This must be the place: ‘I been a workin’ man dang near all my life…’
“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing. As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
— Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)
Those exact words above were uttered this past weekend by a ranking member of our Congress to a reporter at the Des Moines Register. The statement was in reference to the estate tax being eliminated from the current Republican tax bill, which looks like it will land on President Trump’s Oval Office desk for his signature into law any day now.
Aimed to offer “massive” tax cuts and reforms “for all Americans,” the bill itself appears to be more of a lingering, slow disaster for lower- and middle-class families rather than the uplifting economic stimulus they had hoped their elected politicians would bring to them as a last-minute Christmas present.
Politics aside, the audacity of Grassley’s statement exposes an enormous gap between the senator and, well, reality. The fact that he equates being poor or in the lower income brackets as a result of frivolous spending and habits/addictions shows just how out of touch he truly is with the American people. Not to mention how the real frivolousness lies in the new tax bill allowing for exemptions for folks who own private jets, while at the same time the bill would repeal tax deduction for student loan interest.
Along the entire spectrum of this tax bill resides contradictions and hypocrisy from the GOP, who supposedly champion the “working man and woman,” which makes up a large part of the party’s base. And yet, I still can’t get Grassley’s asinine comment out of my head.
His words ricocheted around my thoughts this past Monday night while I conducted “Episode 8” of our “Smoky Mountain Voices” series. Held twice a month at Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City, I sit down, in front of a live audience and Facebook live streaming camera, with another interesting member of the community, someone doing big things in the small mountain town.
My guest Monday evening was Melissa Barker, executive director of the Swain County Family Resource Center in Bryson City. A nonprofit that provides an endless array of critical services for families in need, Barker spoke at length about the widespread nature of childhood poverty and hunger, and also adult financial traumas, that the organization aims to assist in either helping directly or pointing people in the right direction. We’re talking food/coat/shoe drives, gas/electric assistance, counseling, and so forth.
Did you know the national average for childhood hunger is 1-in-8 kids, and that Swain County clocks in around 1-in-3? And did you know the center does any and everything in its power and resources to solve these ongoing and ever-present social problems?
And as Barker talked about Swain County, she emphasized the fact many of these families are hardworking folks who have either fallen on hard times in an instant or have struggled to emerge from the depths of generational poverty. She said it’s common to see hardworking members of the community come in for food or assistance, many because they cannot connect their income to what it costs to not indulge, but simply keep their families fed and under a warm roof.
To say all of those who are struggling financially are a result of their own choices is ignorant. Many of these families, of which I’ve witnessed first-hand in similar situations, are some of the most driven, compassionate individuals you’ll ever cross paths with.
But, that disconnect — from where they are and where they want to be — resides in the mere notion they didn’t get the advantages and opportunities that others may have gotten right out of the gate towards safe passage along the journey of life. And many of these societal gaps can be bridged through continued education, childcare classes or just a helping hand in the midst of crisis, all of which the center offers with open arms.
I walked away from my conversation with Barker not with a new sense of self. As a regional journalist, I’m well-aware of what she talked about, and have been for a long-time. But, what I walked away with was a true sense of just how big of a mountain these issues are on top of each other, and how this one organization is working tirelessly, chipping away at it every single day. It’s a determination and deep desire each of us should consider in our daily ponderings — what is it I’m doing to help others?
Christmas, and the holiday season in general, isn’t about buying the “next best thing” in technology or following up on any opportunity to celebrate. It’s about being truly thankful — more like grateful — that you entered this world with at least some semblance of a “chance,” where others came into existence at the bottom of the barrel. Yes, plenty of folks do crawl their way out of poverty or their initial circumstance. But, many either feel helpless or too prideful to ever ask a favor of someone, anyone.
Be that “someone, anyone” this holiday season. Remember, every little bit matters. For more information on how to receive assistance or to make a donation of an unused/unwrapped toy, monetary or nonperishable food donation to the center, you can call Barker at 828.488.7505 or 828.736.0860.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Old-Time and Bluegrass Series at Western Carolina University continues the Haywood Ramblers at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, in Cullowhee.
2 The Haywood County Arts Council annual show, “It’s a Small, Small Work,” will be held through Dec. 23 in HCAC Gallery & Gifts in Waynesville.
3 Andrews Brewing Company (Andrews) will host the “Lounge Series” with The Blues Revue (bluegrass) at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.
4 Western Carolina University’s School of Music will present the comic opera “The Hotel Casablanca” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, in the recital hall of the Coulter Building.
5 The Classic Wineseller (Waynesville) will host its Jingle Bell Bash w/Sheila Gordon (piano/vocals) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.