Opinion » Letter From The Editor

The Fix is In

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Last Saturday, around 500 people gathered in Gaisman Park in northeast Memphis to rally against the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which has resulted in thousands of children being placed in confinement, separated from their parents. The Memphis rally was one of several hundred held in cities around the country. The effect on the adminstration? As far as I can tell, they've implemented a "zero reaction" policy.

Maybe we've grown inured to these outrages. Now we're reading stories of three-year-old children being forced to defend themselves in court to prevent being deported. It's like some Kafka-esque theater of the absurd that never ends.

And speaking of absurd, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was in Memphis Monday. He pitched his recent proposal to hike federally subsidized housing rents 25 percent. The plan is meant to "encourage people to work."

Its actual effect, according to most analysts, would be to push thousands of the roughly four million low-income households living in subsidized housing into homelessness. Hundreds of thousands of those in low-income housing are already working, almost all of them at low-wage jobs. The low rents enable them to keep a roof over their heads and keep their families intact. Roughly eight million people would be affected by the rent increase; three million of them are children. See a pattern here?

The HUD proposal is simply the latest attempt by the Trump administration to reduce or even eliminate the social safety net. The theory being, I suppose, that by forcing people out of public housing, they will magically find work, because people living in public housing are lazy, and all they need is a good kick in the pants so they'll grab their bootstraps.

"It's our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty," Carson said. The truth is, few people are in public housing because they lack ambition. They're in public housing because they're elderly and/or living on a fixed income; or they're uneducated; or they're physically or mentally handicapped; or they have been forced into bankruptcy due to an inability to pay medical bills.

Those three million children can't "find work," so many will find themselves on the street with their caregivers — or be separated from their families and put into foster or institutional care. See a pattern here?

But, looking at the bright side, at least now the precedent has been set: We can put children in prison, preferably private ones owned by Betsy DeVos.

But seriously, forcing a 25 percent rent increase on the most disadvantaged Americans on the hypothesis that they will be forced to find work is just cruel nonsense. It is not a theory espoused by any reputable economist. In a report last month in The Commercial Appeal, Marcia Lewis, director of the Memphis Housing Authority, said 10,600 households in Memphis would be affected by the rent increase. Lewis added that the plan would strip away deductions for childcare and medical expenses, and would triple the minimum rent for Memphis' poorest families. The proposal would also apply to assisted-living facilities and voucher-funded units.

If half of those households can't afford the increase and are forced onto the street, who do you think will pick up the tab for the increased social services? The answer is you and me, the Memphis taxpayers.

This administration's game plan is increasingly clear: Strip away the protections of the social safety net for our most vulnerable and powerless populations; reduce Medicare and Social Security under the guise that they are "unaffordable entitlements" rather than well-earned rewards of a life spent working; reduce access to medical care; and remove environmental protections. Oh, and, we need to cut taxes for the wealthy, because, well, they've had it rough for quite some time.

The core principle of MAGA is simple, really. It's a reverse Robin Hood philosophy: Take from the poor and give to the rich — and keep everybody else preoccupied with issues like immigration, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and Melania's coat.

It seems to be working. Remember when millions marched and blockaded airports to fight the "Muslim ban." We thought we won. We didn't. The fix is in, from top to bottom.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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