Bankole: A crime against the vulnerable

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump’s $1.15 trillion federal budget is an anti-humanitarian document, a dream killer and an all out war on the most vulnerable — including those looking for fresh start in life.

It lacks morality and does not in any way extend our moral capacity as a compassionate nation. It presents a glaring paradox to the long-running theme of “compassionate conservatism.” If the concept of this brand of conservatism is to show concern for the needy, while emphasizing personal and social responsibility, why target programs that will achieve just that?

The budget questions our sense of benevolence and justice as a nation and brings to the fore the conflicting impulses that Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential 20th century theologian and former Detroit minister explained in his seminal work, “Moral Man and Immoral Society.”

“The measure of our rationality determines the degree of vividness with which we appreciate the needs of other life, the extent to which we become conscious of the real character of our own motives and impulses, the ability to harmonize conflicting impulses in our own life and in society, and the capacity to choose adequate means for approved ends. In each instance a development of reason may increase the moral capacity,” Niebuhr wrote.

This budget, which will make life harder for the 45 million people who fall below the poverty line, is a 2017 textbook example of Niebuhr’s critique about the brutal nature of our actions as a society, and whether political power can truly be guided by a moral philosophy.

In Detroit, where 39 percent of residents are living below poverty, according to the Census, the budget would have severe impact on groups that are helping the economically disadvantaged.

Some local groups — such as Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Detroit Area Agency on Aging, Coalition on Temporary Shelter and others — could see some or all of their programs reduced or totally wiped away.

Another example is the proposed $6.2 billion budget cut alone for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, headed by Dr. Ben Carson. The budget calls for the elimination of community block grants HUD had used to aid cities like Detroit provide decent and affordable living for low-income families as well as rehabilitate homes affected by foreclosures.

These cuts will result in mass suffering and extreme poverty in communities where many are dependent on such programs to help them transition to stable living.

“The proposed elimination of the community development block grant (CDBG) will drastically affect our operations because we use it to fund our emergency shelters for women, children and men and as matching funds for other dollars to help us serve more needy persons in this community,” said Chad Audi, president and CEO of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

DRMM, considered one of the largest rescue missions in the nation, has been around for more than a century answering the call to service. But now the federal budget threatens to cripple an important part of its operation.

Audi said removing funding for low-income housing tax credits, which has been targeted in the budget, would also be devastating for his organization.

“The proposed elimination of the low-income housing tax credits is another big blow to us. It will significantly affect how direct service nonprofits like Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries house low-income and poor families in our affordable housing programs,” Audi said.

Cheryl Johnson, the CEO of the Coalition on Temporary Shelter, which provides housing to hundreds of homeless families in Detroit, said all of that agency’s programs could potentially disappear under Trump’s budget.

“All of our housing programs receive HUD funding. Depending on the cuts it could potentially idle all of the programs, which is the worst-case scenario,” Johnson said. “We do receive support from foundations, corporations and individuals, but a significant portion of our funding comes from HUD.”

The Detroit Area Agency on Aging says it provides 2,500 meals daily to homebound people 60 years and older and disabled adults in Detroit, Harper Woods, Hamtramck, Grosse Points and Highland Park through the Meals on Wheels program.

But fears of funding cuts for the program spread nationwide after White House budget director Mick Mulvaney during a March 16 news briefing said: “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion, too. But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt.”

Honestly, the administration’s budget reads like a blunt rebuttal to the argument and the historical body of evidence used to form President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty program.

What else could be driving the administration to propose reducing Johnson’s Job Corps program that is administered by the Labor Department and provides job training and education to more than 60,000 at-risk youth trying to free themselves from the shackles of poverty?

I was a speaker in 2014 at a Detroit Job Corps commencement, where the smiles of the graduating students, some once neglected by society, conveyed a simple message: America gave them a chance.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

And Niebuhr, the theologian in “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” believes such exposes our hypocrisy.

“Perhaps the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy. One can never be quite certain whether the disguise is meant only for the eye of the external observer or whether, as may be usually the case, it deceives the self,” he said.

Twitter: @bankieT

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.