“No room at the inn” is the well-known seasonal phrase that has been rattling around in my head this week. As I addressed Christmas cards the other night I watched a movie about the Nativity, a simple story that most grade school kids in our nation know well. Even non-Christians have been exposed because of the plethora of community religious celebrations that include school Christmas plays, parades and other public displays that depict the scene in the stable on the first Christmas Eve. This time however, during the viewing of this famous Bible account, something struck me differently. I stopped to consider the meaning of being turned away from safety and security.
As a student in Catholic schools, I endured Catechism and religion classes every day from the first grade until I was a senior in high school. I have intimate knowledge of the Nativity tale about how Jesus was born at Bethlehem in Judea in the lowliest of places; a drafty stable with the animal’s breath providing the only heat. It was impressed upon us that the owner of the inn turned Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary away with little compassion because there was no room in his establishment, but I always thought that it was because the innkeeper didn’t like poor people knocking on his door in the middle of the night. Children formulate their own mental pictures when hearing a story and that was mine about that cold, long ago night.
Saying “no room at the inn” today takes on a broader and almost visceral meaning in the wake of the recent election. It is becoming rapidly evident that many policies that have been in place for years to protect American citizens are obviously at risk as President-elect Trump’s cabinet takes form. Most of the appointees have been declared enemies of the very departments that they will lead in a Trump administration. Examine Scott Pruitt the pick to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, ally of the fossil fuel industry. Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a significant architect of the legal battle against President Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign.
The EPA is the agency of the Federal government created for the specific purpose of protecting human health and the environment and enforcing regulations based on the laws passed by Congress. At a time when we have citizen like those in Flint, Michigan whose water supply was ruined and a Republican Governor was slow to act to fix the problem, I wonder about what will happen to those who live in poverty in Flint? That number is about 40% of the residents of the city.
Next meet Andrew Puzder, the pick for Labor Secretary, a vocal critic of minimum wage increases to $15 an hour. He is also famous for his sexy ads featuring skimpily clad young women pitching Carl’s Jr. hamburgers. In defense of his risqué ad campaign Mr. Puzder has said that ugly women don’t sell burgers. “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” Against President Obama’s overtime wage reforms, Puzder has said that minimum wage hikes, paid sick leave laws, and the Affordable Care Act forced restaurants to find ways “to reduce costs while maintaining service and food quality.”
Additionally, he has said that he might look at robots in the fast food industry because there are always polite and never take a vacation. This the man heading up the government department tasked with regulating interactions between unions and management in the workplace. He is a strong supporter of accepting immigrants into our nation because it provides his industry with a low skilled and low earning workforce. As he forms policy, it seems highly unlikely that this man will have the best interests of struggling women in the workforce in mind; he has institutionalized objectifying women and demonstrates a lack of respect for the people who work for him. Is there room in the inn for these people; the most vulnerable among us? I worry that there will be no voice for them in the Department of Labor; their concerns and pleas will go unanswered.
My entire body acknowledges the weariness of trying to be optimistic in the face of behavior and actions that should never be normalized under any circumstance. Such vigilance is at odds with traditional sentiment this time of year. I play Christmas music instead of listening to TV news, take walks with my dogs and settle into the obligatory holiday activities, but my heart literally hurts. I don’t want to go to the Christmas parties on our dance card and instead feel like hiding away, keeping my family close.
This is supposed to be the time of love and charity. Instead, as a woman, I feel as if I must get ready for the battle of my lifetime. As if everything that I’ve experienced and learned up to this moment in time is pointing towards doing all in my power to stay alert and not to become complacent about the state of our country.
Nothing about this ascending president feels comforting or unifying, and that is terrifying. Over the last week or so Republicans in Congress have floated the idea that one of the first acts will be to repeal Obama care, but that it could take up to three years to replace it with something better. In the meantime, millions of Americans will have to rely on already over-crowded emergency rooms or find the increasingly rare doctor who will accept Medicare or Medicaid. These Americans were promised that there would be no gap in coverage by a smiling Donald Trump. Years ago John Fitzgerald Kennedy said in a televised address on civil rights, after the registration of two African Americans at the University of Alabama in 1963, “Every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. This is not the case.”
How sad that we are in danger of slipping right back to that time, before civil rights were extended equally to all American citizens. The underlying messages of exclusion, blame and hatred of the bitter campaign have not been assuaged by the impotent language of our new President. I remain concerned and essentially gloomy because it feels as if there is no longer going to be room at the inn for everyone in this America. Sad.