Warning: Political rant incoming. Feel free to skip if you like, though I hope you won’t — especially if you think you might disagree. Different perspectives are fun.
Nearly two months into the great Trump experiment in governmental self-destruction, I hope it’s becoming clear that the populist veneer of the Donald was just that — a veneer. A thin layer of formica made to look like marble, slapped onto plywood, rather like the furnishings in his casinos.
The GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act will result anywhere from 6 million to 10 million people losing health insurance coverage, according to the Standard & Poor’s rating agency (hardly a bastion of liberal socialism), while providing $600 billion in tax breaks to the richest 0.1% of Americans — roughly $200,000 per rich person. Let’s put it another way — that extra $600 billion is enough money to provide $50,000 in basic income for 12 million families of four for a year.
Now, I’m not so much a socialist liberal elitist or whatever to suggest that we do that. But I’m not so blind as to think that even a fraction those immensely rich folks are going to take their $200,000 and increase investment into industries and businesses that will help employ more Americans, as per the thoroughly discredited trickle-down economics the GOP seeks to cling to. No, chances are, that $200,000 will be rolled over into the market, or maybe go toward a really nice first-class vacation somewhere — just like the rest of us do with our tax refunds.
This is not populist. This is not any sort of salve to the middle class. This is a naked giveaway to the most wealthiest people on the planet. And it is shameful.
Obamacare isn’t a great, well-run, optimized government program. It has many flaws and much that can and should be debated. But when you have 20 million more Americans insured since 2010, that can only be a good thing. And don’t give me any crap about how Obamacare has hurt the economy, because since 2010, unemployment has been slashed in half, millions of jobs were created, and corporate earnings (and stocks) have soared.
Yet there are those who just want to dismantle it, and let the “free market” take care of itself. The problem is, of course, that the free market is inherently amoral. There is no room for sentiment or compassion in the free market; if you can’t afford healthcare, despite your sick child or aging parent, too bad. The free market will let them die, no matter how many jobs you work — if you can’t buy the insurance, you can’t get it. Period.
There will also be those who say that Obamacare was a giveaway to the poor, and that the hard-working middle class shouldn’t be giving its money away to those who aren’t working. Fine, but you’ll readily give away a huge $200,000 per person bonus to individuals who will never need to lift a finger again while living in luxury? Weird.
The American social contract is based on enlightened self-interest — or, at least, it was once upon a time. Once, we had the foresight to invest in the long-term health of our country through our tax dollars. We would fight modernization of industry and increasing global competition through investment in education and workforce training — not in tariffs and trade wars that would leave the United States isolated and left behind in a global economy that, like it or not, will continue to modernize and globalize without us.
We would invest in healthcare in order to get more Americans regular doctor visits, thus giving them the preventative healthcare that would help them avoid expensive emergency room visits — visits that, without insurance, would go unpaid, thus increasing costs and insurance premiums for the rest of us. Just like any insurance program, be it fire or flood or auto, the more folks paying into an insurance system, the healthier the system is and the cheaper it is to maintain that insurance. This is basic economics, man.
Better trained, better educated and healthier workers…what do you think that would do to America? Hard to say, because arguably, we haven’t had the political will to actually make meaningful investments in such things since the Great Society. But logic dictates that you would get better workers, and thus more efficiency, and thus more profits. That benefits investors in those companies as well as workers. You effectively create stronger workers, who are also thus stronger consumers and customers for other goods and services.
It’s a virtuous cycle. So why wouldn’t the GOP — long a bastion of those claiming the need for long-term views and fiscal common sense — consider this to be a good investment?
Conservatism is important to the fabric of American society. Conservatives — real, honest-to-God patriotic conservatives — will defend the status quo and ensure that the flights of fancy liberals take (and we do, God knows) can be grounded in meaning and have an acceptable balance of risk and benefit. They will defend the institutions of society against hasty or unnecessary change.
But they should not — cannot — favor a small segment of society, i.e. the rich and big business, over their own constituents. Which is exactly what is happening.
The GOP has sold their voters a bill of goods, designed — by accident or on purpose — to keep them right where they are in life. No job training, no path to greater education that doesn’t cost more than a house. The GOP will go on about Christian values while failing to show the least among us any compassion at all. Instead, GOP policies solidify an underclass of workers with nowhere to go — but always, thanks to the GOP, with someone to blame. Immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ+, Mexicans, women, irreligious folks, you name it. They make you care about which bathrooms someone is using while taking $600 billion off the tax rolls and giving it back to rich people. They scream populism and dogwhistle about American (i.e. white Christian) identity, but they’ve already lifted your wallet. And mine. And the non-white, non-Christian folks’ wallets too.
We have been bamboozled. Hoodwinked. Led astray. Run amok.
When will we see it? When will we finally understand that the populism of Trump is empty, crass rhetoric? That the GOP’s “western Christian values” are hollow, and the only values they see have dollar signs in front of them for their wealthy cronies?
Until such time as an effective communicator can make this message stick, can bring it to the folks who really have been bamboozled, hoodwinked and led astray, this will continue. And so the work now is in education and information, to bring the argument to everyone willing to listen, to change hearts and minds, one at a time if need be. That’s how change works. That’s how we get folks thinking about where their self-interest really happens to be, and which politicians have taken their interests to heart.
Let’s keep working.