BY HARRIET FRAAD | MAY 21, 2017
The emotionally laden term “family values” is a cover for corporate greed. American families are in deep trouble. They cannot hold together while the society falls apart. That makes an appeal to “family values” all the more cynical. The very premise of the nuclear family makes no logical sense. A woman being pregnant has no relationship to whether either that woman or the man who impregnated her is capable of the 24-hour care of an utterly dependent infant. That just does not add up. Some may say that, humans, just like other animals, naturally nurture their young. However, that does not hold. Humans are social creatures. We are not driven by inherent instincts, but by social learnings. Humans need support and help to nurture our young. It does take a village. That does not naturally happen. In a dramatic proof that nurturing children does not come naturally to human parents, 5 US children die every day from child abuse or extreme neglect. Fully 80% of the murderers are their parents. The risk of death by maltreatment is approximately three times greater for the under-ones than for those aged 1 to 4, who in turn face double the risk of those aged 5 to 14. The more care children need and the less they can escape from their parents, the more they are abused.
Poverty is terribly stressful. Child abuse figures go up with every increase in unemployment and poverty. Stressed parents have a convenient target on which to vent—their children.
Disabled children need the most care. One out of every three disabled children is abused. Here again, parents are the abusers. All these figures are low. Most child abuse of all kinds is not reported. Children cannot file reports. Nurturing children does not necessarily come naturally. In human prehistory, people lived in small tribes with others. Later people lived in larger tribal communities and then in extended families. Human parents were not isolated with their children until our recent history. There is a good reason for that.
Parents and families need support in raising the next generation. America has the fewest parental supports of all the wealthy industrialized nations. Not surprisingly, we also have the highest rates of child abuse. Leaving children totally alone with stressed adults who know little of child development is a huge error. Why do we pretend that parents without knowledge or support can adequately nurture children when the obvious evidence says “No”? Why do we let this happen? Why don’t we support families? We sure make a big deal over “the family”. Why is Trump cutting the few supports to families that Americans have?
It’s a question of money. There has been a consistent struggle by the wealthy to shift the costs of caring, raising and educating children from government programs based on taxing wealthy citizens on to the shoulders of the individual parents who gave birth to the children. Whether it was the enemies of public education for all children or the enemies of universal preschool education, the wealthy and their spokesmen couched their opposition as protecting the family from state incursion on the sacred rights of the family. Under Reagan, there was a groundswell of public support for universal Headstart. Headstart was cut back. It was too expensive and would interfere in the sacred duty of the family. Of course, for Reagan, like Trump, cutting taxes on the rich was not too expensive, neither was vastly expanding the military. Both measures added trillions to US debt just as Trump’s programs do.
Some of America’s most vulnerable families loudly call the lie to family values assertions. They are the children of teen mothers. These are teens usually between 17 & 18 years old. If they do not get support and help, two lives are destroyed, theirs, and their children’s’. The US has the most teen moms in the wealthy developed world. That is a result of several forces pushing America backwards, way behind other wealthy nations. Unlike our wealthy peers, we have inadequate or non-existent sex education programs, our political accession to the religious right. Currently, under Trump, we suffer national as well as Red State assaults against Planned Parenthood which might, were it not held back, help young and pregnant girls with birth control and adequate abortion facilities. The US leads the other developed nations in teen pregnancy by wide margins. In fact, the US has at least three times more teen pregnancies than any of the other developed wealthy nations.
Both the children of teens and the teens are endangered without help. The young men who fathered the children generally have neither the means, nor the will to support dependent women and children. There is no national free day care available to teen moms. Their children, being poor, are more likely to be abused. Young mothers have huge problems and underdeveloped skills in coping. Isolated teen Moms are more likely to vent on their helpless children. Teen mothers are most unlikely to graduate from high school, no less college. They have dismal long term economic prospects and urgently need help and support. Trump wants to save the money that will save their lives and their children’s. Money spent on teen mothers and their children will save expenses and pain of future poverty, crime and incarceration. Trump does not care about the long run. He is saving money for his priorities right now, making even more money for the wealthy and expanding the lucrative military.
Trump suggests cutting the money to curb teen pregnancy and cutting even more to support teen mothers. His program is "let Saints help teen Moms". He suggests restraint to girls who have little support. It is those girls who feel so little control over their lives who cannot be expected to plan and show restraint without the support that Trump withholds. How do family values apply here?
By trying to gut both Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, Trump strips from Americans the only national health protection for families. It’s expensive, but available. Bernie advocated for the same health care that other developed nations like France and Canada enjoy, free universal healthcare. Trump does the opposite. If Trump succeeds the mortality rate in the US will keep on falling. We already are a nation where life expectancy is going down. Impoverished Cuba has a lower infant death rate and a longer life expectancy rate than the US.
People are getting sick and dying earlier at both ends at of life at birth and in old age. Families will be saddled with care for both their sick children and older parents, families who are already struggling. We have the highest infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates in the wealthy industrialized world. The lower your income, the more likely you are to die in the U.S. With Trump’s agenda Americans without money can expect to die even sooner. How is that for “family values”?
Trump’s cuts of WIC the infants and children’s nutrition program will cut the subsidies for healthy foods, fruits and vegetables for pregnant women, and women with young children. WIC has been credited with helping children have a healthier diet, thereby cutting child obesity, a huge health hazard. Pregnant women who are not properly nourished are at greater risk of birth defects. Their infants are more likely to be born with congenital heart disease, and abdominal wall tears, to name just 2 diseases and disabilities the WIC program can prevent. It is on the chopping block. This is the more painful because disabled and sick children suffer even more child abuse than other children. Their parents lose patience with the combination of lack of support and the extra care, time and parental sacrifice disabled kids require.
Trump proposes cuts to domestic violence protection, and battered women’s shelters. His health bill eliminates care for domestic violence injuries. More than 1,600 women a year are murdered by husbands and boyfriends. Over a million women are physically battered. This is a truly low figure since most domestic violence injuries are unreported. What happens to children watching their Mom’s battered? Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol/drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and juvenile delinquency. Witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. It is also the number one reason children run away.
These are not family friendly facts.
Another family maker or breaker is preschool education. The US is already far behind other wealthy nations in providing free quality preschools. We who promote “family values” are actually the worst among wealthy nations. The most damaging to families are the cuts to our already grossly inadequate preschool programs. Parents will have to scramble to get any care at all. The 40% of women who are the sole providers for their children and who have to work can kiss family goodbye. Fully 90% of US infants and preschool children are now in lower quality care while their parents work. The average cost for daycare is $16,000 a year. The Trump proposal on preschool care is just another gift to the rich.
So much for valuing family.
Speaking of Family, Trump and others who will make it outrageously hard for families to survive, was endorsed by many evangelical Christian organizations including the biggest and richest one, Focus on Family. Focus on Family founder, James Dobson declared that Trump has accepted Jesus Christ, though the evidence is slim. In one year Focus on Family accepted more than $118 million dollars in grants and gifts. Just the cost of keeping up the property for Focus on Family for one year is more than 101 million dollars.
To answer the question, why would those who profess family above all, support measures that hurt American families? We need to look at what power religion still holds in US life. Religion has no say in US economic and business life. America’s capitalist businesses ask one basic question, How do I make the most profit while paying as little as I can on expenditures? That question holds whether the business is deciding on machines to buy or labor to hire or fire. Human needs, morality, religion, and one’s responsibility for one’s fellow beings are irrelevant. Those questions, and they alone, are the province of religion. In religion, the struggling people who the economy relegates to irrelevance, are relevant to God who sees them, and cares as much as the economy doesn’t. As Marx said:
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, a haven in a heartless world. Religion is the opium of the people.
Focus on Family and its right-wing ilk may feel that right wing politics are a good investment in making the Religious Right the only legitimate, legal safe harbor for American’s shipwrecked family dreams. Now in the US, only real opium, opiates and heroin compete as a mass outlet for people’s needs for hope and comfort. Opiates are stiff competition. Opiate use is increasing fast while church attendance decreases. Opiates are now America’s leading cause of accidental death, more than car accidents or guns. The Left has not yet advanced to be able to offer mass hope connection and a chance for a better life.
There are many established churches such as the Quakers or The United Church of Christ which are not at all part of the Religious Right. They see their moral mission to create equality and justice in the world and they work to accomplish that with their Jewish and Muslim allies such as Tikkun and the Muslim Peace Coalition. Pope Francis himself has been an outspoken voice for peace and justice and against capitalism.
Unlike their progressive counterparts, the Religious Right in their deeds, not their words, does not support viable egalitarian families. Government family support provides competition for groups like Focus on the Family. That may be one reason that they support gutting public support for families.
Another reason that the Religious Right enthusiastically endorses the Trump agenda and cutting family supports is their insistence that male and female stereotyped gender hierarchy is a biological mandate from God. There again, the Religious Right departs from their progressive colleagues. Their gender gospel is the Southern Baptist Conference on Men and Women. To quote one of their precepts:
A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
The routine denial of women’s rights within the Religious Right keeps women economically dependent upon and subordinate to their husbands. It strips the protections like battered women’s shelters for women and children, and medical care for their abuse injuries. The Religious Right’s influence has dwindled as white women have been forced into the labor force by white men’s loss of family wages to outsourcing mechanizing and computerizing their jobs. Rather than face and address the corporate capitalism behind white men’s lowered wages, Right Wing Fundamentalism blames, women, homosexuals and progressive thinking for wounding he American family. Women who work all day, may not be eager to return to a second shift of household, family and serving men at night. The Religious Right is the more tenacious as women rebel and divorce. Fully two-thirds divorces are now initiated by women. In spite of the Religious Right’s indictment of divorce, Red State marriages are more rather than less likely to end in divorce.
We on the left want families to survive and get the support crucial to enabling their survival. The family alone is not an adequate vehicle for raising strong confident thinking Americans. It never was. However, it is the best way we have to rear our children at this point in our history.
US society is breaking down. People are breaking down. Trump is symptomatic of the collapse. He throws people out of the frying pan of bourgeois capitalism into the fire of fascistic capitalism… but he does express people’s need to give the finger to the whole system no matter what happens. He captures people’s rage at their deteriorating lives. At this time, people need all the support we can get. Children and parents need even more support. The right wing professes family values while it savages family values to have more money and support for the 1% at the expense of the 99% and our children. It’s time for the Left to step up and insist on family values.
Dr. Harriet Fraad is a licensed mental health counselor and hypnotherapist in private practice in New York City. She is a founding member of the feminist movement and the journal Rethinking Marxism. For 40 years, she has been a radical committed to transforming US personal and political life.