As a pastor’s son, the words faith, hope and charity are inextricably intertwined in my psyche. I have heard or used the phrase countless times. So, when I read Dean Melissa Begg’s inspiring message to the Columbia University School of Social Work community encouraging everyone to focus on hope during these challenging times, the three words immediately came to mind. With the lack of coherent leadership at the pinnacle of our nation, it is easy to lose hope. Many of the 30-plus million who have lost their jobs could easily fall into despair. I found myself thinking about the need for faith as well as hope. Melissa quoted Jerome Groopman which I will paraphrase as saying hope helps us see a path to a better future. Faith helps us get there.
Some will find faith in a higher power. Others may not. Some may find faith in their ability to do what is necessary to walk that path to a better future. Some may find faith in their family and friends to support each other. Where we do not have faith is in our nation’s leaders’ ability to promote the general welfare of its people. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, public trust in government reached as high as 77 percent during the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. It fell precipitously during the Nixon years but rebounded during Clinton’s terms. It has fallen again, registering 17 percent in 2019. The latest Gallup Poll conducted in April reported 30 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.
The current leadership embodied by Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and their scary band of Republicans have moved the country further down the path towards plutocracy with supply-side tax cuts that began during the Reagan years. Taking cues from the playbooks of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, the United States and other industrialized countries embarked on the journey of trickle-down economics and attacks on labor unions as a means to maximize profits and boost gross domestic product (GDP). Tax cuts for the rich—the so-called job creators—was supposed to result in greater wealth and jobs for Americans. We got more jobs; the rich got the lion’s share of economic gains. Wages have been stagnant since the 1980s.
George W. Bush took us further down the road to oligarchy with more supply-side tax cuts and laissez-faire economics that called for more deregulation and privatization. After all the invisible hand of the market works best when its unencumbered by regulations and oversight. After the 2008 economic meltdown, you would think we had learned our lesson. But no, Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—still selling trickle-down theory—was the icing on the cake. After signing the law, he famously told his rich buddies gathered at his Mar-a-Lago club that he had just made them a lot richer. Mimi Abramovitz likes to remind us that many Democrats have also bought into the neoliberalism agenda.
So how does charity fit into all of this. Bible readers may recall this verse in—as Trump would say—One Corinthians. Charity is equated with love. So that means as you exercise your faith to follow the path of hope, you reach back to bring someone along with you. What it doesn’t mean is to eschew government services and depend on handouts from the private sector. Yet that is what we are witnessing in the middle of this pandemic. Americans lined up for miles to get food. There has been an estimated $9 trillion-yes, that’s with 12 zeros—doled out to meet the dire economic conditions exacerbated by what former President Barack Obama characterizes as an “absolute chaotic disaster” by the Trump administration. Seven trillion dollars have gone to shore up the business community while $2.2 trillion has gone to workers.
Sequestered in my space, I have much time to think, fight off depression and maintain hope. I have faith in my profession. We raised the question two years ago during CRISP’s Social Work Day on the Hill forum: Can Social Work Help Save Democracy? I believe we can help because my faith is bolstered by the hundreds of young social workers I have met during the past few years. We have worked closely with some at our Political Boot Camps and I supervise Columbia students in their policy field placements. Some of them are absolutely amazing. They are not joining the profession because it is lucrative; they are in the profession because they want to make a difference. I believe they will. They personify my hope for better outcomes in the future. November’s election is a good place to begin.