I wrote about the government shutdown for Al Jazeera English:
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty. Over the next half century, the war on poverty turned into a war on the poor. This war was once disguised as “compassionate conservatism” and debated with words like “responsibility” and “opportunity”.
Compassionate conservatism assumed that we could take care of ourselves so we did not need to take care of each other. It was an attractive concept, simultaneously exalting the successes of America while relieving the individual of responsibility for those whom it failed. Many good people believed in it.
Today the attack on the poor is no longer cloaked in ideology – it is ideology itself. This ideology is not shared by most Americans, but by those seeking to transform the Republican Party into, as former GOP operative Mike Lofgren describes it, “an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.”
These are the people who have decided that poor children should be denied food as a result of elected officials wanting poor people to have healthcare.
The government shutdown only formalises the dysfunction that has been hurting ordinary Americans for decades. It is not a political shutdown but a social breakdown. Fixing it requires a reassessment of value – and values.
When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.