on america and natural selection (kill the poor)

“When it comes time to pay, just a few weeks after getting a loan, most borrowers find they can’t afford to do so, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a result, the vast majority of payday loans — 80% — are rolled over or renewed within two weeks. Most loans go to borrowers who have taken out at least seven loans in a row. Many people pay more in fees than the amount borrowed and get stuck in a cycle of debt.”

I always enjoy talking to someone who staunchly believes that America was founded on Christian principles. I’m not being sarcastic, I actually do enjoy hearing that perspective, especially if the person espousing it can back it up. In practice though, many of the folks who believe the USA was ordained and blessed by a caring creator also now believe that surviving and thriving in America should operate more closely to the theory of natural selection. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work hard and be humble, you know how it goes. I’m sure these are helpful for some who have the resources to live by them, however the reality for many people in this country is that they don’t have the ability to even begin to understand how to build wealth or pay their basic bills.

Income inequality in this country is at an all time high, I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines, but the headlines don’t paint a complete enough picture of what millions of people deal with every day. Every time a jobs report drops the administration props it up as proof that their tax cuts are working and the economy is booming, however I would argue that employment rate isn’t always a great indication of economic health. Wages haven’t kept up with cost of living and many Americans are working more than ever and are still unable to keep up with their bills.

Propublica recently published a piece about semi-rural Utah and the challenge that many low income folks are having there making ends meet, many times resorting to taking out very high interest loans from payday lenders just to put food in the fridge. This isn’t something that only happens in Utah, but Utah was one of the first states in the country to scrap interest rate limits in an attempt to draw in credit card and finance companies’ headquarters to their economy. Instead of attracting large financial companies, they now have more payday lenders than they do McDonalds, which is pretty remarkable for a state with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Again, low unemployment rate and prosperity are not the same thing . In addition to the sheer number of payday and title lenders in the state, they also have some of the highest interest rate loans you will find, sometimes reaching as high as 2600% (!). When someone can’t pay off their unreasonably expensive loan, the lender sends them a court summons to appear before a judge to defend themselves in a situation they don’t understand against a plaintiff that lives and breathes the system every day. If you don’t show up to court, for whatever reason, a warrant is issued for your arrest and just like that you’re locked up and trying to find bail. Some of the people interviewed in the ProPublica piece said they didn’t show up to court because they couldn’t afford to put gas in their car or because they had worked out a repayment plan with the lender and therefore thought they were in the clear.

Another thing that happens with these short term loans to people on fixed incomes is that they get trapped on a treadmill of high interest debt that they can’t afford. “When it comes time to pay, just a few weeks after getting a loan, most borrowers find they can’t afford to do so, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a result, the vast majority of payday loans — 80% — are rolled over or renewed within two weeks. Most loans go to borrowers who have taken out at least seven loans in a row. Many people pay more in fees than the amount borrowed and get stuck in a cycle of debt.” Toxic and predatory, the system is designed to keep people coming back for more.

Just last week our president eliminated SNAP benefits for 700,000 Americans to reinforce the all American idea of natural selection. The notion of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps made sense in the post-war era of the New Deal where our government was working to ensure everyone had a pair of straps to pull, but those same folks that believed that they have worked so hard to find prosperity in the USofA pulled the ladder up behind them and now blame the poor for their own poverty. The very idea that successful people are only successful because they worked for it instead of their hard work finding alliance with good luck and great timing means that anyone who isn’t sitting on a fat bank account and multiple investment properties simply didn’t work hard enough, regardless of circumstance. Some of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet have overdrawn bank accounts and no idea where the next meal for their kids is coming from.

I was in Manhattan recently and on my shared Lyft ride in from Laguardia to Midtown(which was still $93), we ended up driving through Harlem and a few other parts of the city with which I have minimal experience. Aside from the general stress that New York brings me, it was pretty eye opening to see how quickly the neighborhoods changed from one income bracket to another. I couldn’t help but notice the difference in church facades as we went from neighborhood to neighborhood. I give the Christian church a lot of grief but when I see the beat to shit front door of an AME church in the heart of Harlem I can’t help but respect the devotion to that neighborhood being displayed by the mere existence of such a building. I’ve written about this before but my stepdad’s first church was a small white Methodist church in the middle of a neighborhood that had shifted demographics dramatically over it’s several decades of existence. When we got there he couldn’t understand why the church had made minimal effort to reach out to the community in which it existed. Why was there nobody on staff who spoke Haitian Creole? Why was there no food pantry program to serve the immigrant families that were struggling to adjust to a different way of life in South Florida? During our tenure there, the focus of that church shifted from serving the old white folks that went there before the neighborhood changed to serving the community that was struggling around it. I remember finding homeless folks inside the building with regularity, kids trying to find a warm meal, etc… The church had a lot of opportunity to be the community stronghold that the neighborhood needed, but little to no desire to do so. The goal of sending us to that church was to manage things for two or so years until the United Methodist Church as a whole could shut it down and move our family to another church. That place is still open some 20+ years later serving the neighborhood, as it should be. That is the result of people who take their calling seriously and understand the fundamental elements of being good and decent and caring for those around them. I couldn’t help but think about this church as I saw church after church in these neighborhoods and imagined the shit they’ve seen over the years. This isn’t some Joel Osteen mega church glory position, it’s daily battle with the difficulties of life in this country and supporting those that have been left behind by a system designed to keep the poor poor and the rich rich.

To that point, my governor recently said in a town hall meeting that the churches of Tennessee need to step up and care for the disenfranchised of our state because “the government can’t do it all”. This is the same guy that is sitting on $730 million dollars of surplus federal funds given specifically to help poor working class Tennesseans. The absolute fucking audacity of a governor to tell his citizens that churches need to step up to help the poor while simultaneously withholding almost 3/4 of a billion dollars given specifically for that purpose. You might not be surprised to learn that Governor Lee is a devout conservative Christian. Shocking stuff I know. I won’t even get into the stats on how our state fares in terms of rural medical coverage and overall poverty because I’m depressed enough already but it’s at least worth mentioning that it’s pretty fucking bleak and could be made plenty less bleak if the system wasn’t working so well to keep poor folks under wraps. It is also worth mentioning that Governor Lee is a successful business man who until his inauguration was CEO of a company that bears his name and brings in roughly $220 million dollars a year in revenue. I remember his campaign ads comparing himself to Trump with the tag line of “I just don’t tweet as much”. Self-made millionaire who now controls a huge surplus of funds designed specifically to help the working class, pulling the ladder up behind him to make it more difficult for the poor to escape poverty, all American natural selection at work, baby!

Unless you’re actively trying not to see the abuses you will notice them just about everywhere you look. In high school I had a friend who had a job restocking the airplanes owned by Blockbuster Video founder and late billionaire Wayne Huizenga Sr.. He employed me to help one afternoon loading sodas and such into the Miami Dolphins’ team plane as well as Wayne’s personal 737 and helicopter. The hanger was full of exotic cars and a uniformed staff, probably exactly as you’d imagine it to be. I didn’t think much of it at the time, in fact I thought it was a pretty neat glimpse into how I was going to live when I became a billionaire. Every white middle-class kid of privilege believes that they’ll one day be very wealthy, it’s why the ultra rich are able to continue existing. We think “well if I vote against tax breaks for the ultra-rich now, then I won’t get the tax breaks when I get there someday!” Most of us have a better chance of getting hit by a golden meteor than we do of accumulating that kind of wealth, but nonetheless it’s a prevalent view amongst those of us who already live better than 90% of the world, looking at the super yachts and luxury lifestyle accounts on instagram thinking some day that will be me. This setup ties into recent reporting that Trump’s 2017 tax breaks enabled Wayne Huizenga Jr. to use federal funds allocated for so-called “opportunity zones”, or areas that we’re under developed or struggling economically, to build his super yacht marina in West Palm Beach. Huizenga Jr. is a big donor to then governor, now senator Rick Scott, and wouldn’t you know it he ended up getting to use these funds to build a waterfront playground for the wealthiest people on earth to park their 300 foot floating mansions. Though probably the most egregious example, it certainly isn’t the only one. Parts of Manhattan, including a building in Midtown where I had a meeting last week, were also funded by these tax breaks which in name were designed to help the poor and the neighborhoods in which they reside. Instead, they were used by the ruling class to create safe havens from the struggling and deserving men and women who can’t catch a break in a system designed to keep them enslaved, a system that works extremely well.

All of the people we were warned about are running the show now. There is opportunity for real change in our country if we’re willing to make a case for it, but that will take significant organizing by those of us who believe a different America is possible. Miss me with the viewpoints of the powerful, the only perspectives that matter at this point are those of the powerless and the ones who are willing to fight for them.