The False Idol of “Results:” The Sins of Our National Budget

If you want to know the heart of a nation, just look to its budget.

Ours, at the moment, does not contain anything resembling a heart. Or a conscience. Or a brain, for that matter.

The first draft of the proposed national budget, revealed this week, shows significant cuts to everything except security. Programs like Meals on Wheels, that serve the most vulnerable, have been eliminated completely. School lunches and after school nutrition programs are still on the chopping block. The National Endowment for the Arts? Gone. The EPA? Possibly eliminated over the next few years. And let’s not forget the millions of Americans who will be without health insurance after the rollback of the ACA and the introduction of…whatever new thing the GOP has established to reward the affluent and further punish the poor.

It’s all starting to sound like the setup for a great biblical parable. Spoiler alert: the government authorities are not the good guys.

Perhaps the most telling part of all this is budget director Mick Mulvaney’s reasoning behind the cuts. He said that these programs (like Meals on Wheels and after school food support) just “aren’t showing any results.

Jesus.

Let’s be clear–what that really means is that poor people are not worth investing in. Because by “results,” they mean a return on the investment. A purely pragmatic bottom line. Something that can be measured in dollars and cents, in what it puts back into the till, and how it pays for itself in the end.

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It could be argued (and has been) that these feeding programs do, in fact, put something ‘back’ into the economy. That providing children a source of food stability so that they can learn improves the chances of them escaping the cycle of poverty; so that they can someday be self-sufficient, tax-paying citizens.

But beyond that, a free society generally feeds its children and its elderly populations because it is the right thing to do–bottom line be damned.

There is no excuse–none at all–for the richest nation in the world to let its children and its aging population go hungry. If we are looking at people as only their dollar-generating potential, then we have mortgaged some critical parts of our national identity. The part that makes us free, the part that makes us innovators and dreamers, and the part the makes us human.

Those are some pretty crucial organs for the body of this Republic.

It is pure cowardice to keep preaching this false gospel of “results,” over and above the human interest on which democracy relies. Not to mention, it is a diversionary tactic–taking a few cuts here and there that make little difference in the long run, to account for irresponsible big ticket items that we cannot begin to pay for, not with any amount of nickel and dining from the rest of the budget. That wall is never happening, people. Starve all the poor kids you can find, but that will not begin to cover it.

If we are going to worship some secular notion of productivity and measurable outcomes, over and above the clear moral imperative to care for the least of these, then we are going to get what we pay for: a governmental structure that preys on the vulnerable, rewards the powerful, and continues to spend our collective wealth on things that never touch the lives of our actual communities.

This is just one more way that the current administration is being willfully obtuse about the lives of the poor. And not just the poor, but regular people, as well. 

-Know who makes the call to cut food stamps and free school lunches and Meals on Wheels? People who have never missed a meal.

-Know who doesn’t think National Parks are worth saving? People who spend their vacations at private clubs and mansions, never noticing or enjoying the value of shared resources and, you know, nature. 

-Know who cuts arts and literacy programs, calling them excessive and unnecessary? People who don’t read, ever. (Especially a President who brags that he doesn’t read, ever). 

-Know who dramatically reduces Environmental Protections and creates propaganda about climate change being a hoax?  Those who will always be able to escape to somewhere nicer and cleaner, no matter what happens in our inner cities and our backwoods creeks.

-Know who deregulates healthcare in way that will leave millions without coverage? The people whose needs will always be covered. 

-Know who dismantles a public education system that took centuries to build? Those who will benefit most from a privatized system that caters to a privileged few. 

We could go on… What’s celar for now is that this administration has placed its treasure where its heart is…showing clearly that heart is not a factor. Nor is compassion, nor any small measure of reason or social responsibility. If this is truly a “results” based economy, the only result we’re going to see is a more deeply entrenched class of wealthy-elite in power; and a growing, increasingly disenfranchised group of working poor with no way out.

Know who can stop this? You. Call your Representatives. Write. Show up to their office. Pitch a fit. Tell them that these line items do not reflect our values, and then tell them how you would like to see your tax dollars spent in the coming year. Remind them that you vote…and that you, unlike our newly elected regime, vote with the fullness of your humanity intact–head, heart, conscience and compassion. 

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...