I’ve been reading a great deal lately.
Mostly because I like to, but also as an alternative to the idiocy-inducing options from the deviant minds of television producers who seem to think that a line-up such as currently “trending” is what a pandemic-ridden, panicked public in the middle of political upheaval on the edge of a dystopian nightmare needs right now.
It is not. [That’s another post topic].
My first book related to this topic was by Ben Howe “The Immoral Majority” about how supposed Christians could justify voting for Trump. It broke my heart as a Christian, especially knowing it was these well-meaning [being charitable] people who put him in office and we have all reaped the “rotten fruits” of his labors.
Then, I realized THAT I’d Been Researching the Wrong Topic.
My additional reading list took me back to Spring 2017, just after Trump was inaugurated, the new president was whining about having to live in the shabby White House—and his wife and son were still in New York. The introduction in the thin tome, begins by pointing out the double-duty and double-dollars for Secret Service needed to provide for multiple presidential residences as a way of entering into a conversation about public goods and the importance of same.
The Boston Review Forum #3, 2017: a collection of erudite essays, issued a few times a year on currently relevant topics.
Today’s Topic: Civics and Citizenship
First, we’re going to back-track a bit, just-in-case some of these concepts are new to you or you haven’t given them much thought recently—like since 7th grad civics class. Alas, a subject, obviously, no longer taught in schools–abandoned along with the Pledge of Allegiance..
In contrast to the current “Me, Me, Me, My rights, My Desires, My Right to Individual, Instant Gratification no Matter who gets hurt” American trend in self-indulgence, there used to be two concepts as fervently taught and practiced as any religion:
#1 American Civics
While civics includes the Rights [capital “R”] of the citizen of a given city, state, or country, it also includes the long-forgotten term: Responsibilities of citizenship. Also capital “R.”
Membership in a community comes with both rights and responsibilities—the first of which is that my/your/our Rights can never negate [trample] the Rights of another. That’s what the term inalienable rights means [from the Constitution].
In 1922 an editorial cartoonist coined the term/image of John Q. Public
John Q. Public is the Everyman, the man on the street, the average citizen [aka voter/taxpayer]: at that time, in 1922, before either world war, John Q. was the hard-working family man toiling for the good of his family and the common good of his city, state and nation.
John Q. Public was the epitome of citizenship. And one of the things that happened when you got all the John Q. Public’s together and pooled their intellectual, inventive, and financial resources is that you created a sound local community, a state of prosperity and a secure nation.
And it worked increasing well for decades as America prospered and grew and grew and as our resources grew and we eventually became the envy of the world—and a model for greatness. There was an expanding middle class and every citizen had cause to hope and work for their version of the American Dream.
There was something CIVIC-minded in the citizenry, the daily spoken pledge of Allegiance bore out that concept and we used to teach it to our young… while the “pledge” is not to an idol aka THE flag itself, it is allegiance to an idea, a goal for which the flag symbolically stands. It is allegiance as a countryman to the country, to the Constitution. It’s these common ideals of working toward the common good to which we, as citizens owe allegiance—loyalty. That’s not asking too much. That’s the Responsibility portion.
Perhaps you’ve seen this. https://youtu.be/hJNL_rhGDq4
Please, enjoy it again.
Think: not-to-be-violated, Rights. As in, it should have been just as inalienable for me to have my children learn the pledge of allegiance [and loyalty to community] at school rather than none of us could because ONE PERSON wanted it stopped. Not just being able to opt out for themselves–to sit down quietly while those who want to make the pledge could [THAT is what NOT squashing another’s rights looks like] but we have become the nation of one dissenter makes the rules for all. That is not equality.
THAT is NOT protecting everyone’s rights–that’s domination of the most litigious. And then it followed in the same vein with Atheists and school prayer. Not that the prayers would thereafter be made silently, [still keeping religious freedom] and the atheist could think whatever he wanted during that time–but that any form of prayer/faith was to be banned. Again, not protecting everyone’s rights.
There was also regularly spoken [and taught in schools] obligation to promote the “common good” [even including some measure of self-sacrifice, if necessary] and the products of such promotions were called: Public Goods
Before we move on to Public Goods, let’s discuss specific CHRISTIAN CIVICS
1a: Christian Civics 101…
Christianity has always been about putting the welfare of the “other” before self.
In the very beginning, the issue of covetousness comes up in Gen 4:9 when the jealous Cain has just slain his brother Abel for whom God comes looking.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks sarcastically, and then he lies to God about where Abel’s body is.
For coveting the love God gave Abel—for wanting more than his fair share, for failing to care for his brother, for murdering in the name of greed, and for bearing false witness—Cain is cast out for eternity.
Over and Over again, Scripture and tradition tell us how we are to live out our duties as citizens no matter the ruler.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” [pay your taxes!]
Abp Charles Chaput on Rendering to Caesar: [his book by the same title]
“When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to “render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God.
Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God.
I’ll repeat the most important part:
The State is Subordinate and ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God.
AND THEREFORE, WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR PUTTING THEM IN OFFICE
Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God — and then put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.”
Not really seeing so much…“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 19:19
The Judgement of Nations Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Or did we let people be put in cages, left thousands going hungry/homeless in our wealthy nation, or dying from a pandemic, or stealing from the infirm and elderly to give to the rich– We cannot say, well, I didn’t do that personally… IF YOU VOTED FOR THE PEOPLE WHO DO THOSE THINGS…YOU ARE COMPLICIT. PERIOD.
37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
By doing what is right and godly by your neighbor, you gain eternal life.
By NOT doing right by your neighbor, you have everything to lose.
You simply cannot OUT-GIVE God’s generosity.
For God always takes what your give and multiplies your blessings.
You Simply Cannot Out-Give God
Let us look at our Citizenship, then, with the heart of God’s generosity.
And now, back to our story of Public Goods and what that looks like through Christian [Christ’s] eyes.
#2 Public Goods
The Boston Review starts out by taking a look at what Trump’s presidency, in particular, was already doing to America by way of rearranging and in some cases scuttling Public Goods in the few months since his inauguration.
Inasmuch as the White House is a public good…a home provided for our leader with the tax dollars of the nation’s citizens…Trump’s refusal to stay where all other presidents have stayed at the cost of MILLIONS of extra tax payer dollars for secret service security in New York for his family AND at the White House AND at MARLAGO which is not designed for safety to begin with, after rejecting the equally “shabby” Camp David was a blatant squandering of public goods.
The warning signs of the upcoming reduction in PUBLIC GOODS were evident from the get-go, and have been borne out over the past three years.
Going back to our civics lesson–the idea of public goods—it is our civic responsibility to contribute to the common good. That means everyone pays taxes into the common pot.
EACH OF US… FOR THE “OTHER.”
Philippians gives you another Christian Civics lesson and clearly expresses the attitude we are to have toward others:
Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
We are, by God’s mandate, for the sake of our own soul, to care for the vulnerable, to think of the needs of the other rather than only ourselves and in that vein of common good we, as a community, provide and share Public Goods.
What are Public Goods?
Easily identifiable as a PUBLIC GOOD are public ROADS so people can get goods to market, that became major highways so that interstate commerce can cross the nation bringing prosperity, opportunity and MAIL [USPS] to even the most remote region.
The USPS was considered SO important it is a self-sufficient agency and mandated so just what Trump’s trying to do cannot happen—well, not legally.
As we became industrialized, Public Goods grew to include ELECTRICITY everywhere, and WATER pumped TO our homes and SEWAGE pumped away from our homes.
It came to include NATURAL GAS for heating/cooking and TELEPHONE lines to improve communications and improve commerce.
It became the PUBLIC SCHOOL system because we knew that an educated citizenry benefits every community. The PUBLIC LIBRARY.
Those PUBLIC GOODS used to be all publicly held. BY THE PUBLIC, in other words: by the elected government who are “we the people.” Goods provided by our taxes for our use.
We, the American collective of John Q. Publics, controlled public goods so that these goods could be made universally and unilaterally available to each and every citizen. [Underling added. We’ll discuss lack of access a bit later]
For those PUBLIC GOODS…We pay Taxes.
Originally, EVERY John Q. Public paid his SHARE proportional to his wealth.
Even the Bible had a sliding % scale. 10% of first fruits.
All the way up to President Eisenhower, the rich always paid more.
President Dwight David Eisenhower, IMHO perhaps the last real Republican, had a 90 percent tax rate for the superrich during his administration. [1953-1961 my admittedly, white privileged childhood—from birth to eight.]
What such taxation did for the PUBLIC GOODS was create and sustain a real middle class.
“Success leaves Clues.”
I remember many of my friends had stay-at-home Moms…the Dads had ONE job with maybe a bit of overtime, and they owned a house, a TV, a car and a SUMMER COTTAGE on the lake and we had change for the ice cream truck. The houses weren’t fancy but they were equipped with lights and heat and telephones and public water and sewer. The neighborhoods were nice. There were public parks. We went to public schools that were clean and well cared for and we had enough textbooks.
The Boston Review defined “public goods” as those”
“Essential to enabling human success and well-being. The Review called it a democratic conception of public goods. It is a democratic conception the substantive and aspirational sense of democracy: These are goods that we owe to one another in a shared democratic society.” [Underlining added]”
Let me repeat that.
PUBLIC GOODS ARE WHAT WE OWE TO ONE ANOTHER IN A SHARED DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY. [underlining added]
We even provided for our elderly John and Jane Q’s after they paid into the Government Social Security program… Social Security is a not entirely a PUBLIC GOOD—but supposed to be a cooperative between the public [workers] and the government who holds the money and then gives it back later. We even expanded it to include a Social Security net for those who are too ill/disabled to work.
PAID INTO during their entire working lives. Workers provided for the citizens who retired before them, as the young pay for today’s worker when he/she’s too old to work. This social safety net…is for the common good.
EACH CITIZEN PAYS IN—in essence LOANING the government their money to invest the fund so that when they are too old/ill to work, the GOVERNMENT will REPAY THEM in MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS in their declining years.
Social Security is BOUGHT AND PAID FOR by the SWEAT AND LABOR OF THE WORKING PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY…it is not some “handout” some “PERK.”
Just this week [Aug 2020] Trump threatened to do an end-run around gutting social security by directly withdrawing funds—which he can’t… by saying [If he is reelected] he will stop taking FICA from workers which means the FICA Withholdings will stop and there will be no money going into Social Security.
NO PRESDIENT CAN DO THAT, he/she cannot stop Tax Withholding. Which is why, for now, Trump “deferred it”…to look good now, pay back later while his posse tries to figure out how to abolish this law if he should be re-elected.
In fact, the 1935 law expressly forbid this idea, in Section 803 of Title VIII.
Just so you know.
The Boston Review goes on to say:
“In turn, this suggests that ensuring equal access to these goods is a matter of public concern and public obligation.” [Underlining added].
The Problem of “Access”
I made a point of italicizing my memories of childhood as white privilege. Because 1950’s Blacks did not enjoy the same era of prosperity or ease into the middle class as whites. There were no blacks in my middle class neighborhood, blacks did not have access to equal housing, jobs, or many other “public goods” and even though there had been desegregation in schools, many municipalities paid out PUBLIC MONEY based on the income/property value of the neighborhood. So a “public school” in an affluent white neighborhood was a far cry from the “public school” in a black neighborhood.
Speaking of Housing and neighborhoods… PUBLIC HOUSING designed to be “fair/affordable housing for the poorer communities” was just another excuse to seclude, warehouse and segregate blacks/minorities from white communities. The ghetto, the slum, the “projects” were just that, projects in misdirection while perpetuating segregation and unequal access to PUBLIC GOODS.
Let us revisit the democratic conception of public goods…
“Essential to enabling human success and well-being. The Review called it a democratic conception of public goods..
It is a democratic conception the substantive and aspirational sense of democracy.
Public Goods are goods that we owe to one another in a shared democratic society.”
What we Owe to one Another.
Given the advances in technology and innovation, and longer lives and in the face of countries as large, or larger than ours, who provide better, more comprehensive public goods for their citizens—with far less GDP—America must do better.
We need, as a nation, to recommit ourselves to finding a way to ADD:
UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE, CHILD CARE, and INTERNET ACCESS to the list of PUBLIC GOODS…
And while we’re at it,
The Danger of Privatization of Public Goods
Remember when Ma-Bell was the only phone company? Everyone had a phone and whoever didn’t could use the pay phone on the corner. But along came the breakup of the “monopoly”—and supposedly prices would decrease as efficiency increased. Look at your phone bill and everything you have to pay for now–phones cost hundreds of dollars. There is no competition for lower rates, it’s corporate collusion driving up rates.
Flint, MI water which WAS a PUBLIC GOOD went private and the poor communities of FLINT, mostly of color, were POISONED via neglect because there was no PUBLIC GOOD and no PUBLIC OVERSIGHT and the “private owner” took the money, left the state and never looked back.
We’ve seen it again and again and now many POLITICIANS want to scuttle PUBLIC GOODS for privatization of the MAIL, of SOCIAL SECURITY…the way they did for HEALTHCARE…
It costs thousands of dollars in America to have a baby…but only a couple hundred to have an abortion. In Scandinavian countries it costs $70 to have a baby-abortions are almost free but the have the lowest abortion rates in the world per capita.
Success leaves clues.
RX medications like insulin skyrocketed because of PRIVATE PHARMA, the Medical Insurance industry is rolling in cash while people die, every day from rationing.
And the people at the top of Amazon, and other mega corporations, Insurances and Pharma companies PAY ALMOST or NO TAXES and raise prices to DENY ACCESS to all but the most wealthy.
I’m alternately saddened/enraged over this “trend” and I’m tired of daily watching the next theft/dismantling of PUBLIC GOODS by a government that is holding us hostage rather than serving us.
This is not a Republican/Democrat thing…
It’s a Save Your Soul Thing!
When you think about any election of and “Caesars,” local, state or federal… ask:
Is this person someone who will take care of the vulnerable “least” others or are they just in it for the power/fame/money? It’s easy to tell. Not by their words…
By their deeds you shall know them” Mat 7:6
Does the platform of these candidates support…by introducing bills for AND fighting against cutbacks of Public Goods?
Do they take action to feed the hungry- or do they want to poorest of people to have less food [stamps?]? Do they want to take away from the poor [Cut Medicaid/Medicare] to give to the rich?
Clothing the naked, housing the homeless, medical care for the sick? Universal healthcare of all of God’s children is a right–not a privilege.
Protecting the planet [over which God gave us stewardship in Gen 1:28]—do they want to reduce pollution of air, water, soil or deregulate corporations to do what they want?
Do they promote equal access to ALL public goods or do they want to withhold it from foreigners, refugees, minorities, and the list of everyone BUT white folks goes on and on.
DO NOT COMPARE CANDIDATES TO EACH OTHER COMPARE THEM AGAINST WHAT GOD REQUIRES OF YOU! Who will help your goal of heaven?
THE CHOICE MAY NOT BE EASY,
CERTAINLY, NEVER PERFECT, BUT EASIER.
IT HAS TO ALWAYS BE THE OPTION FOR THE POOR,
As a Catholic, as a Christian…
Pray for the courage to vote for people who will care for the “others” in our society. Forget party, forget pride. Yes, it will cost YOU more. Sacrifice purifies the soul.
VOTE, NOT for MAN, but FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR ETERNAL SOUL
Have a safe and blessed week ahead.
Your sister in Christ,