Last weekend my Uncle Jeff died after many years of illness. We have a large extended family that is both financially comfortable and only slightly dysfunctional. Most members of the family live within a two-hour driving radius of the nursing home where Jeff spent his last year and his final days. Jeff was a member of society for whom family played a traditional role – someone in the family always made sure he was safe, as happy as possible, and well-cared for. Family visited Jeff several times a week and kept vigil as he died.
During that same week, the GOP proposed a budget that would cut funding for free school meals, and funding for Meals on Wheels, a program in which volunteers deliver meals to seniors who live at home. The cuts to school lunches were justified by saying that feeding children is not proven to raise their grades. Cuts to Meals on Wheels were justified by claims that the program does not show results. Merely feeding the hungry is not result enough in Trump’s America.
In my experience, Republicans like the idea that family takes care of family. The Republicans of my acquaintance are far from stingy. They have been very generous and kind with their family members, friends, schools, and churches (institutions that serve as a kind of ‘found family’ for many). However, Republicans do not like giving to those they consider to be outsiders – people from other countries, or people of other religious faiths, or people of different sexual orientations, or people they simply don’t know.In the Republican mindset, families should be empowered to take care of their own members.
Jeff’s caregivers told us that they were pleased to see how often his family members visited him. They told us that many of their patients don’t have this kind of family support. The idea that family (of blood or of choice) is responsible for caring for society’s most vulnerable members ignores the existence of vast numbers of people in our towns, our states, our countries, and our planet who do not have family at all or who do not have family with the resources needed to take care of them.
If our nation is to survive, it will have to expand its idea of what family means. Are not all of our residents family? Are we really willing to let seniors and children go hungry because they aren’t related to us, or they don’t go to our church, or their grades aren’t high? Are we really going to say that because we are healthy the illnesses of others are not our problem?
Families are a social construct by which we support each other on a small scale. Governments are (or ought to be) a social construct in which we pool our resources to care for each other on a large scale. If you drive on a public road, or drink clean water, or use a flush toilet, and you live in America, then you have participated in this system. If a nation is not a family, then what is it for? And if a government does not assist the most fragile members of its family, then why support it? In the words of the famous song by Katherine Lee Bates:
“America, America, God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with Brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”