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William Rivers Pitt | Trump’s $4.4 Trillion Butcher’s Bill

We live in an age of elaborate cruelty.

Trump's budget proposal would be paid for on the backs of children, poor people, the elderly and the disabled, with a couple hundred billion left over for the Pentagon. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I like to think I’m a decently smart guy, but I may just be fooling myself if ol’ Fitz has it right, because I am absolutely up against the ragged edge of that premise.

I believe, in the main, that people are inherently good and will do the right thing when called upon, and I have ample examples to buttress that belief. I also believe this country is a thresher of souls, an abattoir of feral greed where no low is too low if cash or status is on the line, and I have ample examples of this, as well. Both ideas are true, and are true at the same time, clanging together in my head like kitchen pots in an earthquake. Reconciling them — hell, even coexisting with them — has begun to hedge the impossible.

Why? Money. Filthy lucre. The loot.

We live in an age of elaborate cruelty. It is a new experience for some and a terrible old story for others: Fate has teeth these days. You don’t just get sick; your tap water gives you cancer from the coal slurry in the river and then the utility company jacks up your rates. You don’t just get screwed; you wither like a drought vine because the insurance company won’t cover the treatment you need to survive. You don’t just die; you get shot in your own algebra class, and before the echo fades, the president of the United States scolds the country about how it all could have been avoided without ever once mentioning guns.

Why? Money. Filthy lucre. The loot.

The tap water made you sick because the local chemical companies that won’t let you unionize poisoned the river to maximize profits, because their well-funded friends in Washington obliterated environmental protections to help them wring a few more coppers out of the tired, stinking ground.

The insurance company screwed you because health care in the US is a multibillion-dollar for-profit industry, and healing you dings its bottom line a microfraction of a percent. Some insurance companies don’t even bother to look at your medical records before showing you the door.

You got shot in school — the 29th mass shooting in 45 days of 2018 and the 239th school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook — because the National Rifle Association has its financial fangs buried deep in the necks of virtually every Republican and far too many Democrats in Congress. When Donald Trump failed to mention guns after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this week, it wasn’t an oversight. He was following orders.


It is a call for acts of brutality against fellow citizens that are breathtaking.

The grinding cruelty that is our daily meat and mead was crystallized in a document put forth on Monday by the White House. Trump and his people called it a budget plan, but in reality, it was a $4.4 trillion butcher’s bill, a wish list of all the malice and greed at the necrotic heart of the modern Republican experience.

Under normal circumstances, no one takes these documents seriously in any real legislative sense; like the presidential platform, they are declarations of intent filled mostly with DOA intentions. However, these are not normal circumstances, and Trump’s budget proposal is a fearsome glimpse into the minds of some genuinely dangerous people. It is a call for acts of brutality against fellow citizens that are breathtaking. A few of them, if inflicted upon a foreign country, might be considered war crimes.

Here, it’s just business.

If Trump and his friends ever got their way and this nightmare document became law, Social Security Block Grants would be eliminated. More than $300 billion would be cut from Medicaid. A combined $423 billion would be cut from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Disability programs would be cut by $72 billion. In total, the document details $1.7 trillion in cuts to social services and the safety net.

Funny, that. The gigantic tax cut they just passed cost $1.5 trillion, with most of it going to rich people and massive corporations. Trump’s FY2019 budget pays for that in total on the backs of children, poor people, the elderly and the disabled, with a couple hundred billion left over for the Pentagon, which didn’t ask for it and doesn’t need it.

Something this vicious should come with its own string section.

More than 40 million people depend on SNAP benefits, most of them children. More than 4 million more depend on TANF, most of them children. Trump’s solution? A Blue Apron-style “American Harvest Box” containing little to no nutritional value and no choice involved. You don’t get to pick what you eat, they tell you what you’re eating. According to CNN:

To start, nothing in the box is actually recently harvested — the proposal includes zero fresh fruits and vegetables and no fresh meat, fish, or poultry. Instead, the “homegrown” food the poor would get in their box would include processed cereals and canned sodium-saturated goods.

And unlike Blue Apron, where consumers get to choose their meals, the Trump plan would simply send poor people a sad box of bland, repetitive basics. Currently, SNAP benefits are loaded onto a card, and recipients can decide for themselves what to purchase. Now, the government would do much of the deciding.

Let’s recall here that Michelle Obama couldn’t even promote healthier school lunches without right-wing outcry about the nanny state; when Trump literally wants the government to select, box up and deliver food of questionable nutrition for the poor, we hear agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praising the plan as “a bold, innovative approach.”

Elaborate, truly theatrical cruelty: Something this vicious should come with its own string section. Except it’s not real, right? They can’t possibly pass something like this, can they? Maybe not, but they are sure as hell going to try for some of it at least. They run the entire federal government, and they’re beginning to figure that out … and in the end, it’s all about the loot.

Thoughts and prayers don’t appear to be getting the job done.

People are good, and all this is happening. Two opposing thoughts in all our heads at the same time.

We seem to have lost our ability to function amid all this winning. Thoughts and prayers don’t appear to be getting the job done. How bad does it have to get? I don’t see the bottom yet, but I see an awful lot of bodies piled up along the way down.

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