gone-wrong manifests in current Trump Administration proposals. One worrisome example is that Trump’s proposed budget calls for a sharp cut in HUD programs that help provide shelter for the poor.
Federally funded housing can be distilled to three main categories: public housing, where a local authority acts as the landlord; vouchers, a system that assist with rent in the home or apartment of one’s choice; and subsidies paid directly to a private landlord or corporation so they can rent apartments below current market values without reducing their rent roll. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s proposal calls for a 29% cut in the first category, a 5% cut in the second and only a 0.5% percent cut for the last. The same Washington Post article reveals that HUD has issued $490 million in subsidies alone to the Starrett City apartments in Queens, New York since May of 2013. Trump has a stake in Starrett City. He received $5 million last year from federal subsidies for his share in the complex. He can expect that to drop a mere half of one percent even under his plan to cut about 35% of federal housing subsidies.
Will the real pathogen please stand up?
Not yet. Ajit Pai, a former Verizon executive and Trump’s FCC Chair hopes to take away subsidized broadband and phone access – run under a program called Lifeline – from millions of people who make less than 135% of the poverty rate. Citing poorly enforced application and approval procedures for those seeking Lifeline assistance, Pai is arguably justified in claiming there is a way to scam the system. But there’s no clear proof that the millions of benefactors he wants to take service from are guilty.
Phone and Internet access is one of the few support systems that poor people have in today’s America to survive or get ahead. It’s difficult to understand why the FCC doesn’t just threaten the phone carriers (they’re the ones approving applications) with a subsidy cut if they don’t meet some certain criteria in the approval process rather than eliminating from the program potentially innocent people whose applications were already approved. But the people whose applications have been approved are poor people. They just might be green pork in disguise. Let’s cut off their oxygen. Or, literally, let’s cut off their Lifeline.
It doesn’t stop there. Trump is kicking around ideas that would cut billions from programs designed to treat addicts rather than lock them up. And bringing back the war on drugs has been tossed around. Perhaps the socially toxic drug users will just kill themselves and solve the problem. Trump is also revving up a fight on voter access, which generally suppresses turnout among Democrats – you know, the scum pond that’s always fighting for the disadvantaged.
One intriguing study indicates that Americans do indeed want to support the disadvantaged – they just don’t want to “see” them. They don’t want to catch any germs in BIS terms. And with Trump’s help, this has transmuted from a war on poverty and unemployment into war on those living in poverty. But that’s not what, according to the study cited above, people think will make America great.
Trump’s BIS is out of whack. Even if he truly wants to make America great, he cannot accomplish it when he perceives so many Americans as the toxins that are bringing it down. It’s a complete contradiction. And since we all have BIS – held in varying degrees of check – he might just get away with it.
“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period,” wrote historian Barbara Tuchman in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, “is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.”
If Tuchman’s observation is correct, then Trump is, at least, being consistent with history.
Let’s not let this man, of all people, repeat history.