As I’ve stated here on many occasions, I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school through the end of high school. The teachings of the Church didn’t match my worldview, and it’s been decades since I attended a church service that wasn’t a wedding, a baptism, or a funeral.
But some of the stories from the Bible have remained with me since then. Good stories can offer us some guidance about the world that surrounds us today. And in this moment of national peril, when so many people are facing eviction, foreclosure, and the complete loss of any sense of stability they may currently have, the story of Judas Iscariot comes to my mind.
Judas has become a term synonymous with betrayal, and for good reason. He agreed to turn over his friend and mentor, Jesus of Nazareth, in return for thirty pieces of silver. This act set into motion the crucifixion of Jesus, and all of the events that happened thereafter. Again, I don’t subscribe to any of it, but the story itself is what I’m getting at here.
By accepting those pieces of silver from the Roman authorities, Judas sold out a man he had followed and professed belief in. The modern inclination is to try to convert the value of those pieces into current monetary value, to give some sense of what the amount would be for us today. But whether that amount would be a thousand dollars or a billion dollars isn’t really the point. It’s that a person’s ideals can have a price, for those who are willing to compromise such things.
With the $600 dollars in weekly unemployment benefits approved by Congress having run out, and the rent coming due (and it never really stopped being due in the first place), many people are freaking out, as they should be. Congress hasn’t been able to reach a compromise about how much help should be given to those who are out of work, but that’s the system of government our founders put into place more than two hundred years ago. Congress, and only Congress, has the power to appropriate (or spend) money.
By signing an Executive Order yesterday—symbolically enough not on government property, but at a golf club with his name on it—Donald Trump offered further proof, as if we needed any, that he does not understand the Constitution he swore to uphold. In return for a $400 weekly cash payment, the first $100 of which comes from the states themselves, Americans of all stripes are being asked to throw the Constitution itself out the window.
I am fortunate enough to still have a job, and to not need the unemployment payments that Trump is offering. I’ll freely admit to being in a situation not nearly as desperate as many of my countrymen are. In that sense, it’s easy for me to say that the additional unemployment payments should not be offered or accepted.
But Donald Trump is arrogating to himself the powers of a king. He’s not offering his own money (and I don’t think he has any such money to offer), but rather putting the states on the hook for money which many of them simply don’t have. And the Federal portion of this payment comes from money that Congress has not agreed to spend.
In the simplest of terms, accepting $400 a week today amounts to admission that a president—Trump and any who follow after him—can do anything they damn well please. Congress may as well shrivel up and float away if this should come to pass.
Trump has said that anyone who challenges his actions in court does not want people to have the money he is offering. But that’s the wrong way to think about this offer. A challenge to Trump’s actions has to be swift and vigorous, in order to preserve the separation of powers that is enshrined in our Constitution.
The Constitution’s separation of powers won’t put food on the table and help to pay off the landlord when the rent is due, but it’s what the soldiers who go into battle for this country have bled and died for. The United States doesn’t have a king, and that frustrates Donald Trump to no end. He considers himself as King Donald I, and is offering some of our citizens a small amount of money in order to make this into a reality.
This $400 weekly payment is being offered to us as a modern-day equivalent of the silver pieces that were once given to Judas Iscariot. And we must, through the courts and whatever other means are available to us all, reject this offer in its entirety. Our Constitutional system of goverment is worth more money than Donald Trump could ever afford to pay.