In 1932, as the Great Depression took hold and once-proud Americans were reduced to begging, Bing Crosby recorded a song called “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” It became a hit, even though Republicans tried to force radio stations not to play it because it was “anti-capitalist.” And indeed it was.
“They used to tell me I was building a dream With peace and glory ahead Why should I be standing in line Just waiting for bread? … Brother, can you spare a dime?”
Today, the Republicans are at it again, or at least one Republican is. As the country goes through a different kind of depression over the presidency of Donald Trump, 800,000 federal government workers are being told they have little choice but to revert to modern-day panhandling to keep them and their families from economic collapse.
Trump has dug in his heels over his perverted fantasy of a border wall. It’s a “crisis” at the southern border he insists, with disingenuous support coming from his sycophants, who are so desperate to stay in his good graces that they’re willing to sell their souls to keep their positions, assuming they even have souls.
Those federal employees whose jobs right now are worthless because they’re unfortunate enough to work in agencies that didn’t have funding appropriated are either being forced to stay at home or, in the case of those who have the bad luck of being designated “essential,” to work without pay. A few lawsuits are rattling around, claiming in essence that such work without pay is mandated slavery.
President Trump has insisted that he can “relate” to their plight, even though he owns a private jet and claims to be a billionaire. Even so, some of the staff members who were designated “essential” tried to curry his favor by emailing memos to all hands containing strategies to survive. The Office of Personnel Management even offered sample letters that their unfortunates can send to those they owe – landlords, for instance – offering “to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments.”
If that sounded like it came from some graduates of Trump University’s Marie Antoinette School of Human Resources, the Coast Guard provided the icing on the cake. It was five pages of icing, called “Managing your finances during a furlough.” Guidance for the Coast Guard’s 8,500 civilian employees who are sailing choppy waters as they struggle to stay financially afloat without their paycheck lifeboats.
The tips included holding garage sales or selling things online, walking dogs or baby-sitting, tutoring and, of course, “Bankruptcy is a last option.” Happily, some merchants have seen the public-relations value of announcing they would cut unpaid federal government employees some slack, but that’s uneven. Others, like many Transportation Security Administration officers, are calling in sick, which slows things down even more at our airports.
That could mean airlines and other parts of the travel industry will use their deep-pocketed lobbying clout to put pressure on the politicians. By the way, that dime of 1932 is worth slightly more than $4.50 today. The truth of the matter is that thousands upon thousands of these families, who live paycheck to paycheck, need more than a lousy $4.50 to tide them over.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2019 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.