As the holiday season approaches once again, conservatives across America are gearing up to begin their annual tantrum about the so-called “War on Christmas.” Their first victim was Starbucks, a popular coffee company that came under fire for their decision to sell a minimalist red cup for their holiday promotion instead of one adorned with traditional symbols of Christmas after an evangelist made a viral video declaring that “Starbucks hates Jesus.”
Yes, it’s that magical time of the year when conservative Christians become enraged that American society has decided it wants to include all of her citizens in sharing holiday joy, not just them. It’s especially perplexing given that there are much more pressing problems facing our nation that are a direct outcome of right-wing policies — and are a slap in the face what the “Christmas spirit” and Jesus are supposed to stand for.
1. Child Poverty
The Annie E. Casey Foundation published a study in July that announced that in 2013, one in four American children live below the poverty line – some 18.7 million kids. Black and Hispanic children are twice as likely to live in poverty. On top of that, the Department of Agriculture found that 15.3 million children live in food insecure households, unable to get the necessary nutrients for proper development. Stagnant wages and the funneling of new wealth to the top one percent of Americans has crippled the American middle class, making it harder for parents to provide for their families. While job creation has remained steady, much of it was in the low-wage retail and foodservice sectors as the manufacturing jobs of the post-war boom disappear overseas and unions are strangled by Republican right-to-work laws.
All this falls heaviest on our children, who don’t get to spend enough time with their parents, who must work long hours for little pay. They must make up the shortfall by relying on the social safety net, for which they are demonized by conservatives as for being “lazy moochers,” and people still can’t make ends meet while multinational corporations make millions off their exploited labor force. A good way for conservatives to celebrate Christmas this year would be to stop trying to cut food stamps to make up the budget shortfall they inevitably dig their states into with their disastrous economic policies. They must stop resisting the growing pressure for a $15 minimum wage and force corporations to pay American workers the wages they deserve. It would also be nice if we took some of the $700 billion we give in subsidies to fossil-fuel companies and paid for universal kindergarten, making sure children are cared for when their parents are at work.
2. Climate Change
Speaking of fossil fuel companies, it would be great if conservatives would acknowledge the looming threat posed by man-made climate change, to ensure that there will still be snow for future holiday festivities. The World Bank released a study today that indicates climate change will push a hundred million more people into extreme poverty, warning that global warming is already “sparking higher agricultural prices; increasing ‘natural hazards’ such as heat waves, droughts, and floods; and exacerbating public health issues. The report demonstrates that ending poverty and fighting climate change cannot be done in isolation—the two will be much more easily achieved if they are addressed together.” Doing either, of course, requires reining in global hypercapitalism and redistributing wealth from the top one percent of humans who own half of all the wealth in the world to the rest of the world, 70% of whom (3.4 billion people) have less than $10,000 – and 702 million of them already live in “extreme poverty.”
Conservatives brand these ideas with the red brush, invoking hyperbolic references to communist dictatorships as a warning against implementing socialist policies. But when the Berlin Wall fell, capitalism was free to grow unchecked and we’ve slid into the depths of free market fascism, where resources are concentrated in the hands of a few oligarchs while poverty is used as a weapon to keep the people downtrodden and submissive. Deregulated capitalism is inherently unsustainable and will irreversibly cause catastrophic damage to the environment and with that, human civilization as we know it.
Even by drastically cutting carbon emissions right now, its too late to save more than 400 U.S. cities, because our negligence has pushed us past the point where “it’s guaranteed that more than half the city’s populated land will eventually be underwater no matter how much humans decrease carbon emissions; it’s just a matter of when.” The World Bank’s solutions demand that we immediately adopt:
- rapid, inclusive, and climate-informed development and targeted adaptation interventions to cope with the short-term impacts of climate change; and
- pro-poor mitigation policies to limit long-term impacts and create an environment that allows for global prosperity and the sustainable eradication of poverty.
None of this can be achieved with business-as-usual economic policies. We cannot allow the world’s mega-rich to destroy the planet and leave the rest of us to wallow in poverty, hunger, and thirst.
3. Our Impoverished Seniors
“A nation is judged not by the number of millionaires and billionaires it has, but how it treats the most vulnerable among us” notes Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential candidate. Around Christmas time, the holiday spirit inspires people briefly pay more attention to our most vulnerable citizens, so it would be fitting for conservatives to stop trying to privatize Social Security, because our seniors can’t even get by on what they currently get.
The Government Accountability Office recently released a report that found over 4 million seniors “may skip dinner tonight because they do not have enough money to buy food today”. Seniors are often forced to choose between food and medicine, and heat in the winter. 20% of Americans seniors live on an income of $7600 a year, and more than half of all older American households have no savings for retirement. “The problem is getting more acute. One in three American seniors are food insecure” says Sanders. Instead constantly trying to cut Social Security benefits, which recipients have already paid for, we should make sure our seniors are taken care proper care of this holiday season.
Our Republican legislators which control both houses of Congress could embrace the Christmas spirit of giving, by debt forgiving – taking action to help the 156,000 seniors or so who have their Social Security checks garnished by the government because they still owe student loans. Rep Keith Ellison (D-MIN) spoke out against the practice, arguing that “we’re just creating poverty among borrowers 65 and older, leaving some with next to nothing. This is wildly unfair. We should not be abusing the most vulnerable people.” If Republican truly cared about the Christmas spirit, perhaps they’d take some action to lessen the burdens that fall on our seniors and repay them generously for the productivity they’ve injected into our economy throughout their lives. To pay for it, maybe we could stop paying for military hardware we don’t want or need, or slice a little bit out of the Pentagon’s budget, since the military has managed to lose track of $8.5 trillion over the past twenty years and clearly have more money than they know what to do with.
Speaking of our most vulnerable citizens, taking steps to rectify homelessness in America would be a far better use of energy than complaining about red coffee cups. Some 578,424 American adults have nowhere to lay their heads at night. In 2013, 2.5 million children were homeless at some point during the year – one in every thirty kids, even though we spend $4.5 billion every year to address the problem. The National Alliance To End Homelessness found that a chronic lack of affordable housing is the major driver of American homelessness, and that to begin solving the problem, we need to invest in “education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic violence.”
Before we do that, however, we need to change the way we think about homelessness. Republican legislators could really get into the Christmas spirit by repealing laws that criminalize homelessness and stop punishing those who do open their hearts to our fellow citizens who slip through the cracks of society. Once we start thinking about homelessness differently, we can begin to properly address it – like in Colorado, where they made the novel discovery that if you give a homeless person a home, they are no longer homeless, and have the stability to begin rebuilding their lives. It’s also the fiscally responsible thing to do – each homeless person can cost taxpayers anywhere from $35,000 to $150,000 per person per year, according to George W. Bush’s homelessness czar, Philip Mangano. Taking action to save money and help America’s most vulnerable citizens sounds like something a fiscally responsible conservative would do – but so far, we’ve only seen the opposite from our peers across the aisle.
5. The Republican Refusal To Expand Medicaid
Since President Obama’s historic healthcare reform bill was passed, thirty-one states have expanded their Medicaid programs, extending health insurance to fifteen million Americans and drastically cutting their healthcare spending. Twenty-four states have refused billions from the federal government and rejected Medicaid expansion, leaving 4.3 million without coverage and leaving $423 billion on the table, just to spite President Obama. “The vast majority of people struggling to afford health care are low- and middle- income, and exactly the people the Affordable Care Act was designed to help,” The refusal to expand Medicaid in Kansas, for instance, has resulted in the closure of hospitals in their state and driven up healthcare premiums for private non-ACA policies.
The recent election of Matt Bevin as Governor of Kentucky, who ran on a platform to repeal the Medicaid expansion, threatens to put millions more Americans at risk of losing their healthcare. This Christmas, Republican governors should think long and hard about accepting the money from the federal government and doing the right thing for their constituents, instead of letting them languish in poverty and sickness. But let’s face it – that’s not likely.
At last night’s Republican debate, repealing Obamacare was a universal platform among the “candidates,” but none could offer any more coherent solutions. It’s very clear from their tidal wave of poor-shaming and frivolous talk of bootstraps that the next Republican president is going to hand our nation’s wealth right back to Wall Street, repeal all the rules we have instated, and let corporate America feast on the carcass of the middle class. That’s an issue that conservative Americans should be very worried about – infinitely more important than the decals on a coffee cup.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.