"Would you be?
Could you be?
Won't you be my neighbor!"
I don't think the President of the US was thinking of Mr. Rogers last week when he addressed the United Nations.
The president took the opportunity to first offer a list of his accomplishments, including (supposedly) record unemployment, companies moving back to the US and record job growth. (Sort of rude when you think about it. Like being invited to someone's house for dinner, and then taking the opportunity to boast about how great you are.)
Most of the president's claims are untrue or exaggerated. The current administration was fortunate to have inherited a trend of lessening unemployment. The previous administration actually did better at job growth. And there is no substantial evidence of a trend of companies moving back to the US.
He went on to say: "We have it within our power; should we choose, to lift millions from poverty."
Yet, the current administration is undercutting the Affordable Care Act's effectiveness by sharply cutting outreach efforts for sign-up. Meanwhile the GOP is touting their version of a health care bill that would slash Medicaid funding, routing limited funds directly to states, and remove mandatory sign-up. All of which will make the marketplace unstable and vastly increase the number of people who can't afford health care. The GOP would like to pass this legislation without proper hearings, by the end of September. Before the bipartisan GAO has a chance to review the possible effects of the bill, and before the simple 51 vote majority rule in the Senate needed for passage ends.
The president continued: "We have it within our power...to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred and fear."
But only a few weeks ago the current administration announced its decision to end DACA. Afterwards, giving in to intense pressure, the president met with leaders of the Democratic party, but there has yet to be an alternative solution put into effect. Meaning that, for the time being, the president's decision to kick the ball back to Congress for action remains. He stated a deadline of March, 2018 to end DACA, if Congress cannot agree on a more permanent solution. Meanwhile, with approval from the president and his administration, ICE agents are becoming increasingly belligerent in their immigration control efforts.
The president's budget also includes severe cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, public housing and children of US military veterans.
Which brings us back to Mr. Rogers and the question: Who is our neighbor?
Diane Butler Bass notes in her book, Grounded, "The biggest issue of the twenty-first
Already in the US, minority babies actually outnumber non-Hispanic whites. It's projected that by 2020 the majority of children in the US will be of former minority groups. And by 2040 this change will be reflected in the general population as a whole.
So, who is living in the neighborhood is changing.
Bass writes, "Although the ideal of the Golden Rule might be central to human experience, it is also the case that people have often drawn a tight circle around the neighborhood, attempting to exclude those not of their tribe from the practice of compassion."
But that's not what the leaders of most of the world's great religions have taught. Jesus is in good company with Gandhi, Buddha, Mohammad and others. They all said that caring for others, even those who don't think or look like you, is a central tenant to living a good (or holy) life.
In fact, Jesus went so far as to say that the only action that determines if a person gets to heaven is if they helped their neighbor. The Final Judgment as recorded in Matt. 25:31-46 doesn't have anything to do with dogma or doctrine or evangelizing. But Jesus, as God's son, does focus on how we treat each other as the final test of achieving eternal life.
According to what Jesus taught, the president's actions, highlighted by his speech at the UN, don't really pass that test.
Photo Credit: Mr. Rogers, The Atlantic