If you have been on social media for any amount of time, you have seen memes. These are cute photos, with a sentence on them, explaining an issue. Memes are highly problematic, however. Why? A meme tries to put a very complex issue into a bumper sticker. It is, in fact, a bumper sticker for social media.

Memes are produced for a lot of issues. Whether it is foreign aid, climate change, or DC politics. A few are mostly factual, but most are nor. There is a very good example about aid to Israel and aid to Detroit. The meme claims that Israel gets $3 billion annually, while Detroit gets zero. The fact that Detroit, and other urban areas get aid from another part of the budget is never part of the meme. Nor the understanding that the part of the budget that has aid to Israel is a total of $54 billion dollars, and it includes aid to many other countries, as well as Embassy and Consular operations. If the person who created the original meme believes that money for Detroit comes from that part of the budget, he or she is very uniformed. However, it is likely dissembling.

Worst, it is the old poison of antisemitism.

Why do I say this? Simple. Almost every person that shares this meme has no idea that Israel is not the only benefactor of American largesse. The day that these people start complaining about foreign aid to Colombia, Afghanistan, Jordan and Mexico to name a few, perhaps I might take them more seriously.

Moreover, when it is shown to them that this meme is dead wrong, they start arguing that we should cut foreign aid (to Israel of course.)

Nor do they know the benefits that accrue to the United States from these foreign Aid programs. Many are meant to reduce poverty, ergo people can find jobs and stay at home. Schools and clinics are at times built, essential infrastructure that does not exist in many of these countries. (Granted, there is quite a bit of corruption involved, see Afghanistan and USAID) Then there are the vaccination campaigns that are essential to global public health. The fact that you have not heard of a case of Polio in the United States is directly related to these programs.

Specific to Israel. While some of that aid does indeed go to the defense of the Jewish State (meaning we sell weapon systems to the Isrealis, many that are field tested in the Middle East, which directly benefit American companies and workers), there are other benefits to the United States. Are you worried about Alzheimer’s in a family member? Guess where leading research is being done? Go ahead, take a guess. The greening of the Central Valley in California came directly from techniques developed in Israel, which are not just shared with the United States. In the age of climate change, those techniques will be essential to feed global populations.

But, but, we could spend that money in infrastructure! Indeed we could, even if the money used for infrastructure spending in the United States comes from a DIFFERENT part of the budget. Oh and we have made a very conscious decision at local, state and federal levels NOT to invest in infrastructure.

But lets assume for a second that the United States closed all its embassies and consulates. Hell, we closed Foggy Botton while at it and every border. The budget for this department this year is $54 million dollars. Let’s ignore the real negative effects in closing the country. Magically we moved the country to another planet. The reality is that the funds needed to fix ONLY bridges is right about double that.

According to Business Insider, quoting the American Society of Ciivil Engineers, the country needs to spend $4.5 trillion dollars by 2025 to fix roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure. The current fiscal year budget is $4.094 trillion. $54 billion, assuming we cut all foreign spending are the equivalent of the pennies that you lost when you lay down on the sofa to take a nap. And we need to spend more money to fix what ails us, than the totality of the federal budget.

Then there is another good example regarding climate change. This meme claims that jet contrails did not exist in the 1960s. First off, contrails are an effect of jets. Jet engines in the right conditions (like more humidity in the stratosphere) will leave behind contrails. People who lived near military bases or airports in the jet age have always seen contrails. They are more significant these days since climate change is heating the atmosphere, which leads to more humidity in the upper atmosphere, where jets travel.

Meme culture can be very damaging. It is not unlike bumper stickers. It presumes to explain issues, but what it does is simplify them to the point of hilarity. Some are good, but before you share a meme, fact check it. Or share it and deconstruct it. It is time to challenge the simplification of policy.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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