[Vision2020] ‘A Town Without Pity’

Art Deco art.deco.studios at gmail.com
Sat Aug 10 06:38:59 PDT 2013

  [image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>

August 9, 2013
‘A Town Without Pity’ By CHARLES M.

America was once the land of Lady Liberty, beckoning the world: “Give me
your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the
wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

No more.

Today’s America — at least as measured by the actions and inactions of the
pariahs who roam its halls of power and the people who put them there — is
insular, cruel and uncaring.

In this America, people blame welfare for creating poverty rather than for
mitigating the impact of it. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in June
the No. 1 reason people gave for our continuing poverty crisis was:
“Too much welfare that prevents initiative.”

In this America, the House can — as it did in July — pass a farm bill that
left out the food stamp program at a time when a record number of
Americans, nearly 48 million, are depending on the benefits.

In this America, a land of immigrants, comprehensive immigration reform can
be stalled in The People’s Branch of government, and anti-reform
mouthpieces like Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan can warn that immigration
reform will be the end of the country.

And in today’s America, poverty and homelessness can easily seep beneath
the wall we erect in our minds to define it.

A December report<http://usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/2012/1219-report-HH.pdf>by
the United States Conference of Mayors that surveyed 25 cities found
that all but 4 of them reported an increase in requests for emergency food
aid since 2011, and three-fourths of them expected those requests to
increase in 2013.

The report also found that 60 percent of the cities surveyed had seen an
increase in homelessness, and the same percentage of cities expected
homelessness to increase in 2013.

But poverty isn’t easily written off as an inner-city ailment. It has now
become a suburban problem. A
week by the Brookings Institution found that “during the 2000s, major
metropolitan suburbs became home to the largest and fastest-growing poor
population in America.”

Nor can economic insecurity be written off as a minorities-only issue.
According to survey<http://bigstory.ap.org/article/exclusive-4-5-us-face-near-poverty-no-work-0>results
published last month by The Associated Press:

“Nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure, at 90
percent. But compared with the official poverty rate, some of the biggest
jumps under the newer measure are among whites, with more than 76 percent
enduring periods of joblessness, life on welfare or near-poverty.”

How did we come to such a pass? Why aren’t more politicians —  and people
in general — expressing outrage and showing empathy?

Part of our current condition is obviously partisan. Republicans have
become the party of “blame the victim.” Whatever your lesser lot in life,
it’s completely within your means to correct, according to their logic.
Poverty, hunger, homelessness and desperation aren’t violence to the spirit
but motivation to the will. If you want more and you work harder, all your
problems will disappear. Sink or swim. Pull yourself up. Get over it. Of
course, that narrow conservative doctrine denies a broader reality: that
there are working poor and chronically unemployed — people who do want and
who do work and who do want to work, but who remain stuck on the lowest
rungs of the economic ladder.

In this regard, Republicans have all but abandoned the idea of
compassionate conservatism and are diving headlong into callous

But another problem may be more broad-based: the way that many Americans
look at the poor with disgust.

As Susan Fiske, a Princeton professor who has studied people’s attitudes
toward the poor for more than a decade, told me on Friday:

“The stereotypes of poor people in the United States are among the most
negative prejudices that we have. And people basically view particularly
homeless people as having no redeeming qualities — there’s not the
competence for anything, not having good intentions and not being

Fiske’s research shows that people respond not only to the poor and
homeless with revulsion, but they also react negatively to people they
perceive as undocumented immigrants — essentially anyone without an

If some people’s impulse is to turn up a nose rather than extend a hand, no
wonder we send so many lawmakers empty of empathy to Congress. No wonder
more people don’t demand that Congress stand up for the least among us
rather than on them.

As Fiske so aptly put it: “It seems like Washington is a place without pity
right now. A town without pity.”


I invite you to join me on Facebook
<http://www.facebook.com/CharlesMBlow>and follow me on
Twitter <http://twitter.com/CharlesMBlow>, or e-mail me at
chblow at nytimes.com.

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Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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