Rock the Foundations
“‘Ghetto Gospel,’” by Alex Nava (4/4), is powerfully illuminating. I have long loved artists like B. B. King and Marvin Gaye, whose beautiful song during the Vietnam era claimed, “We can rock the world’s foundation/ Everybody together, together in a wholy/ We’ll holler love love love across the nation.” Mr. Nava’s soulful and insightful interpretation of hip-hop giants like Tupac, Lupe Fiasco and Common revealed to me in a way I had never seen before how they, too, are attempting to rock the foundations of neglect and social injustice in a similarly God-haunted manner.
It seems to me Alex Nava is here doing for hip-hop what the Rev. Andrew Greeley did in these pages decades ago for other gifted American artists, like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp: locating the places where the “Divine Musician” inspires the human musician, where the “Divine Hip Hop Artist” inspires the human hip-hop artist. Mr. Nava tears down walls and builds bridges—between Chicago and Tucson, between university and neighborhood, between black, white and brown, between hip-hop and the ongoing quest for inclusive freedom and justice. Well done! I look forward to reading more from this uniquely talented author in the pages of America.
Blocking True Reform
Re “Revisiting Welfare Reform” (Editorial, 3/21): The latest set of proposals from the House leadership—block grant SNAP (food stamps), block grant Medicaid and further restrictions on SNAP—will result in poor Americans losing one or both of the remaining strands of a demonstrably frayed safety net and will further distance Congress from the realities faced by millions across the United States. Some advocating such policies might even invoke a tilted version of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity to rationalize it.
One does not need to consult economists or the Census Bureau to observe the unending lines of applicants at food pantries, shelters and emergency meal sites from coast to coast, reflecting in tangible ways the persistence of poverty. Lawmakers’ expressed interest in doing something significant about poverty in the United States is welcome and needed. But worsening the lives of poor people by further weakening effective programs under the guise of “reform” through block grants and further restrictions for help is disingenuous at best.
From a Hill to the Gutter
Re Of Many Things, by Matt Malone, S.J. (3/14): I have been very disappointed in the Republican primary contest this year. Not only the school-yard taunts of Donald J. Trump—and others—but the complete lack of a plan for budgeting that gives any hope of relief for the poorest and most needy. Where is the investment in the nation, where is the development of our people and how does the Republican agenda give people any hope that their anger, their desires and needs are understood?
My biggest fear is that somehow we end up with President Trump, and then all bets are off. How long will it take him to learn to govern? Does he even want to learn how to govern? Or does he just want to put the Trump name on buildings all over the world? His election rallies are long on passion and short on data of any kind. And the now-ubiquitous show of “get him out of here” in response to protesters reminds me of the rallies in Germany in the late 1920s.
Our nation is at a turning point. We have so many gifts and resources as a nation. Why do we seem to have such a hard time being the city on the hill that President Reagan liked to picture? It is a fitting image following the death of Nancy Reagan, who did so much to help her husband, both during and after the presidency, during that “long goodbye” we watched from afar as he descended into the darkness of Alzheimer’s. Our nation owes the first ladies a debt we too often do not acknowledge.
A Privileged Past
Re “It’s Been a Privilege,” by Daniel Horan, O.F.M. (3/14): Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is partly a reflection of white privilege, but it is also a reflection of a failure on the part of government to work for the common good. Basing tax cuts on the idea that wealth will “trickle down” to the poor was simply fraudulent. A great many jobs have been exported, leaving people without work. We continue to fail to provide health care coverage for everyone. All of this contributes to a generalized meanness in job markets. This meanness doesn’t feel “great” to the people who suffer from its effects, and a nostalgia has developed for a mythical past when America was great. Mr. Trump exploits that nostalgia and that myth.
Common Good and College
Re “College Free for All?” (Editorial, 3/7): The concept of public education, including public colleges and universities, is based on the ideal that an educated population is good for the country as a whole. If the public did not support higher education through taxes, then far fewer members of that society would be able to attend. I am one of those people. I attended one of the California state universities. My college was not free, but working part time I could afford the fees and the transportation to get there and back.
Today I look at my daughter, who will be ready for college in a few years, and realize there is no way she can do what I and her mother did: work part time at minimum wage to pay for college. I see so many young people today not going to college for that very reason—it costs too much and there are limited job prospects at the end.
I am perfectly happy to make the sacrifices necessary to send my children to Catholic schools before college. But I also see the value in having my taxes go for public education—primary, secondary and higher. Would you rather pay for schools or prisons? I prefer paying for schools. Not only does it serve the greater good, it’s the Catholic thing to do.
A More Perfect Union
Re Of Many Things, by Matt Malone, S.J. (2/29): In evaluating Justice Scalia’s philosophy of original meaning, it seems to me that the first job of constitutional interpretation would be to understand its purpose, as stated very succinctly in its Preamble: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare…”
Too often this purpose gets lost in rigidity, politics and interpretation in light of the past. For example, we would never try and provide for the common defense using methods familiar to the founding fathers. Did Justice Scalia’s decisions reflect the purpose of the Constitution? I am not sure, but there is no philosophy that allows us to escape the fundamental requirement that anything we do in law (or economics, or education, or anything) must be interpreted according to how it promotes union among the people, justice, the common good, domestic peace and the flourishing of all people through liberty. I think that these are the standards we must hold as Americans, and most especially as Catholics.
Bring Back the Jubilee
Re “Resetting Interest on Usury,” by Nathan Schneider (2/8): Pope Leo I got to the heart of it: “Usurious profit from money is the death of the soul.” Selling what does not exist—this is what enslaves and impoverishes so many. Pope Francis is so prophetically right in returning the church to the ancient tradition of jubilee, when in every generation the slate was wiped clean, debts canceled, land redistributed and prisoners and slaves freed. I do not know how long it will take us to embrace this ancient wisdom, but at least Francis is leading us down the road.