UPDATE:

How bad will flu season be this year? 5 things you need to know

Opinion: Trump’s war on the poor


America hasn’t always, or even usually, been governed by the best and the brightest; over the years, presidents have employed plenty of knaves and fools. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like the collection of petty grifters and miscreants surrounding Donald Trump. Price, Pruitt, Zinke, Carson and now Ronny Jackson: At this point, our default assumption should be that there’s something seriously wrong with anyone this president wants on his team.

Still, we need to keep our eye on the ball. The perks many Trump officials demand — the gratuitous first-class travel, the double supersecret soundproof phone booths, and so on — are outrageous, and they tell you a lot about the kind of people they are. But what really matters are their policy decisions. Ben Carson’s insistence on spending taxpayer funds on a $31,000 dining set is ridiculous.

And this viciousness is part of a broader pattern. Last year, Trump and his allies in Congress devoted most of their efforts to coddling the rich; this was obviously true of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but even the assault on Obamacare was largely about securing hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the wealthy. This year, however, the GOP’s main priority seems to be making war on the poor.

That war is being fought on multiple fronts. The move to slash housing subsidies follows moves to sharply increase work requirements for those seeking food stamps.

Even the administration’s de facto financial deregulation — its systematic gutting of consumer financial protection — should be seen largely as an attack on the least well off, since poor families and less educated workers are the most likely victims of exploitative bankers.

The interesting question is not whether Trump and friends are trying to make the lives of the poor nastier, more brutal and shorter. They are. The question, instead, is why.

Is it about saving money? Conservatives do complain about the cost of safety net programs, but it’s hard to take those complaints seriously coming from people who just voted to explode the budget deficit with huge tax cuts. Moreover, there’s good evidence that some of the programs under attack actually do what tax cuts don’t: eventually pay back a significant part of their upfront costs by promoting better economic performance.

For example, the creation of the food stamp program didn’t just make the lives of recipients a bit easier. It also had major positive impacts on the long-term health of children from poor families, which made them more productive as adults — more likely to pay taxes, less likely to need further public assistance.

It’s true that some calculations indicate that means-tested programs — programs available only to those with sufficiently low incomes — can create disincentives for working and earning. But the evidence suggests that while safety net programs have some adverse effect on incentives, it’s a much smaller effect than many policymakers believe.

Trump and his friends aren’t punishing the poor reluctantly, out of the belief that they must be cruel to be kind. They just want to be cruel.

Seriously, a lot of people both in this administration and in Congress simply feel no empathy for the poor. Some of that lack of empathy surely reflects racial animus. But while the war on the poor will disproportionately hurt minority groups, it will also hurt a lot of low-income whites — in fact, it will surely end up hurting a lot of people who voted for Trump.

Writes for The New York Times.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Victims of sexual assault stand tall in a Kansas courtroom

From where they sat in the courtroom, the predator’s victims — two past girlfriends, one perfect stranger and a woman who once lived in the same apartment complex — couldn’t see the handcuffs clamping Brady Newman-Caddell’s wrists. He kept his hands in his lap during the sentencing hearing this week in Olathe, Kan. Except...
Opinion: The Trump tax scam, Phase II

When the Trump tax cut was on the verge of being enacted, I called it “the biggest tax scam in history,” and made a prediction: Deficits would soar, and when they did, Republicans would once again pretend to care about debt and demand cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Sure enough, the deficit is soaring. And this week Mitch...
Opinion: Warren highlights the danger of racial identity

She was mocked as “Fauxcahontas” long before President Donald Trump began referring to her as “Pocahontas,” and frankly, Sen. Elizabeth Warren invited the ridicule. She is a poster child for the pitfalls of basing identity on race, and reminds us of the many furies such self-definition can unleash. What people choose to call...
Opinion: Young people, the GOP is scared of you

A word for young people, people of color and, in particular, young people of color: The Republicans are scared of you. Maybe you find that hard to believe. Maybe you wonder how the party can be scared of you — or of anybody — given that it controls all three branches of the federal government and most of the nation’s state houses...
Opinion: Democrats’ smear of Kavanaugh sunk their own Senate chances

WASHINGTON — Just a few weeks ago, analysts thought that control of the U.S. Senate was in play this November and that momentum was shifting to the Democrats. Thanks to their brutal campaign of character assassination against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, those chances appear to be slipping away. Case in point is Tennessee, where Republican Rep...
More Stories