WASHINGTON — There is growing worry that Americans may be becoming less compassionate.
There is a sense the dog-eat-dog world of national politics is filtering down. People are being worn down by crisis after crisis, by being pounded over and over by rhetoric that the U.S. must be selfish and upend the world order to get what is best for it.
President Donald Trump was cheered by a certain section of citizens when he stood in front of Americans who had lost everything in two hurricanes and 2,975 of their relatives and, laughing, threw paper towels at them. A year later thousands remain without power and water. Yet Trump complained about the cost to the federal budget.
Trump was cheered, like some tin-pot dictator, when he called for “locking up” his political opponent for having a private email server. He bullies his staff in public. His moto: “Never apologize; get even.” He ridicules other leaders. Although the Constitution forbids a president and his family from profiting from the office, the Trumps are making hundreds of millions of dollars.
Trump just announced $200 billion more worth of tariffs on the Chinese, which is backfiring, hurting American manufacturers and workers, farmers and consumers.
Trump just ended all financial aid for Palestinian civilians, money that was supposed to bring peace among individual Israelis and Palestinians, mostly children.
Trump has pulled our country out of United Nations funding for human rights and refugee assistance.
Trump wants more states to restrict such things as Medicaid and food stamps unless those who receive assistance work more hours. The Congressional Budget Office says that could deny 1.2 million Americans benefits that they use to eat and feed their families. If all states use the strict work/welfare requirements that Arkansas just implemented, 4 million Americans could loss health insurance. Millions of working poor, especially single mothers, are homeless. They live in their cars, use public bathrooms and have their children do homework in the library.
But where, you rightly ask, is the evidence that we, the people, are being anesthesized against kindness and helping each other.
Well, as is true about so much of our society these days, there is good news and bad news.
Charitable giving surpassed $400 billion in this country for the first time, according to a new report on philanthropy by Giving USA.
But that giving as a percent of gross domestic product is stuck at about 2 percent. In other words, the rich are getting richer, in part because of tax cuts and the rising stock market, but they are giving about the same percent they always have. What is alarming is that big givers (mega donors) are making up more of the bulk of total giving. As the very wealthy die, they leave part of their estates to charity and that makes up more of the total picture of giving.
For example, Jeff Bezos of Amazon just gave $2 billion to childhood education. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $1.9 billion to their foundation. Michael Dell gave a billion to his foundation. Henry Hillman left $800 million to his Pittsburgh foundation. (Incidentally, Trump’s foundation was dissolved; he long ago stopped giving any money to it; how he spent the money is being investigated by the state of New York.)
Sadly, more and more people as a percentage of the population are not giving more and more.
There is also more evidence that giant corporations are not giving more of their pre-tax profits to charity. According to Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017, researched and written by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, corporations in 2017 gave $20.77 billion, but that was only .09 percent of pre-tax profits, the same percentage as in 1980. Corporate giving as a proportion of pretax income is less than half of what it was in 1986 when profits were a tenth of what they are today.
The Giving USA Foundation ranks giving this way: religion ($127 billion); education ($59 billion); human services ($50 billion); foundations ($46 billion); health organizations ($38 billion); public-society benefit organizations ($30 billion); arts, culture and humanities, $20 billion); international affairs ($23 billion); environment and animal organizations ($12 billion).
When Trump tours disaster areas such as the current devastation in the wake of Hurricane Florence (disasters traditionally cause a wide swath of Americans to reach for their wallets), he does not invoke Americans’ generosity. He never appeals to our better angels.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.