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March 11, 2019
A Better America for who now?
"Donald Trump’s latest budget request, which demands billions of dollars for a border wall at the expense of social safety nets and environmental protections, was dismissed on Monday as 'dead on arrival' and 'breathtaking in its degree of cruelty'" - the Guardian reports. "The president unveiled a 2020 plan that includes $8.6bn for a wall on the border with Mexico, signalling his intent to reignite a political fight that has already led to a record 35-day partial government shutdown."
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:21

“'A budget is a moral document.' That was my opening statement at a news conference and prayer vigil of church leaders yesterday across from the steps of the U.S. Capitol....We were there to commit ourselves to form a “circle of protection” (also the name of our broad coalition) around the poor and vulnerable who are at great risk in President Donald Trump's proposed budget....This was originally a statement of principle from the religious community — said to politicians a decade ago....

"Any budget is a moral statement of priorities, whether it's a budget created by an individual, a family, a school, a city, or a nation. It tells us, mathematically, what areas, issues, things, or people are most important to the creators of that budget, and which are least important."

That's Jim Wallis, writing for Sojourners at this same time two years back, about a different Trump budget that, in his words, "devalues life." It's a pity that the Trump Admistration has grown neither a conscience nor an artistry of the possible in the intervening 24 months.

But of course we understand why that is: scruples and practicality are both irrelevant when all you want is to fire up resentment and American triumphalism among those who already support you. The Guardian article hints as much: " Budgets released by the White House have little chance of passing intact and tend to be statements of intent, starting points for negotiation with Congress." They're a platform, in other words, for describing the country you'd like to have - and then being able to blame Congress when that country doesn't come into being.

Thank God if that country doesn't come into being. Among other highlights, it'd be wasting almost 9 billion dollars on a destructive border wall, expanding ICE instead of decommissioning it, slashing the extant health care on which millions depend, and trashing one-third of funding for environmental protection. It's a recipe for just the kind of dystopia that a small but passionate segment of our society want to live in, for reasons that, I admit, I still have trouble fathoming. In the short term, just the negotiations might trigger another disastrous shutdown.

Luckily for all of us, Congress includes both consciences and wizards of realpolitik. In the first camp, there's Bernie Sanders, who immediately named the budget proposal "breathtaking in its cruelty." I doubt he reads Sojourners, but - for better and worse - Sen. Sanders' big picture nearly always encompasses the moral impact of legislation. And then there's New York's Chuck Schumer, who likes to reassure his constituents (including me) that some heinous bill, like Trump's budget, will be dead on arrival in the Senate. I chuckle at descriptions of Sen. Schumer's smoke-filled-room negotiations. But, in politics, the right act for selfish reasons is still the right act. Whether America exposes its priorities through morality or manipulation, let us pray that compassion and intelligence - not callousness and dog whistles - dictate the terms.

Speaking of Sojourners, let their latest call for fasting, prayer, repentance - and action - gently expose and revise your priorities this Lenten season.
Most High God, our true treasure, guide our elected leaders at this time of ever-greater division. Let them hold the poor, the disabled, the immigrant, and the underserved in their hearts - or at least in their pocketbooks. And guide us to the right exercise of democracy and the right use of our own resources to further the coming of your kingdom in this and every land. In your holy name we pray - Amen.
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