If I Were the President

In the shower this morning, I was thinking about what I would do if I were the President. I’m not just talking about your usual pipe dreams – “I would make there never be school, ever!” “I would make workdays four hours long and weekends start on Thursday!” I’m talking about actual, thoughtful solutions to national problems.

First things first, I thought about food justice. Right now, we are pumping high fructose corn syrup into virtually everything we eat. The health and organic quality of our food – and our people! – is dwindling. Hardly anyone can produce or purchase fresh fruits and vegetables because they are ridiculously expensive. The situation stems from the fact that government subsidies fund the wholesale production of wheat and corn, which makes HFCS/processed foods cheaper and organic/fruits and vegetables expensive.

So, what would I do about it? The obvious and immediate answer is to eliminate subsidies. That would make wheat and corn less advantageous to produce and would drop costs on fruits and vegetables, right?

Wrong. Tomorrow, if Barack Obama summarily eliminated subsidies without any other changes to the food industry, farms all around the country would flail, drown, and disappear. We can’t just yank their paychecks out from underneath them, without any changes to the way things work, and expect the problem to magically fix itself. It won’t. So, what do we do?

Instead, we have to make local, organic, fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable. Which means that we need to fix poverty. Once we fix poverty and make the working poor able to afford good food, the industry will shift in favor of fruits and vegetables, thus making wheat and corn less profitable enterprises. At that point, we can reduce the degree to which the government supports wheat and corn!

There’s a big statement hidden in there: fix poverty. Chewing on that question got me thinking. Realistically, how would I fix poverty? We know where poverty comes from. Systematic disadvantage, a direct consequence of race, gender, class, et cetera, keeps poor people poor and rich people rich. It’s a system of social capital that’s been getting worse for a long time. What would I do to stop and reverse the flow?

What kind of programs currently work to end poverty and eliminate such systematic disadvantages? The example that comes to mind is Emma Norton’s Residence, a United Methodist-affiliated homeless shelter for women in the Twin Cities.

Rather than providing simple handouts for the night, Emma Norton’s takes in women dealing with homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse issues. Over a long-term stay – usually around two years – Emma Norton’s helps these women legitimately get back on their feet. By providing a stable home and meals, Emma Norton’s helps women secure job trainings and certificate programs, thus making them employable. They help women get therapy and treatment for their mental health problems, and they help women combat and recover from their drug and alcohol addictions. By the end of the program, the women are stable, healthy, employable, capable, and victorious over the problems that had so crippled them in the past.

Such long-term social programming is the only sort of thing that will end poverty in our country. We can’t get by on overcrowded homeless shelters. We can’t solve the problem by continual hand-outs of money. We need to sink our teeth into long-term social programming dedicated to stability, job security, and ending men and women’s disability as a result of crime, mental illness, and chemical dependency.

But this sort of programming costs money. The only reason Emma Norton’s is able to do it is because they’re funded by the United Methodist tradition and they are sustained through donations and gifts. If I were the president, how would I institute such social programs in a national sense?

First, I would whittle down our defense budget. Over the course of my term, I would extricate us from all but the most necessary military installations. I would sell off the assets we have in various arms and drug trades, and funnel all of our funding directly into social programs dedicated to ending poverty.

Second, I would institute communal forms of care. Right now, our country is imprisoned by a vitriolic FUCK YOU GOT MINE attitude. UHC is being held up at every turn by people who adamantly refuse to recognize their own privilege, who refuse to give a dime back to the people who support them, and who refuse to consider the rights of our nation’s working poor. I’m not talking about town hall meetings; those people are misguided, but they’re frequently no better off. No, I’m talking about the insurance companies, the hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies, and the various industrial complexes that work hard to maintain their own profit. A fraction of the people in this country control a huge amount of the wealth, and that simply isn’t okay.

I’m not sure precisely how I would make it work, but I would institute government practices that would reverse the situation. I would ensure that such a fraction – the small number of CEOs and big businesses who control the various industries in our country – pay up what is necessary to sustain the middle and lower classes they depend on.

I’m not talking about the end of the capitalist market. (That just isn’t possible, and I’m not sure I’d want it, anyway.) I’m simply talking about government checks and balances over bonuses, monopolies, and consumerist ownership. Such taxes and set-ups would barely apply to the vast majority of the people in this country, and I think it would go a long way towards ending the class disparities in the United States. The additional funding could be shuttled into ending systemic disadvantage.

Finally, there’s one very important thing I would tackle: diversity/multicultural equality and difference.

All of the above – food justice, poverty, social programming, ending militarism, and attaining communal responsibility – are inextricably bound up with race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual identity, sexual orientation, ability, and more. The United States’ contemporary dominant culture and discourse does not allow minority groups and people to be equal, and in the same breath, does not allow them to express and experience their own vitality.

If I were President, I would require that all businesses and organizations ¬†absolutely end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual identity, sexual orientation and, in most cases, ability. I’m not just talking about hiring practices; I’m talking about full-scale employment freedom in all levels of every market and industry.

If I were President, I would also require that “diversity trainings” would no longer be ineffective and insensitive. Rather than having employees learn to say “Happy Holidays”, which only reduces every religious tradition down to the lowest common denominator and makes religious diversity easier for the majority to swallow, I would have employees actually learn about the multiple forms of religious celebration and custom around the world. Eventually, rather than “Happy Holidays”, I want Christians to learn to say “Happy Eid!”, and for Muslims to return with, “Merry Christmas!”

If all of these measures were instituted, we would be able to deal most effectively with our problems. We can try to fix poverty all we want, but it’s never going to be fixed unless we tackle disadvantage and freedom in every arena of achievement. In turn, disadvantage and freedom in every area of achievement is never going be remedied unless we tackle poverty. All of these need to happen at the same time.

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One Response to “If I Were the President”

  1. Yes. Yes. I like the way you think. All of these need to happen at the same time. Indeed.

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