President Donald Trump finally got to deliver his State of the Union address with the recent partial government shutdown in the rear-view mirror (although we could totally have another one in the near future if we don’t figure out how to decouple the subject of a border wall from funding federal agencies, so yay?). The good news is the president stopped short of calling for a state of emergency to advance construction of a border wall. The bad news is Trump had a national platform by which to spew his rhetoric at the American people.
Before we get to the veracity of what Trump said or lack thereof, let’s first address what the man spoke about. Trump’s agenda, at least in principle, was devoted to the areas where members of both parties can find consensus. These major topics included promoting fair trade and other policies which help American jobs/workers, rebuilding our infrastructure, reducing the price of health care (including prescription drugs), creating a more modern and secure immigration system, and advancing foreign policy goals that align with American interests.
On the economy, it was jobs, jobs, jobs! Wages are rising! Unemployment is declining! Regulations are going away! Companies are coming back! And it’s all because of me! So let’s stop all these needless investigations into my affairs. You don’t want THE AMERICAN PEOPLE to suffer on account of me, do you? Trump also addressed tariffs and the USMCA, but rather than calling out countries like China for abuse of workers’ rights or currency manipulation or anything like that, he expressed respect for Xi Jinping and instead laid blame at the feet of past leaders and lawmakers. As always, thanks, Obama.
On immigration, well, you probably know the story by now. Immigrants enrich our society in many ways—except when they don’t, taking away jobs, lowering wages, bringing drugs and violent crime, encouraging the trafficking of human beings, and taxing our public services. ICE is a bunch of heroes, gosh darn it! And we need that wall!
On infrastructure, Trump indicated we need both parties to work together and that he is “eager” to work with Congress on new, cutting-edge investments that the country requires to keep pace in a rapidly developing world. That’s it. Not a lot of what these infrastructural improvements would look like or how we’d go about funding them. But, huzzah, infrastructure!
On lowering drug prices/health care, Congress, wouldja put something together already? Sheesh? Also, HIV and AIDS—why are they still a thing? Let’s cut that out. Cancer? You’re next. Really, we need to recognize that all life is precious. Looking at you, Democrats, and your whole insistence on women’s right to choose. #NotMyAbortions
Lastly, on foreign policy, Trump extolled the virtues of our Armed Forces and thus explained why we need to shower them with money on an annual basis. Also, NATO was being very mean to us but now its members are going to spend more on defense. Also also, Russia is being a doo-doo head and that’s why we pulled out of the INF Treaty. Also also also, Kim Jong-un and I are BFFs and we’re going to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. Also also also also, Guaidó > Maduro and socialism never works. Also 5x, Israel is super cool, the Holocaust was bad, ISIS is defeated, and did I mention we love our troops?
In conclusion, America is awesome and greatness awaits us. So ladies and gents, let’s not screw the pooch on this one and work together. Because if we fail, it will because you all couldn’t figure out how to rise above our differences. #NotMyFault
Our economy isn’t growing twice as fast today as when Trump took office, and in fact, American economic growth in 2018 fell short of that of even Greece. Greece!
Trump claimed his administration has cut more regulations than any other administration in U.S. history, but according to experts, these rollbacks aren’t at the level of the Carter and Reagan administrations.
Job creation during Trump’s tenure isn’t some miraculous, near-impossible feat. It’s roughly on par with the state of affairs during the Obama administration and down from job creation in the 1990s. Also, more people are working in the United States than ever before because more people live here. Unless he wants to take credit for helping populate America too.
On immigration, phew, where do we start? El Paso was never one of America’s most dangerous cities. San Diego’s border fencing “did not have a discernible impact” on lower border apprehension rates, according to the Congressional Research Service. In addition, the idea that “large, organized caravans” of migrants are on their way to the U.S. is exaggerated.
Not only has the USMCA not been approved by Congress yet, but it might not bring as many manufacturing jobs back to America—or for that matter, the North American continent—as anticipated.
On Nicolás Maduro and Venezuela, it’s not so much that Maduro is a socialist as much as he’s a dictator whose rule has been marked by corruption, deficiency in the rule of law, and the circumvention of democracy. But keep parroting conservative talking points.
Trump claimed we’d be at war with North Korea if he hadn’t been elected. Bullshit. Especially in the incipient stages of his presidency, Trump notably egged on Kim Jong-un, referring to him as “Little Rocket Man.” Back the trolley up there, Mr. President.
On abortion, more misleading remarks. Trump suggested New York’s Reproductive Health Act allows abortions until shortly before birth, but rather, the law permits abortions after 24 weeks in cases where the fetus is not viable or the mother’s health would be imperiled.
Trump also invoked Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s comments about discussing abortion with physicians up until birth and end-of-life care in instances where a child wouldn’t live, though Trump treated them as tantamount to advocating for babies’ execution after birth. Sadly, Northam’s ongoing controversy involving whether or not he appeared dressed in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan costume in a college yearbook photo was not part of Trump’s deceptive commentary. That’s on you, Ralph, and I wish you would resign already.
The State of the Union address, especially under Pres. Donald Trump, is a bizarre bit of theater. Here is a function outlined in the Constitution and adapted by means of tradition that makes for much pomp and circumstance amid the formal procedures and recognitions which occur within, presided over by a president who consistently flouts convention and other semblances of decorum. The Trump presidency has been one marked by chaos and one which encourages division within the electorate. The very date of the address was postponed by a shutdown characterized by partisan gridlock—which went curiously unmentioned during Trump’s speech—and was a bone of contention between the president and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. To have members of Congress from both parties smiling and clapping for him seems rather jarring.
It’s particularly jarring to witness this spectacle and the parade of “Lenny Skutniks” that presidents trot out in the name of bolstering their credibility (Trump called upon World War II veterans, a minister who had her non-violent drug offense commuted by Trump, another former inmate who sold drugs and has since reformed, the family of victims of a undocumented immigrant’s violence, an immigrant-turned-ICE special agent, a cancer survivor, the father of someone lost in the attack on the USS Cole, a SWAT officer on the scene at last year’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, and a Holocaust survivor) when the Democrats offered an official rebuttal, as is custom.
Stacey Abrams, who came within two percentage points of winning the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and might’ve won if not for then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s shenanigans, delivered the Dems’ response. She assailed the Republican Party for crafting an immigration plan that tears families apart and puts children in cages, for working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, for failing to take action on climate change, for rigging elections and judiciaries, and for repeatedly attacking the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, among other things. Abrams closed her speech with these thoughts:
Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems—I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.
Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment—to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together. Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are—and when we do so, never wavering—the state of our union will always be strong.
Abrams’s sentiments may seem a bit schmaltzy at points, but alongside Trump’s rhetoric since he began his presidential campaign, she is much better equipped to talk about the state of the union and bipartisan solutions than our Commander-in-Chief. And while this message serves an obvious partisan purpose, criticism of Trump’s divisiveness is deserved, notably in light of his numerous falsehoods and distortions.
That’s what makes this all so disorienting. Donald Trump speaks to solving problems which may or may not exist, leaving existing problems unaddressed and creating phantoms where bogeymen are needed. As senator Richard Blumenthal wrote on Twitter, Trump’s State of the Union speech was a “tale of two countries.”
To entertain the absurdities of his presidency with any degree of normalcy, applauding him and dignifying his comments with formality and a primetime audience, is therefore to acknowledge two different speeches: the one that the president gave and the one that Americans actually deserved. It creates a sort of cognitive dissonance that requires some degree of mental gymnastics to try to sort out. Is Trump the uniter and Democrats the dividers? Was it all a farce, his plea for unity and his presidential tone an exercise in cynicism? Or was it just an unofficial rally for his base and potential voters heading into 2020? Does anything he say truly matter? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The questions abound, as do the anxiety, probable headaches, and possible additional Queen references.
I’m not sure what the answer is here, if there is only one. I chose not to watch the live broadcast and to read a transcript, view photos, and watch video clips after the fact. I would’ve liked to see more lawmakers do the same, though I suppose Nancy Pelosi did get in some epic eye-rolls. Maybe we should do away with the whole spectacle altogether.
At least as far as Trump is concerned, he’s already made his true feelings known via social media countless times over. Why bother with the charade when we can just read a written report or his tweets instead? If nothing else, it would save time.
On the U.S. version of The Office, tasked with picking a health care plan for Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Dwight Schrute, assistant to the regional manager, prided himself on slashing benefits “to the bone” in an effort to save the company money. He rationalized his decision-making with the following thought: “In the wild, there is no health care. In the wild, health care is, ‘Ow, I hurt my leg. I can’t run. A lion eats me and I’m dead’.”
Dwight Schrute is, of course, a fictional character, and his attitude is an extreme one. Nevertheless, his mentality reflecting the notion that health care is no guarantee and the idea he needs to select a plan for his Scranton office at all are indicative of a very real issue facing Americans to this day. If health care is a right, why does it feel more like a jungle out here?
To this point, the Declaration speaks against discrimination based on any identifying characteristic. It opposes slavery, torture, and unfair treatment at the hands of law enforcement and the courts. It asserts that all persons have the right to a nationality and to seek asylum from persecution. They also possess the right to marry, the right to their property, freedom of expression/thought and religion, and freedom to peaceably assemble and participate in government. Other stated liberties include the right to work for equal pay, the right to leisure, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to appreciate culture.
What is striking to Gjelten and others is how the UDHR is designed to be applicable across cultures, political systems, and religions. It is truly meant as a universal set of standards, one with secular appeal. That is, it is a human document, not a God-given list of commandments.
Then again, in some contexts, this last point might be a bone of contention. As Gjelten explains, Saudi Arabia abstained from the original unanimous United Nations Assembly vote because of issues with the Declaration’s views on family, marriage, and religious freedom, in particular the idea that one can freely change religions, which can be considered a crime. In general, some of the strongest objections to the language of the UDHR have come from the Islamic world, though this does not imply that Islamic law and these rights are incompatible.
There were others who abstained from the vote in 1948 as well, though. The Soviet Union and its bloc states were part of the eight abstentions, presumably because of the stipulation about people’s right to freely expatriate. South Africa, a country then predicated on racial segregation, was also part of the eight. Even some American conservatives at the time had their qualms about the UDHR’s wording, convinced the sentiments about economic rights sounded too socialist. Actually, that probably hasn’t changed all that much. In certain circles, socialism is indeed a dirty word.
The thrust of Gjelten’s piece is more than just admiration for the Declaration’s principles and the work of Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the UN commission responsible for drafting the document, though, deserved as that admiration is. 70 years after the fact, America’s commitment to upholding its articles is not above reproach. Furthermore, in an era when a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to “globalism” pervades politics here and abroad, the UDHR’s spirit of universality and international fraternity is seriously put to the test.
Gjelten cites two areas in which the country “still falls short” as a subset of the “struggles for civil and political rights that were yet to come” subsequent to the UDHR’s approval vote. One is equal pay for equal work, a topic which deserves its own separate analysis and, as such, I’m not about to litigate it at length here. Suffice it to say, however, that I—alongside many others—believe the gender gap is very real. It also disproportionately affects women of color, occurs across occupations and industries, and is frequently mediated by employer practices that rely on prior salary history as well as policies enforced in individual states designed to specifically disenfranchise female earners. Do with these thoughts as you will.
The other area in which the U.S. has fallen short, as alluded to earlier, is universal health care. Article 25 of the Declaration states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
As a fact sheet on the right to health from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization elaborates, the right to health includes access to health care and hospitals, but it’s more than that. It includes safe drinking water, food, and adequate sanitation. It includes adequate housing and nutrition. It includes gender equality, healthy environmental and working conditions, and health-related education and information.
But yes—it does include the “right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.” It doesn’t say this is a privilege only for those who can afford it.
This is an essential point in the health care “debate.” Should health care be a right for all? While you’re entitled to your opinion, Mr. or Ms. Schrute, if you say no, it’s hard to know how to continue the conversation beyond that. This applies both for naysayers on the left and on the right. Don’t hide behind the idea “we can’t afford it.” Don’t hide behind the Affordable Care Act, which is no guarantee to survive given repeated attempts to sabotage it. If you believe health care is a human right, let’s work backward from there. I mean, all these other countries have some form of single-payer health care. Why shouldn’t we—and don’t tell me it’s because we spend too much on our iPhones.
Tom Gjelten’s piece is more concerned with the history behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its formation. Like any good historian, though, he’s got a mind for the Declaration’s larger implications and its potential impact in the years and decades to come. Getting back to that whole growing nationalism thing, Gjelten notes how playing identity politics often draws strength from ethnic or religious conflict.
To be clear, this trend in increasing strife between different groups isn’t just an American phenomenon. Around the world, political leaders have risen to power by aggressively promoting division and/or appealing to a sense of national pride through brutality and curtailing human rights. Rodrigo Duterte. Xi Jinping. Narendra Modi. Viktor Orban. Vladimir Putin. Mohammed bin Salman. The list goes on. There will be more to come, too. Jair Bolsonaro was recently elected president in Brazil. His mindset carries with it a promise for a regressive shift in his country’s politics.
Still, even if we’re not the only ones coping with societal change, if America is truly the greatest country in the world, we should be setting the best example in terms of adherence to the UDHR’s principles. Meanwhile, even before Trump, our country’s commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has been uneven.
Criminal sentencing/policing disparities and states’ insistence on use of the death penalty. The lack of a universal health care infrastructure. Failure to protect the rights of vulnerable populations, including women/girls, people with disabilities, and the LGBT+ community. War crimes overseas and at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Surveillance of global communications. And since Trump has taken office, our performance on these fronts has only gotten worse, notably in categories like foreign policy, the rights of non-citizens, and safeguarding First Amendment rights. If this is “America First” and “making America great again,” there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.
A lot of this may sound a bit too SJW for some. We should all respect one another’s rights. Everyone should be afforded the same opportunities to succeed. Let’s all hold hands and sing songs together around the campfire. I get it. There are practical considerations which complicate implementing solutions to global ills as well. Agencies and nations have to be willing to work together to achieve common goals, and who pays what is always a bother. On the latter note, I tend to think some cases are overstated or represented in a misleading way by politicians and the media. Cue the myriad “Bernie/AOC doesn’t know what he’s/she’s talking about” articles. Let’s all move closer to the center because it has worked so well for us until now.
The thing is that many of the principles covered by the UDHR reflect policy directions voters want and can agree on. When Republicans came to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they were unsuccessful in part because of the public outcry in support of the ACA. Turns out people like being able to afford health care—who knew? Regarding equal pay for equal work, that shortfall for working women is one that whole families could use if given a fairer salary or wage. Not to mention it’s, you know, the morally right thing to do.
Though we may be susceptible to the words of political figures that would keep us at odds with each other (and secretly may even like it that way), we must continually put the onus on our elected officials to authentically represent all the people within their jurisdiction. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good place to start. As suggested before, let’s consider the change we hope to see before capitulating or saying “no” outright. A more equal America is one which will benefit all its inhabitants—from top to bottom and over the long term.
When Barack Obama stepped into office in 2009 and began signing executive orders, he was criticized vociferously by conservatives, Republicans, and the combination therein. Never mind that they were primed to look for any reason to hate on Obama—Sean Hannity even took time out to assail #44 for his choice of condiments on his burger, of all things—but the suggestion was that Barack Obama was content to rule by fiat rather than work with Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. Not one to hold his feelings and opinions back, Donald Trump was among these vocal critics, regularly attacking the man who would eventually hand him the keys to the White House, so to speak, on matters of playing golf and issuing executive orders. Of course, now that “the Donald” is President, he spends more than a quarter of his time golfing—usually at one of his resorts and thereby costing the taxpayer while lining his own pockets. As for executive orders, Trump’s pace thus far is likewise hypocritical. As of this writing, Trump’s 49 executive orders puts him on pace to sign the most orders in 50 years. Now if only he could fill his Cabinet with this much alacrity and zeal!
This most recent Trump executive order is especially notable in the context of the apparent war waged by the GOP on affordable health care in the United States of America, as it specifically addresses the Affordable Care Act. Broadly speaking, the executive order is aimed at allowing small businesses skirt some of the requirements currently imposed by the ACA. One of its major functions is to ease the rules that govern the creation of “association health plans,” which are plans that can be created by small businesses across state lines through trade groups, theoretically designed to drive down insurance rates by increasing competition. As Bruce Japsen, a Forbes contributor, tells, however, AHPs don’t have a track record of great success. The idea of association health plans has existed for decades, but according to Japsen via those who have studied interstate insurance sales over time, these plans have not met with much efficacy. AHPs have been prone to cost-cutting methods which have also meant cutting the quality of service, not to mention they’ve been subject to their fair share of fraud and insolvency. As critics have outlined, there is increased risk of “essential health benefits” no longer being covered by these new plans, as well as fewer options and higher premiums on the individual market. In addition, in states where buying insurance across state lines already exists, plans that make use of this provision are sparse to nonexistent. As Japsen details, this “hasn’t worked in large part because plans haven’t wanted to spend the money contracting with more doctors and hospitals in areas they have no enrollees.” For consumers and insurers alike, the prospect of association health plans has been a losing proposition.
The other major function of President Trump’s executive order is to increase the limits by which insurance plans can be considered short-term insurance plans. Effectively, it would be undoing an Obama-era provision that narrowed the window to three months of eligibility for these plans—which are intended for people expected to be out of work only for a limited period of time. By expanding the period of time that these plans can be used by employers, which tend to offer fewer essential benefits and involve higher out-of-pocket costs, it is that much more likely that healthier people will use short-term plans to circumvent the ACA. With respect to the ACA plans, this likely will lead to higher premiums, fewer insurers, and thus, less competition and stability. Other than that, though, a great idea, eh?
Overall, the theme is one of offering less expansive health coverage while at the same time increasing premiums for the most vulnerable Americans, namely the elderly, the poor, and the sick—often one and the same given a previous inability to accrue savings or the simple fact of not having a steady source of income beyond supplemental avenues—and decreasing the number of available insurance options, all under the guise of cutting costs and creating competition among insurers. In other words, Trump’s executive order is not all it’s cracked up to be, which explains why opposition to it is so widespread, including from consumer groups, physicians groups, policy analysts, and state officials. While the very legality of this executive order has yet to be decided, as with a number of Pres. Trump’s directives in their original form, and while the order merely provides direction to government agencies with respect to how they should interpret elements of health care touched by the Affordable Care Act to alleviate financial burdens, it seems apparent that Trump is not altogether concerned with the long and short of what his own authorization contains, but rather merely that this will eat away at a significant portion of Barack Obama’s legacy as POTUS. This is to say that Donald Trump evidently is OK with ending the so-called “mess” that is ObamaCare whether it works or not, Tweeting as Americans threaten to slide down into the abyss.
And this is before we even get to the issue of ending Affordable Care Act subsidies. President Trump stated that he plans to end federal payments to insurers as part of cost-sharing reductions that allow consumers to manage their deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. The timetable for this shift is—surprise!—unclear, although some believe the cutoff will arrive next month. Coincidentally—though likely not coincidentally—open enrollment for coverage through ACA marketplaces is set to begin in a few weeks. Accordingly, Trump has been charged with figuratively “throwing a bomb” into these marketplaces, the fallout of which would stand to disproportionately affect Americans in the states that voted him for in the presidential election. Thanks for your support, guys, but it’s time for you to pay more or die! It’s telling when Democrats are on the same side as health insurance companies on an issue, and when congressional Republicans are urging the President to continue these subsidies despite them being challenged in court by House GOP members. Speaking of the courts, a number of states have sued to stop the removal of these subsidies, and more lawsuits are apt to come from insurers and other concerned parties. Donald Trump’s move to essentially “gut” the Affordable Care Act may be his way of trying to push responsibility onto Congress and various federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, but it comes with real consequences. Might these consequences also come in the form of political damage for Trump and the rest of the GOP? Though his popularity has steadily declined, Trump has yet to really feel the brunt of strong criticism for his poor decision-making, especially among his supporters. Then again, if he f**ks with their health care, all bets might be off.
On the specific subject of these ACA subsidies—the main reason for the furor over Pres. Trump’s decision, at that—the debate seems to be a striking example of what is technically correct and what is morally correct. I alluded to the notion earlier that House Republicans have challenged the legitimacy of the subsidy payments. As a federal court decided, this challenge has merit. The Obama administration approved Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies that go directly to insurers in an effort to reduce the bottom line of the consumer. As the court found, however, this violates the Constitution because it involves the executive branch making appropriations and bypassing Congress to do it, a violation of the separation of powers doctrine fundamental to the idea of checks and balances. Additionally, by giving money to insurance companies, this, in theory, materially benefits them, though the companies allege consumers are the primary beneficiaries. It’s no small potatoes, either—we’re talking billions of dollars here. This is the aspect of the subsidies that Donald Trump, friend of the American people and of the little guy, has latched onto in explaining why he is choosing to end these subsidies so abruptly and why now. You know, because if this were truly a principle-of-the-thing kind of thing, wouldn’t you have ended the subsidy payments when you first got into office? Unless you were convinced that you and your Republican cronies were going to ram a repeal of the Affordable Care Act down our throats before it even got this far? I mean, did you even think about the matter this hard?
So, yes, CSR subsidies may not be technically constitutionally correct, and conservative publications and thinkers which shamelessly defend the President have already hailed this directive as a defense of law and order in these United States. Never mind his myriad potential other constitutional offenses and conflicts of interests—in the arena of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, Trump is A-OK. On the other hand—and this is the critical point in all this discussion of the Affordable Care Act, subsidies, and making affordable health care less a luxury and more a right (as it should be)—to yank away these subsidies suddenly like a rug under the feet of average Americans, as many would argue, is not the morally advisable course of action. Even Trump’s boasting on Twitter about hurting the stocks of health insurers smacks of an emotional disconnect with the consumer. While few would or should feel bad for corporations, which do not have feelings and don’t exist outside of the world of legal entities, having share prices dive affects shareholders, and could even result in employees within these companies losing jobs. There are real people behind the dollars and cents that go up and down. It’s not a game.
Of course, Donald Trump’s moral compass has long been suspect in its utility as a guide, if not completely broken. As such, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised he would put himself at odds with the needs of his constituents, let alone the wishes of his Republican comrades in his adopted party, many of whom are likely to face stiff contests in 2018 in midterm elections, let alone GOP primaries leading up to the big shebang. Already, if Roy Moore’s defeat of Luther Strange in Alabama to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General is any indication, “establishment” candidates/incumbents are facing a voting public that has soured on Congress’s well-established tradition of being inefficient and ineffectual in representing the needs of the working class and middle-class America, demographics on the seeming decline as they are. Thus, while Trump himself may be safe given that incumbent Presidents seeking re-election tend to be victorious and that Democrats seem unlikely to unite behind a sufficiently progressive candidate, if voters connect the dots between failures in health care and a faulty GOP health care strategy, contested seats may not be as secure as Republican congressional leaders might otherwise be led to believe.
Donald Trump, in his usual grandiose style, stated that there is no more such thing as ObamaCare, that it is “dead” and “gone.” Also as usual, his rhetoric is misleading. Trump’s executive order and his intended end to subsidized lower insurance costs through the Affordable Care Act would be devastating to insurance marketplaces, an effect exacerbated by the timing of this decision/its proximity to open enrollment. However, without a satisfactory plan waiting in the wings, #45 is invoking the name of congressional Democrats and Republicans and insisting that the two sides work together for the sake of a “short-term fix.” This is not how good political leaders operate: by coercing lawmakers into action, including those of his own adopted party, and encouraging a standoff between the executive and the legislature. It’s bullying, and it’s a refusal to own his own failure in being unable to negotiate a deal that would see a credible surrogate for the ACA. Meanwhile, at least 18 states are suing to block a halt to the CSR subsidies, with insurance premiums and federal budget deficits set to increase significantly if Trump’s plan—if you can even call it a plan—comes to fruition. That’s not just bad for insurance companies and the senators who have counted them among their biggest donors. That’s bad for the entire nation.
In the name of his own vanity, President Donald Trump aims to throw a wrench into the workings of the Affordable Care Act as a means of somehow erasing Barack Obama’s legacy. Obama’s historic presidency, however, is more than just the sum of the legislation he signed into law, and while Obama was far from perfect as leader of the country, he is light-years ahead of Trump in intellect, moral fiber, and professionalism. As aforementioned, thus far, not much in the way of negative associations have stuck with Teflon Don, during his tenure as POTUS or, for that matter, in light of his overrated track record as a businessman and entrepreneur. Perhaps through the lens of TrumpCare, though, the shine on his unnaturally orange visage will begin to fade.
In a March 2016 town hall event in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Donald Trump expressed the belief that women should be punished for having an abortion. The due outrage was swift to follow, as were Trump’s attempts to modify or recant on his remarks. No, he meant that doctors should be punished for performing these procedures. No, wait—women were punishing themselves for getting abortions. Yes—that’s the ticket! Actually, hold on—are the evangelicals listening? Then women definitely should be punished in some way for aborting their baby. Absolutely. I’ve believed this all of my life—except in 1999 when I said that I was “very pro-choice.” Trump’s expressed opinions on this subject may as well as have been a magic 8-ball. Wait a few minutes and shake—you were liable to get a different answer depending on his mood and his audience.
Trump may have waffled on the issue of abortion as he did on the issue of support of the Iraq War—he claims he didn’t support it, but he totally f**king did—but as far as his pandering to conservative interests went, like a lawyer who makes an extreme allusion only to have his or her line of questioning instructed by the judge of the jury to be disregarded, he got his point across. For the Christians who hold a deep distaste for abortion as a sin and tantamount to murder, and who are yet more resolute than he, Donald Trump was their man. Bringing Mike Pence along as his choice for Vice President only affirmed his commitment to the religious right. Despite his dearth of knowledge of the Bible (or, for that matter, most books intended to be read by adults), and despite his decidedly un-Christian remarks about various minority groups and particularly lewd comments about women, on this issue and perhaps other choice topics (e.g. bringing jobs back to America, immigration, terrorism), Trump’s supporters evidently could forgive and forget. After all, if some of these individuals would be willing to do something as crazy as firebomb a Planned Parenthood center over their antipathy toward abortion—a small portion, granted, but still—then voting for Trump was, if not less crazy, then certainly eminently more legal.
Republican politicians, when not precisely enunciating their views on abortion, will frequently defer to one of two stock positions so as not to alienate voters and yet still communicate a satisfactory enough answer to the desired constituency. The first is something to the effect of, “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land (presumably, they would throw their hands up at this point), but I would support the Supreme Court overturning that decision.” Never mind that a majority of Americans oppose such a reversal, including a majority of moderate and liberal Republicans (apparently, they do exist) who disagree with a complete overturning of this decision. The other standard response: “Well, Anderson, I feel abortion and reproductive rights are a matter best left to the states.” Beautiful. Not only does this raise the possibility of abortion being banned by law in the individual’s jurisdiction, but it specifically sticks it to the federal government. Tell me what kind of meat I can and can’t eat! A pox on your standards, I say! Besides, going back to Roe v. Wade, seeing as this landmark decision has survived for decades without being reversed, the more prudent move for GOP politicians and supporters may be to try their luck at the state level.
Unfortunately for the pro-choice crowd, Republican pro-life forces have more than just simple luck at their disposal, controlling as many state legislatures and governor seats as they do. With this in mind, it’s no wonder some scary pieces of legislation have and continue to be advanced in red states across America. In Texas, Senate Bill 8 would, if passed, allow those who drive women seeking abortions to clinics as effective accessories to a crime. In Oklahoma, legislators passed a non-binding resolution to force officials to equate abortion with murder, and one particular Oklahoma representative dared to insinuate as part of his anti-abortion agenda that cases of pregnancy by rape and incest could be considered “God’s will.” Kansas Republicans, in requiring doctors to provide additional information to women considering abortions, even specified what font, size, and color of paper and ink must be used in furnishing this information. The list goes on. In particular, minors seeking abortions are heavy targets of these kinds of provisions, such that if the potential embarrassment of an unintended pregnancy or having to receive permission from one’s parents is not bad enough, additional legal hurdles and the threat of jail time exacerbate the situation. Apparently, it’s worth it to make young people feel like shit and risk them taking matters into their own hands. Thanks for the life lessons, GOP.
The hardline stance of those on the right against abortion and even access to contraceptives is nothing new. For that matter, it speaks to a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist attitude that equates babies being born out of wedlock or even sex without the express purpose of procreation as sinful. With Roe v. Wade serving as established legal precedent, meanwhile, as much as overt maneuvers to all but outlaw abortion in name bear scrutiny for their relentless advancement of a pro-life cause, policies which seem more benign and would even superficially seem to show genuine concern for women’s reproductive health also deserve to be analyzed. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott recently signed into law the Grieving Families Act, which provides for issuance of a birth certificate of sorts upon request for women who have miscarriages between nine and 20 weeks of gestation starting July 1. The measure had support from both Democratic and Republican state legislators. OK, you’re thinking, this is good, right? Bilateral political support, recognition of the intensity of emotion surrounding pregnancy, especially one that ends early—no problem here.
Not so fast. This is Rick Scott we’re talking about here, a man who, as governor of the state of Florida, has signed bills that have eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood and imposed additional restrictions on abortions, as well as a measure that requires women to wait 24 hours and visit a doctor before going through with the procedure. Also, the Grieving Families Act was vocally opposed by the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, who, you would suppose, would tend to have women and their best interests in mind. Might there be a hidden abortion-related subtext to this legislation? You bet your “certificate of nonviable birth,” there is. Without mentioning abortion, the Act suggests that life starts at nine weeks, while at the same time obliquely referencing the 20-week threshold by which right-oriented politicians have sought to cap abortions nationwide.
This is why Florida’s iteration of NOW chose to voice their opposition to the bill: it is a stepping stone to legally defining when life begins and thereby reducing lawful abortions. According to a report for Associated Press by Brendan Farrington, Planned Parenthood was neutral on the Grieving Families Act before being signed by Gov. Scott, and between Democrats and Republicans, only one “no” vote was recorded between the state Senate and House. It’s disturbing, because it’s not hard to connect the dots between awarding “birth” certificates for miscarriages and trying to change the law on abortion. Sure, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Cortes, claims there is no anti-abortion aspect and that he worked with Democrats to make sure they were “comfortable” with the language of the bill. In my mind, however, this only makes the construction of this legislation more suspect, and of the Democrats who voted “yes” on the Grieving Families Act, at best, they appear easily duped, and at worst, complacent or complicit with what Florida GOP members are trying to achieve with respect to curtailing women’s reproductive rights.
Supporters of the Grieving Families Act maintain that there is no mandate regarding issuance of these certificates of nonviable birth, hence there should be no need for such a fuss over the provisions effected by this legislation. If you want a certificate to help you grieve over the loss of a child, then get one. If you don’t, don’t. Quit your bitching, am I right? Again, not so fast. While likewise unstated, there is another level of implication to the Act that makes you believe there is more to the story than altruistically helping women and their families cope. Danielle Campoamor, writing for the website Romper, also has issues with the mentality behind Florida’s new law. Aside from her belief that the law is just one in an ongoing line of the kind of legislation created by Republicans nationwide to try to restrict women’s choices—like attempts elsewhere to mandate burials for aborted fetuses or to bar women and the clinics they attend from donating fetal tissue for medical research—Campoamor draws from her own personal experiences as someone who has suffered a miscarriage to offer her viewpoint that grief is but one emotion experienced by women like her, and as such, Bob Cortes and others who think like him are really projecting certain feelings onto the female portion of their electorate. She explains:
Issuing a birth certificate to a miscarried fetus that was never born might help some women grieve. But it also poses a threat to women’s reproductive rights by establishing personhood at the early stages of gestation. Perhaps more importantly, the bill is predicated on the belief that women can and should only have one emotion related to pregnancy loss, and that emotion should be grief. But the reality is so much more complicated than that.
As a woman who has had an abortion, lost multiple pregnancies, and given birth, I can say with the utmost certainty that there is no “one way” to respond to pregnancy, pregnancy loss, or childbirth. With a positive pregnancy test in my shaking hands, I was both excited and terrified, unsure and steadfast in my decision to be a mother. And during my miscarriage, I felt both sad and relieved that even though I wanted to have another child, that time wouldn’t be now. I wouldn’t have to navigate the difficulties of parenting two children while working, and I wouldn’t have to go through another potentially high-risk pregnancy. My life would stay the same.
As Danielle Campoamor goes on to write about, not only do women who have miscarriages often not suffer from grief, but they frequently are made to feel guilty as part of some sort of odd stigma, as if they are “shitty human beings” for not being able to “keep a pregnancy.” To some, it may even sound absurd, but then again, our President, en route to the White House, suggested the moderator of a Republican debate (Megyn Kelly, then with FOX News) was going after him on matters of policy especially hard because she was menstruating, not merely because she was doing her job. If stigma about women’s periods, a normal biological function, still exists in this day and age, it is perhaps no wonder that women are made to feel inadequate for miscarrying, or for feeling like a cold-blooded killer for daring to end their pregnancy on their terms. Besides, and to stress, if naysayers on the right want to limit abortions, they should insist on the use of contraceptives and other forms of healthy sexual activity. Then again, that brings up the whole “sex is wrong even though it made you and it feels really good and you should hate yourself for liking it so much” argument, and we just end up talking in circles. Let’s just have men and women limit their physicality to holding hands and force them to sleep in separate beds. That’ll do the trick.
Campoamor closes her post with musings on the larger societal attitudes behind pregnancy, miscarriages, and abortions, as well as the implicit sexist bias that marks creations like the Grieving Families Act:
The Grieving Families Act, and other like-minded bills, establishes a narrow, prescribed relationship women should have with their pregnancies. It perpetuates the sexist trope that all women want to be mothers first, foremost, and always. It fortifies the notion that every woman will face the loss of a pregnancy the very same way, stumbling through the stages of grief and in need of some sort of reprieve. It positions motherhood as less of a choice and more of an inevitability, telling women that if they are not devastated by a miscarriage, they’re intrinsically defunct, all the while attempting to establish legal personhood that would give a fetus more rights than the mother.
Women are more than [their] ability to reproduce, and while we must continue to support those women who do suffer through miscarriage, we must also be willing to support those women who do not see a pregnancy loss as cause for suffering, but as a welcomed grace. If we are to champion motherhood as a worthwhile life choice, we must also be willing to celebrate those who choose not to become mothers, or those who want to become mothers but are unable to do so. Most importantly, we must remind women that any time they see a positive pregnancy test, or any time they are faced with the loss of a pregnancy, there’s no one “right” way to feel about it.
Agreed, Danielle, in particular because human beings are so complex, not to mention that they should have control over their life choices and should not have fewer rights than, say, a fetus or someone who rapes or abuses them. As referenced before, the conservative agenda against abortion and a woman’s right to choose is well apparent, especially as it turns confrontational and even violent. Less obvious attempts to define life and the sentiments surrounding pregnancy for women right down to how they should feel, however, also must be guarded against. The Grieving Families Act and its supporters would have you believe it exists only to aid women and families in dealing with the unexpected loss of a child. Those of us who can look past the palatable language of the law, on the other hand, know better, and see only the greasing of an already-slippery slope to punishing women for having abortions. As with Donald Trump and his myriad positions on the subject, and once more invoking the image of the attorney advancing an idea only to have it be stricken from the official record, you don’t actually have to spell it out to get the point across.
What if I told you there were a way for the United States of America to save, up front, tens of billions of dollars? Access to health care would drastically improve. Individuals, families, and businesses alike would experience less of a financial and logistical burden, and doctors and patients would be empowered regarding the decisions made in the interest of the latter. Other areas tied to health care would also stand to benefit from the reduced complexity of the new system and the relief over who is and who isn’t insured or otherwise cannot afford critical procedures. On top of all this, such a framework is already being used to great success elsewhere in the world. Sounds great, right? We should be jumping at the chance as a nation to implement such a system, no?
In case it were not already apparent, I’m referring to a single-payer health insurance system, which, in this country, would take the form of a Medicare-for-all paradigm. Hmm, are you still as enthusiastic?
I’m guessing there are those of who you aren’t, whether you’re a staunch Republican, a Democratic loyalist, or none of the above. Advocacy for a single-payer public insurance system was one of the cornerstones of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, but it was one of the most commonly assailed elements of his platform alongside the notion of free college tuition for public schools. As was the running theme from his detractors, the idea sounded great, but practically speaking, it had no chance of becoming reality. On some level, I tend to think the plausibility of Bernie’s proposed policies got and still does get conflated with the likelihood of him becoming a finalist, if you will, in a presidential race. However you slice it, Sanders was fighting an uphill battle in capturing the Democratic Party nomination ahead of Clinton. Still, for all those convinced a Medicare-for-all system in the U.S. would be a disaster in the making, might there be more to the story than even these self-professed experts realize? That is, could the concept of a single-payer insurance plan not only have merit, but also be exactly what this country needs?
First things first, let’s discuss what a single-payer health insurance system involves at its most elemental, and then we can better explore the case for implementing such a system nationwide. To do that, we’ll consult Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), an organization devoted explicitly to advocacy for a universal, single-payer national healthcare program. PNHP, as part of its work, strives to furnish a more informed debate on how to address health care in the United States, and it offers a wealth of information and resources to this point. According to the organization, single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private. For those of you who hear “public agency” and start frothing at the mouth, yes, the government would be involved in the administration of a Medicare-for-all program. Before you get carried away, however, let’s directly and immediately address what this entails, and what it does not.
1. Single-payer health insurance does not require steep tax hikes.
As Physicians for a National Health Program explains, indeed, an additional tax will be needed to cover the costs of a national single-payer system, one described as “modest” and based on ability to pay. Now, I see you breaking out your pitchforks and torches there, but hold on a minute, would you? An estimated 95% of households—what I consider to be a significant majority—would ultimately save owing to not having to pay premiums (including co-pays and deductibles), as they do under private insurance plans. In other words, you’d give a little, but get a lot in return.
2. Single-payer is not socialized medicine.
Republican politicians often like to dangle the specter of socialism and vague notions of government overreach to scare voters away from a superior policy option. In this instance, arguments against Medicare-for-all or even the Affordable Care Act are designed to distract from scrutiny of the American Health Care Act, the intended GOP replacement for the ACA and a piece of legislation so flawed no Republican—not even Donald Trump—wants to be associated with by name. Which is, ahem, exactly why it should be referred to as TrumpCare or RyanCare.
With specific regard to a single-payer program, the association with socialized medicine is one that is used to obscure and deflect. Socialized medicine is when facilities are owned by the government, and health professionals are on the public payroll. This is how it works in England, or even with the VA in the States. A Medicare-for-all, national health insurance system only socializes the administration of this insurance, not the care itself. Patients would be able to choose their doctor and hospital, and doctors would be afforded greater autonomy in their own right.
3. Medicare-for-all is not unaffordable.
Double negative, apologies, but I’m most concerned with the underlying concept here. I noted earlier how individuals and companies would benefit by no longer having to fuss around with co-pays and the like, but the American economy stands to gain at large from a single-payer framework. Nearly a third of current health spending in the United States today belongs to administrative expenses. As President Trump has learned the hard way, health care is complicated, and the price tag for billing, marketing, underwriting and other overhead activities is estimated to cost us some $400 billion. A year. Recouping that money alone would be sufficient to cover a Medicare-for-all health care system. So much waste—and so much of it preventable, too.
4. Single-payer insurance does not result in rationed care.
One of the biggest points of the hit piece regularly levied against universal health care is that it rations care. Unbearable wait times! You’ll die before you get to see a doctor! You mean as opposed to the current system in the United States, where you basically have insurance only if you can afford it? That’s rationing too, bruh! Some 30,000 Americans die every year because they can’t afford health insurance, and still more forgo procedures and treatments because of refusals of insurers to cover them. The extent to which delays are experienced in any single-payer system is a function of that system’s capacity and the ability of the associated government to manage the patient load, and as such, long waits are not an inherent condition of universal health care. Besides, and I don’t know about you, but I would rather wait a little longer to be seen by a doctor than, um, die.
5. Approval for a national health care system is not a minority opinion.
Establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle would try to convince you that a national health program isn’t desirable, or in the case of the more conservative ones, bad for business. Poppycock and hogwash, I say! For starters, on the dimension of business, a single-payer system would actually be a boon, as employers would no longer be burdened by administrative tasks related to health care and health insurance, and would thus be better able to focus on their core functions. Irrespective of what a Medicare-for-all program would stand to do for companies and their management, though, doctors and their patients alike see the writing on the wall when it comes to the merits of universal health care. Nearly 60% of Americans support a single-payer health insurance program in the United States, and four in ten Republicans also favor such an approach. This complements a similar percentage of doctors who have been, for close to a decade now, calling for a national health insurance system. This polling data begs the question: if Medicare-for-all/single-payer is so bad, why do so many of us want it?
In trumpeting the support of a majority of Americans who favor a single-payer health insurance format in the United States, it should be duly noted that a good portion of the constituency does not. For some, notably on the Democratic Party side of things and ever mindful of the legacy of Barack Obama, upholding the Affordable Care Act seems to be sufficient. To be sure, in the short term, resisting attempts by Donald Trump and Co. to eviscerate the ACA and elements of the social safety net is important—bigly important, at that. Still, a side-by-side comparison of a proposed Medicare-for-all plan and the current legislation in place regarding health care/health insurance makes the flaws in ObamaCare stand out, and arguably gives Republicans more fodder in trying to convince the public to get behind repealing and replacing it. Once again, Physicians for a National Health Program has a handy guide as to why the Affordable Care Act, though leaps and bounds ahead of the AHCA, yet falls short of being, ahem, what the doctor ordered when it comes to what is ailing health care in the U.S. Here are the salient points from this study of contrasts:
1. The Affordable Care Act still leaves millions of Americans without coverage.
An estimated 30 million Americans will go without health insurance by 2022 if current projections and trends hold. For a nation as affluent as the United States, that’s appalling, and this figure doesn’t even begin to consider the tens of millions who remain underinsured, and as alluded to earlier, intentionally bypass recommended medically necessary procedures because they can’t afford them, or otherwise believe they can’t. Medicare-for-all, meanwhile, offers health care for everyone, as the name implies.
2. Under the ACA, patients are not offered a full range of benefits.
In a seemingly very backward state of affairs, employers and other insurers tend to offer fewer health benefits and yet require higher co-pays and deductibles as we go along. That’s borderline insane. Under Medicare-for-all, all medical necessary services would be covered.
3. In a single-payer system, the country would save money. With what is currently in place, costs would only skyrocket.
To reiterate, with Medicare-for-all, we’d be saving about $400 billion with no net increase in health spending. Over the next ten years, if health care in America remains unchanged, costs would increase by more than $1 trillion. Trillion. Again, craziness, especially if plans offered by insurers are getting more draconian with each passing year.
4. In a single-payer system, patients would be allowed free choice of doctor and hospital. In the current system, denials and limitations of service abound, and networks continue to be restricted.
How often have you heard or experienced situations in which an individual wants to see a specialist or undergo a procedure, but that function or professional is not covered by his or her health insurance plan? Or worse, what about a situation in which a patient, unbeknownst to him or her, is attended by a doctor not included in his or insurer’s network, and is hit with a disproportionate charge on his or her bill as a consequence of this care, the likes of which may be nominal attention at best? These are all-too-common scenarios under the current health care framework, which disempowers both doctor and patient. Within a Medicare-for-all paradigm, patients would be afforded their choice of facility and physician.
5. The Affordable Care Act does not rectify inequality in costs between the wealthy and lower-to-middle classes.
Because funding for a Medicare-for-all system would be based on a progressive tax system that draws revenue from income and wealth taxes, and because premiums and out-of-pocket costs are replaced by these taxes, not only would 19 out of 20 Americans pay less than they do now, but health care administration would run more smoothly and fairly. Currently, health care costs are disproportionately paid by poorer Americans, especially those facing or suffering from acute and chronic illness. Which, honestly, if you’re surprised about, you perhaps suffer from some form of break with reality or a particular condition that yields delusions.
So, single-payer health insurance would save Americans time, money, energy, and grief. It is loads better than the American Health Care Act, and it surpasses the Affordable Care Act, a well-intentioned but structurally flawed bit of policy. Moreover, internationally, there are plenty of successful models from which to choose, including those of Australia, Canada, France, Spain, and Taiwan. A majority of Americans supports it. Why aren’t we progressing faster and further on this issue even at the state level? Well, the potential answers are manifold, but as is so frequently the case, it helps to follow the money. Indeed, understanding resistance becomes that much easier when we consider who stands to lose from the implementation of a Medicare-for-all system, or better yet, who has been profiting handsomely from today’s confusing and fragmented market. The following are some of the key players in the opposition of universal health care:
When you stop to think about it, it’s kind of a shitty thing for insurance companies to make such heavy profits on something that could very well mean life or death for the health care seeker. And yet they do, and where this revenue stream exists, you’ll usually find a voice against single-payer. Take AARP. You might think an organization devoted to the well-being and empowerment of retirees would support a program that would stand to help a population worth the advocacy and extra protection. You’d be wrong. AARP makes about a quarter of its money via UnitedHealthcare, the largest for-profit insurance company in the nation, and so its support for the Affordable Care Act is about all the Association can muster. Public insurance would almost certainly rein in the health insurance industry to a considerable extent, and to this end, the private insurance lobby has devoted a commensurately large amount of resources to try to keep it down.
Not our pharmaceutical companies, forever motivated by the highest ethical and moral standards! That’s right, kids: Big Pharma doesn’t like the idea of Americans importing prescription drugs from Canada at reduced rates, and they certainly do not like the idea of the government negotiating drug prices on behalf of the consumer and buying in bulk so as to make their products more affordable. The entrenchment of the pharmaceutical industry in our everyday lives is apparent from anyone who has watched television for, like, an hour. “Moderate to severe” illnesses. “Possible side effects” include. Shit, that you probably know what to do in case of a four-hour erection just speaks to the tight grip Big Pharma has on this country, as does your likely familiarity with who Martin Shkreli is and the absurd practice of jacking up prices of drugs like EpiPen at a moment’s notice. In the Wild West of the prescription drug market, drug makers see a no-nonsense sheriff looming in Medicare-for-all—and make no mistake, they ain’t fixin’ to stand by and let it try to restore order. No siree.
Conservatives in business and government who bank on “free-market” economics
Conservative Republicans love the theory behind the power of the free market, and hate what they perceive to be government interference in the due course of business. What has aided the GOP in their electoral aspirations and their attempts to dismantle the ACA is the American people’s own distrust of government and pursuit of wealth. As you might expect, there are serious problems with simply allowing health care to take care of itself under the premise that allowing people to make choices without the federal government interceding always leaves consumers better off. Critical to understanding this debate is realizing visions of a “free” market in health care are all but illusions. The peculiarities of this industry are such that consumers rarely possess the sort of content knowledge adequate enough to participate in an informed negotiation with the seller, be that the facility performing the requested service, the pharmaceutical company selling the drugs, the medical equipment company selling the paraphernalia, the private insurance company selling the plan, or some combination therein.
Even assuming end users can reasonably close this knowledge gap, however, there is still the matter of prices being less than transparent and subject to change, not to mention subject to variance across states and dependent on whether people/families can afford to pay. On top of all this, and perhaps most importantly, so much of health care is not based on want, but need. If you need a reasonably complicated form of treatment, or a prescription drug that is fairly expensive to manufacture, you need health insurance, or else you are paying exorbitant amounts out of pocket—and even then you might be out of luck if supply is on the short side and prices shoot up with demand. Breaking this whole situation down to its essential point, we, the consumers, have little bargaining power when it comes to trying to negotiate a fair deal, and as costs get shifted to out-of-pocket expenses, those who genuine lack the ability to pay are more frequently disadvantaged, and the companies and wealthy individuals that have a vested interest in generating profit from health care and health insurance tend to benefit. In other words, free-market principles applied to health care in the United States are fundamentally about redistribution of costs—and in a way that is pretty much guaranteed not to be in your favor.
So far, a number of states have tried to pass some form of single-payer legislation, and in the case of the state of Vermont, it actually went into effect before being repealed a few short years later. In terms of current attempts to enact a public health insurance system on a state level, perhaps the most notable examples are those of California and New York, if for no other reason than they are big states, electorally speaking. As you might expect, though, these initiatives have been targeted by more than their fair share of hit pieces and smear campaigns. In the Golden State, there are scare-tactic specials such as a piece in the Sacramento Bee entitled “The price tag on universal health care is in, and it’s bigger than California’s budget.” Which, technically, is true, but still lower than the current price tag, as author, radio host, and one-time Green Party vice presidential candidate Pat LaMarche explains. In the Empire State, meanwhile, you have the likes of Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the conservative think tank Empire Center, being given a platform by the New York Post to deride New York Democrats’ push for single-payer health care as a “lunatic” endeavor. Well, Gerald Friedman, economics professor and department chair at UMass – Amherst says the Dems’ proposed plan would not only save lives and money over time, but create some 200,000 jobs. Dude’s got a PhD, too, so suck on that, Hammond!
Noting the hurdles faced in individual states to get single-payer plans approved and sustained, maybe it’s just as well that we think bigger as a country and fully get behind Medicare-for-all health care. After all, the legislation is ready and waiting. In the House of Representatives, H.R. 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, was introduced by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan’s 13th District (the Fightin’ 13th!) and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce back in January. Since that time, it has also been referred to the House Ways and Means and House Natural Resources Committees, and 112 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, a record-breaking number. As for the Senate, three guesses as to who plans to introduce a version of this bill. If you aren’t thinking about a certain senator and unabashed democratic socialist from Vermont, well, you very well may not know your ass from a hole in the ground.
Granted, in the very short term, this means little without Republican support, and to be clear, not one GOP legislator has signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 676. We would expect similar treatment in the Senate; if Tom Price’s confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services is any indication, Republican legislators will actively try to rig health care to the benefit of moneyed interests. This does not mean that the effort is an unworthy one, however. The more that GOP leaders push a more deeply flawed replacement (AHCA) for an already-flawed health care system (ACA), the more that people understand that single-payer national insurance exists and is effective the world over, and the more single-payer legislation is advanced on a state-by-state basis, the more momentum builds for a credible solution to our health care crisis and politicians who will rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of their constituents. Because it is a crisis. Try telling the families of the people who have died as a result of not having health insurance it’s not.
So, seriously—it’s time for Medicare-for-all/single-payer health insurance in this country. We’ve waited long enough, and in truth, we the people can’t afford to wait any longer.
This just in: the Liberal government in charge of Canada is set to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide by Canada Day, 2018. According to David Cochrane, senior reporter for CBC News, the move comes after a recommendation by a federally appointed task force, and while it will be the job of the Canadian government to make sure the substance is safe and secure as well as to issue licenses to producers, the individual Canadian provinces will have the right to decide how the marijuana is distributed, priced, and sold, and may increase the minimum age limit of 18 if they wish.
This intended policy shift is significant for a number of reasons. For one, if ratified, it would take effect in less than a year-and-a-half. Secondly, Canada would be one of the few countries to legalize marijuana, as opposed to merely just decriminalizing it. There are, of course, limits on how much marijuana one can cultivate, and again, there may be additional constraints imposed by provincial governments, but this is a critical distinction. Thirdly, that this change would occur so close to home makes for an intriguing juxtaposition next to the state of drug laws in the United States and the perpetuation of the so-called “war on drugs.” Marijuana is a linchpin in the drug war in America, with nearly half of all drug-related arrests relating to this substance. I’m sure you don’t need me to enumerate the points of rhetoric on the dangers of marijuana. It’s a “gateway drug.” It’s as bad as cocaine or heroin. If you use it, you will do nothing but stay in your parents’ basement all day, playing video games and eating cheese curls. OK, so the last one, at least, is distinctly possible, but chances are you were going to end up like that—pot or not.
As with any established system of beliefs at the intersection of health, medicine, and morality, though, the veracity of these ideas merits scrutiny, especially considering how lives may be negatively impacted by enforcement of existing statutes. In 2016, Adam Conover, host of the show Adam Ruins Everything and regular author of content for the website CollegeHumor, produced a segment on marijuana, as he has done with a number of varied subjects, debunking associated myths and largely bumming out people with his revelations, at least in the context of the fictional encounters depicted in the program. Within the segment, Conover and his team of researchers provide counterarguments to the kind of rhetoric referenced above, averring:
1. For most people, weed is essentially harmless.
Do note the qualifier “essentially.” Adam Conover suggests that for individuals under the age of 25, marijuana can impact cognitive function and negatively impact memory, but once one’s brain is fully formed, this risk is all but negated. And next to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is nowhere near as lethal—if at all.
2. Marijuana isn’t a gateway drug.
As Conover explains, most people who smoke weed don’t even continue to do so. In other words, cannabis isn’t even a gateway to more cannabis, let alone a gateway to hard drugs.
3. Marijuana has been used by people for millennia, and in America, was available for many years as part of over-the-counter medications.
Conover and Co. cite records detailing cannabis being grown some 8,000 years ago, as well as the writings of Herodotus back in 440 BCE in reference to cannabis steam baths. Here in the US of A, marijuana was legal for much of the country’s history, and was even advertised and used in medicines sold over the counter. To put it, ahem, bluntly, weed has been socially acceptable for longer than it hasn’t. So, ahem, put that it in your pipe and smoke it. OK—I’m done with the bad marijuana jokes. Maybe.
So, what gives? Why all the bluster and vilification of marijuana and the people who would legally smoke it? There’s a sordid history here, and a lot of it has to do with deliberate attempts to marginalize specific groups of people. The key events in U.S. history relating to the criminalization of cannabis, as highlighted by Adam Conover:
Facing a looming funding shortage to his agency, Henry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, decided to use marijuana as the centerpiece of a smear campaign of the drug itself and of people who could be used as political capital in helping influence drug policy. Anslinger published findings and testified before Congress, declaring marijuana a drug that causes insanity and violent rage in its users, and pointed to its use by Mexicans, a group already disliked by the jingoists among us. (Some 75+ years later, it appears not much has changed.) The seeds were planted for a crusade against cannabis—the wrong kind of seeds indeed, from the marijuana-smoker’s perspective, anyway.
With the assassination of marijuana as a dangerous drug and of certain “undesirables” well underway, Congress passed a bill to prohibit the use of marijuana as illegal, and later, with Anslinger’s help, established mandatory minimum sentencing laws that could land first-time users in jail to the tune of two to 10 years. Ouch.
By this point, it was well known by the federal government that marijuana was not the danger it had been made out to be. A bipartisan commission actually recommended to President Richard Nixon that marijuana be decriminalized, i.e. that offenders, especially first-time offenders, be given fines or otherwise be free from arrest or prison time. Ol’ Tricky Dick, though, apparently would have none of it, or as the video terms it, “had no chill.” Instead, marijuana became a top focus of what is known as the “war on drugs.”
What is most significant is not what Nixon decided, but why he did. Was his refusal to decriminalize marijuana really just designed to curb the deleterious effects of drugs on the American people, or did something more decidedly sinister motivate his actions? If what former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman says is true, the latter condition holds. Conover points to this quote from 1994 from an interview with Ehrlichman by writer Dan Baum on the war on drugs:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
The devil’s advocate argument here is that John Erlichman could have fabricated this justification for the war on drugs merely because he was salty about President Nixon’s apparent betrayal and having to serve time related to the Watergate scandal. Others might suggest that Richard Nixon really did hate drugs, and that Nixon’s drug czar, Jerome Jaffe, pushed for recognition of the drug problem as a health issue, not a criminal issue. Still, noting the effects the war on drugs has had on certain communities—and not necessarily good effects, mind you—an inference along these lines isn’t unreasonable either. As Adam Conover mentions, despite smoking at the same rate, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites. And we’re just talking about weed here. This doesn’t even begin to consider, for instance, sentencing disparities for cocaine and crack that have fallen largely along racial lines, as well as the large inequities of the criminal justice system facing people of color at large. Thus, even if Nixon didn’t really mean for the war on drugs to become an attack on liberals and/or minorities, a view to which Conover, Baum and others clearly subscribe, to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter. The damage has already been done.
President Nixon began the war on drugs in the 1970s. Additional news flash: it is 2017. More than thirty years later, by looking at today’s criminal statutes on marijuana buying and selling, cultivation, possession, and use, this war is being fought as hard as ever. True, some states have made it legal, and still others make distinctions for decriminalization and medicinal use, but as Adam Conover offers at the end of his segment, minimum mandatory sentencing still is in effect across the country, and there’s that, you know, whole nagging black-people-get-arrested-more-than-white-people-problem in effect. Once again, I ask: what gives? If we knew about the relative harmlessness of cannabis back in the 30s and 40s, why are we still filling jails with low-level drug offenders, and why is marijuana still a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act—in spite of its legalization for medical use in many jurisdictions? The question I would argue we need to ask to help bring us closer to an understanding is not merely, “What gives?” but “Who stands to gain from the perpetuation of the drug war?”
As it should be abundantly clear by now, where there’s policy, especially the kind backed by a strong moral component (at least superficially), there’s usually money to be made, and in the case of the war on drugs in the United States, the apparent loss of the majority-minority benefits a few core groups within the minority-majority. So, who potentially is stunting the growth of cannabis in America, both figuratively and literally?
What good are prisons without the inmates to fill them? And how better to help fill jails and prisons than with arrests related to drug crimes, including those related to marijuana? In one sense, prisons as a whole stand to lose from the continuation or even acceleration of the war on drugs, with concerns about overcrowding, not to mention the cost of needing to build, maintain, and staff correctional facilities. In another sense, however, private prisons, particularly those that house federal inmates, are seeing their stock rise on the heels of fairly recent news that the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions will reverse a planned phase-out of private prisons based on a vague notion that crime is on the rise in this country.
On one hand, Sessions, like Richard Nixon, probably does legitimately think drugs are bad and that smoking weed has a deleterious effect on the nation and its people. As a U.S. Senator, he was critical of President Barack Obama’s lack of vocalization about the supposed dangers of marijuana, and has insisted in the past that legalization would be a “mistake” and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” On the other hand, private prisons are a big business and effective duopoly between the companies CoreCivic and The Geo Group, two companies that just happened to donate bigly to a PAC supporting Donald Trump, if for no other reason than to improve their own fortunes with policies such as the expansion of private prisons and stronger enforcement of drug and immigration laws. If Trump values one thing, it’s loyalty to him, and Jeff Sessions has been about as loyal as they come, so based on this alone, it makes sense that Sessions would toe the line, even if he didn’t subscribe to the belief that the country is going to Hell in a proverbial hand-basket. Regardless, the pay-for-play aspect of this relationship is unsettling, as are reports of poor conditions, substandard care, and violence within private prison walls, and advocates of drug policy reform and prison reform alike are left to wonder whether or not we are regressing on both fronts.
What are prisons without inmates, and who brings offenders to jail but the police? Of particular concern regarding trends in policing of our communities is the militarization of police forces. The ACLU sets the scene thusly on its official website:
The images on the news of police wearing helmets and masks, toting assault rifles, and riding in mine-resistant armored vehicles are not isolated incidents—they represent a nationwide trend of police militarization. Federal programs providing surplus military equipment, along with departments’ own purchases, have outfitted officers with firepower that is often far beyond what is necessary for their jobs as protectors of their communities. Sending a heavily armed team of officers to perform “normal” police work can dangerously escalate situations that need never have involved violence. Yet the ACLU’s recent report on police militarization, “War Comes Home,” found that SWAT teams, which were originally devised as special responders for emergency situations, are deployed for drug searches more than they are for all other purposes combined.
The change in equipment is too often paralleled by a corresponding change in attitude whereby police conceive of themselves as “at war” with communities rather than as public servants concerned with keeping their communities safe. We advocate for a return to a less dangerous, more collaborative style of policing. We should not be able to mistake our officers for soldiers.
Within this conversation about militarization of police forces, there is an acknowledged tug-of-war between what is deemed essential to do needed police work without risk to the officers involved, and what is deemed excessive and a threat to personal civil liberties. For those on the side of the men and women with the badges, the knee-jerk reaction may be one of questioning just what the ACLU knows about police work anyhow. Getting past this defensive attitude, however, scrutiny of police conduct and of how forces marshal their resources is warranted, and this is before we even get to considerations about fatal shootings of suspects and police brutality. I recognize my own liberal bias herein, but I think the above synopsis correctly assesses the shift in mindset among police from “to serve and protect” to “open, flash, and clear.” At any rate, and at the end of the day, the money invested in equipping police forces in the style of bomb squads is significant. Now five years old, but in all probability still relevant, an article by Stephen Salisbury, cultural writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, delves into the material economic costs of arming the nation’s police forces to the teeth and of fighting the war on drugs. Here is a critical excerpt from Salisbury’s article:
So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.
But why drone on? We all know that addressing acute social and economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders. At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are always the unknown unknowns: best be prepared.
All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks. To conclude, though, that “the police” have become increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and militarized right down to the university campus.
Again, one is reticent to tell the police how to do their jobs, if for no reason than to avoid a diatribe about such matters. This notwithstanding, if important aspects of community infrastructure including affordable housing, job training, and, well, actual physical infrastructure are being neglected to accommodate camera systems, drones, and police surveillance, that’s a problem, and one that seems to pervade all levels of government. Why else would President Trump earmark an additional $54 billion in spending on defense for the proposed 2018 budget with only tepid disagreement from political leaders in the House and Senate? Whether it be for the sake of our national Armed Forces or our city police forces, we have a real problem in America about throwing money at community policing and terrorism, and to the extent the war or drugs and, specifically, attempts to curb the influence of marijuana fuel this phenomenon, the legality of cannabis remains an issue.
Do pharmaceutical companies stand to benefit more from the prohibition of marijuana or its legalization? The answer is, perhaps unfortunately, a complicated one, as much depends on how the substance is procured and what forms of the drug, if any, are deemed legal. Joel Warner explores this topic in a remarkably nuanced August 2016 piece for VICE. There are a handful of drug companies who have made investments in cannabis-based drugs who would appear to stand to benefit from the legalization of weed outright, or at least an OK from the U.S. government with respect to medical marijuana. By the same token, though, manufacturers of synthetic marijuana, a variant which may be fraught with peril next to the genuine article, likely have skin in the game to try to ensure that they are one of the few, if not the only, players at the table, and therefore would tend to resist more permissive reforms that extend to all forms of cannabis. This is in addition to traditional pharmaceutical giants who aren’t dabbling in marijuana at all, and would, in theory, oppose legalization if and when they have a major seller in the realm of, say, antidepressants or painkillers. It’s an uncertain mix of competing interests, made even more tenuous by differences in laws across states and changing attitudes within the public and at federal levels of government.
If a recent development concerning DEA approval of a synthetic marijuana drug for a company based in Phoenix is any indication, however, a trend of approval for pharmaceutical companies at the expense of drug law reform and natural weed sellers could be in the making. Insys Therapeutics, producer of the synthetic marijuana Syndros, helped fund a campaign which opposed recreational marijuana in the state of Arizona. It’s a seemingly perplexing contradiction until we get to the part where we realize the power of the pharmaceutical lobby on today’s lawmakers and their relevant policy stances. As is often the case, it helps to follow the money.
Of course, legalization of marijuana is not the only way drug law reform on this dimension could shake out, and even with the abuses of the war on drugs, statistics likely bear out a reduction in the rate of drug use, even if it isn’t a very substantial one. The obvious alternative is decriminalization of marijuana, which is in place in a number of states, aside from additional statutes specific to the use of medical marijuana. This raises the follow-up question about the merits of decriminalization vs. legalization when it comes to reducing drug use and associated crimes. Though this line of thinking merits its own post, some critics would aver that anything short of legalization still lends itself to criminality on the supply side, and particularly violent crime at that. In the Americas alone, corruption and death follow the drug trade and cartels/gangs—this is no secret. As long as there is a black market and a demand for the product, intimidation and worse can be used to drive up prices and to eliminate competition for a share of the market. In other words, when the market isn’t free, considerations of free-market economics more or less go out the window.
Another matter of import tied to legalization of marijuana is the opportunity cost of not legalizing, as is visible through the benefits realized by jurisdictions where the drug is legal. Colorado is an example of a state in which, assuming the industry is properly regulated, over a billion dollars in sales can be earned in just one year between that sold for medical use and that sold for recreational use. That’s useful tax revenue that otherwise would be forsaken on principle alone—$150 million in Colorado’s case, a third of which is derived from an excise tax which specifically funds school construction projects. This is not to say that just any project should necessarily be green-lighted if it means more dollars for states. Moreover, while some view these kinds of things in a vacuum—marijuana is plain wrong, no matter if it’s better or worse than heroin—again thinking in relative terms, next to alcohol, tobacco, or even opioids, the dangers are realistically not even close to their representation by purported authorities on the matter within state and federal governments. For those individuals who are developmentally mature enough to handle using marijuana, one of the biggest health risks that evidently exists with its use is gum disease. Not that gum disease isn’t potentially serious, mind you, but we don’t go around arresting people for failing to floss, if you catch my drift.
If a handful of states can legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use without completely falling to pieces, I would say it’s—gulp—high time we talk about legalization on a nationwide basis. Yes, marijuana isn’t exactly benign. Yes, you shouldn’t be smoking it while at work, or while driving or operating heavy machinery. All the doom and gloom about its perils, however, not only distort reality, if not completely subvert it, but—dare I say it—really bum people out, man. The war on drugs, as it is currently being fought, is more failure than success, with tangible costs for our country, our communities, and for the lives it negatively impacts, and furthermore, the positions taken by Jeff Sessions and his lot are dangerously out of touch with the views of a growing segment of the American people, and only perpetuate feelings of conflict. Seriously, though—let’s legalize marijuana. Unless we’re just going to let Canada one-up us on this. Judging purely on a side-by-side comparison of Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump, it appears they already may be lengths ahead of us—and growing.
In social politics today, there seems to be an additional “F-word” that people dare not speak without looking around nervously or others getting downright angry. I’m talking about “feminism,” a term which conjures up some powerful imagery both for its supporters and for those who resist its use and its underlying motivations. Part of the strong reactions a dialog about feminism, gender, and “women’s issues” provokes, I believe, is related to the confusion about what this decades-old—if not centuries-old—movement entails. That is, different groups and individuals tend to define feminism differently. Kellyanne Conway, who, like so many members of the Trump administration, evidently can’t help but put her foot in her mouth—you know, when she’s not putting her feet on the couch in the Oval Office—and gave her own definition of feminism that invited due criticism. Conway, when interviewed recently at CPAC 2017, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, said she rejected calling herself a “feminist” because the term has been tainted by the left and because the nature of the movement has become exclusionary and anti-conservative. The counselor to the President had this to say when prompted about feminism:
It’s difficult for me to call myself a “feminist” in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context and I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion. So there’s an “individual feminism,” if you will, where you make your own choices. I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really what “conservative feminism,” if you will, is all about.
Wow. As self-professed intellectuals like myself would put forth, there’s a lot to unpack here. Kellyanne Conway’s makes a number of suppositions that require one’s assent or tacit agreement. Let us first enumerate them, and subsequently address their potential veracity.
1. Feminism is anti-male.
This is a persistent criticism of the feminist movement: that those who subscribe are a bunch of man-haters who wish for the advancement of women at the expense of men who work very hard and are just minding their own business. This is not merely an oversimplification of feminist positions, however, but skewed to the point of absurdity. Might some feminists see patterns of patriarchal oppression and sexism where perhaps they don’t exist? It’s possible. Not all revolutionaries wave their banners for the same reasons, after all, and some might do so for the wrong ones. To a large extent, though, feminist arguments would appear to hit the mark given the pervasiveness of gender inequality across continents. At any rate, calling feminists “anti-male” makes about as much sense as calling Black Lives Matter activists “anti-police.” Feminists are not calling for violence against or abuse of men. It’s about equality, and addressing institutionalized forms of prejudice against women. Criticism does not necessarily equate to hate, and if those targets of criticism are indeed wrong, to defend them puts the defender at fault also.
Often, rejection of feminist views betrays a defensive attitude on the part of he or she expressing the rejection. For example, how many times have you heard “feminism” and “shrill” in the same sentence? Breitbart’s readership, for one, seems to dine on this stereotype like Garfield the cat dines on lasagna. Here’s a gem from the unholy pseudo-informative spawn Stephen Bannon helped nurture: “License to Shrill: Feminists Can’t Stop Whining about Their Fake Problems.” In this piece, the author suggests that feminists fret and whine about their “frivolous” problems like “the Democrats talking about climate change as a security threat when the country is under attack by illegal immigrants and radical Islamic terrorists.” And this from a female writer, no less!
2. Feminism is very pro-abortion.
It is, in fact, possible to have a nuanced set of views on abortion. I personally wish there were fewer unplanned pregnancies in the world, and I certainly don’t encourage men and women to be reckless in their sexual activity. However, I wouldn’t tell a pregnant woman not to have an abortion in deference to my beliefs, because I believe the matter of choice is sacrosanct. I’m sure many card-carrying feminists share these sentiments, at least to an extent. An abortion is not a procedure to go about willy-nilly, but to make a value judgment about someone else’s situation and to thrust those values upon the other person unsolicited is a sin in its own right, and can make what may very well be an emotional and stressful decision that much more difficult. People who vilify the “godless left” for being pro-abortion might just as well look at themselves and their aversion to a woman’s right to choose.
3. There is an individual feminism where you make your own choices.
Yes, there is. It’s called feminism. I just talked about it. You make your own choices. Like, say, those involving your body.
4. Liberal feminists view themselves as victims of their circumstances.
Bear in mind that Conway is making a distinction between feminism and “conservative feminism” in the first place. And they call us liberals the ones who are divisive! The “liberals play the victim card” charge is one that has been made numerous times before irrespective of gender and circumstances. Those college students who want an affordable education? Playing the victim. They’re just asking someone else to foot the bill. Those protestors going after police officers for doing their job? Playing the victim. It’s the fault of those resisting. Blacks upset about slavery? Hey, that was a long time ago—quit your bitching! Are you overweight? Get on a treadmill already, fatty! And I’m sure we can think of any number of barbs to throw at women and the issues they care about. Need an abortion? You should’ve learned to keep your legs closed in the first place, slut! Want to be taken seriously as a professional? Don’t dress in such provocatively tight clothing, provoking lustful eyes, OK? Upset about y0ur pay? Get a better job! Stop crying. Get over it. Welcome to the real world.
Let me say a few things about these things—chiefly with respect to how wrong-headed they are. On the subject of sexuality, specifically women’s sexuality, I would argue it is incredibly unrealistic to insist on all or even a majority of sexually mature women to adhere to an abstinence-only lifestyle. This is not a commentary on females’ lack of control of their bodily impulses, mind you—I would say the same thing for men, too. Especially men. It’s not that they can’t choose not to have to sex, but they shouldn’t be expected to, and that there is a profound double standard in our society concerning moral judgments of others’ sexual activity—men tend to be lauded for their sexual prowess, while women are shamed for their lasciviousness—speaks to a normalized attitude, once again, of dictating to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
On the subject of women in the workplace, um, the glass ceiling is pretty well documented by now. In the United States, women, on the whole, make less than men, and once more, there is a gender-based disparity in perception at work under the subheading of leadership. A male taskmaster is a strong, determined leader. A female in this same role is labeled a bitch, a cunt, is on her period, or needs to get laid. It’s boorish, quite frankly, and incredibly unfair. Moreover, on the literal subject of “victimhood,” women are disproportionate targets of physical and sexual assault, with college campuses across the U.S., in particular, seeing exceedingly high levels of violence against women and men. What is perhaps worst of all herein is the idea that with too many college and universities, there is neither an established environment of acceptance for victims of sexual violence nor a tone at the top which signifies a demand for justice in all cases. In some cases, these institutions charged with safeguarding the well-being of their student body appear more interested in protecting the school’s image. After all, donors are less liable to open up their purse strings or wallets if their would-be donee is regarded as a proverbial viper’s nest of danger and iniquity. Better to make young women jump through hoops to report cases of rape/sexual assault and slut-shame them to the back pages of the newspaper.
So, yeah, feel free to opine on the liberal victim mentality. But conservatives play the victim, too, especially when taken to task for blatant sexism and other forms of prejudice. If anything, it’s a pot-kettle sort of situation.
At the very least, Kellyanne Conway’s understanding of feminism as an abstract concept seems incomplete. So much so that Merriam-Webster’s official Twitter feed took to defining “feminism” for her and others’ benefit: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Nothing about hating men. Nothing about separating one feminist from another based on ability to choose for oneself. Nothing about viewing oneself as a victim or blaming others for one’s position in life and set of circumstances. And certainly nothing about the Women’s March, undoubtedly awash with feminists, being proof that those involved and many women in general have an issue with women in power, as Conway herself suggested. Unless Donald Trump is, in fact, a woman, and let me say that he doesn’t make a particularly fetching one if that’s the case.
Suffice it to say, though, that both men and women may misconstrue what feminism entails and what does or does not constitute a violation of feminist principles. Recently, Emma Watson caught flak for wearing an outfit for a Vanity Fair photo shoot that featured her wearing no bra and very little else covering her breasts. The argument from her online detractors was that Watson, a self-identifying feminist, is a hypocrite for decrying the objectification by men on one hand and dressing in a way that, as they would describe it, encourages objectification. As these critics see things, her revealing garb is a betrayal of her principles and sends mixed messages. Emma Watson, for her part, was taken aback by the negativity, mostly because she expressed a sense of frustration about these critics misunderstanding feminism to begin with. Or, in her words, from an interview with the BBC:
Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.
Very confusing indeed. Some might philosophize that by dressing sexy, Watson is no better than the the male behavior she discourages, but a key difference here is the matter of choice. Whether or not you agree with it from a moral standpoint, Emma Watson is choosing to dress this way, a notion she herself reinforces. As if she were making a choice about whether or not to have an abortion, it’s her body, and furthermore, one might argue that by exercising her free will, she is disempowering those who would seek to objectify her without her consent. In this context, control is everything. Otherwise, Beyoncé fans have taken to pointing out Watson’s reversal on this position. About three years ago, Emma Watson noted she felt conflicted about Beyoncé referring to herself as a “feminist” and having her (Beyoncé’s) 2013 visual album appear as if shot through a voyeuristic lens and from the perspective of the heterosexual male libido. First of all, um, that was three years ago. People’s opinions can change a lot in that span, especially for someone of Watson’s age. Second of all, Watson acknowledges her opinions about the subject matter were not really “formulated” at the time. Call her a hypocrite or “flip-flopper” if you want, but regardless of what she said then, she has the right attitude about it now. The woman has breasts—what do you want her to do about it?
The “if she didn’t want to be objectified, she wouldn’t be leaving her flesh so exposed” argument, by the by, is a logically weak one, akin to the idea that women are “asking” to be raped or otherwise assaulted based on how they dress. What’s more, this is not the first time Emma Watson’s feminist credentials or even her use of the term has been questioned. Watson was invited to deliver a speech on the fight for gender equality worldwide for the launch of the HeForShe initiative at the United Nations, and reportedly, was asked not to use the “F-word.” As in “feminism.” She did anyway. Even for an occasion designed to mark a movement for men to advocate for and support women in the fight for gender equality, that Watson received this “friendly advice” signifies the overall discomfort both women and men have in using the term based on its negative connotations. Emma Watson noted in an interview with the London Evening Standard that she debated whether or not to comply with this request, but that she ultimately chose in favor of using the term, explaining herself thusly:
I was encouraged not to use the word feminism because people felt that it was alienating and separating and the whole idea of the speech was to include as many people as possible. But I thought long and hard and ultimately felt that it was just the right thing to do. If women are terrified to use the word, how on Earth are men supposed to start using it?
Watson makes an excellent point. If feminists themselves are afraid to use the term and extol the virtues of their worldview, this risks dissuading men who are more amenable to the feminist cause from lending their support, and moreover, gives those who reject feminist ideals, chief among them conservatives and males who reflexively view any pro-female movement as a threat to their way of life and therefore in need of neutralization (see also alt-right, Gamergate) ammunition in further weakening their (the feminists’) resolve. Though not to equate the two movements and the struggle for mainstream acceptance they face, democratic socialism is another term which is assailed by its opponents to the extent people who might otherwise be sympathetic to its cause are alienated from the theory. Democratic socialists believe in a democratic form of government alongside a socialist economic system, rather simply.
As author and journalist Dan Arel explains, democratic socialism is, in many ways, not what you think it is. It is not Marxism, in that democratic socialism does not advocate for workers controlling the means of production. It is not communism as we would commonly understand it, that is, as manifested in China and the USSR. It is not a replacement for capitalism, but rather a more responsible, one might argue, version of capitalism that would restrict the excesses of corporations and their owners and would act to safeguard employee rights. It is not pure socialism, as democratic socialism believes that consumer goods/services and certain societal elements should be approached democratically rather than from a central government. Perhaps most importantly, it is not incompatible with modern American economic and political structures. As Arel suggests, democratic socialism already exists within the Democratic Party—it just isn’t embraced by all its members. Universal health care, free college tuition, a stronger social safety net—these are not pipe dreams for many developed countries around the world, especially in Europe. Yet people hear “socialism,” and either because they conflate it with communism or simply believe that industry in the United States is overregulated as it is, condemn democratic socialism in a reactionary way. Bernie Sanders and his crazy ideas! Why doesn’t he just move to Sweden if he loves it so much? Never mind that benefits such as community development block grants, the Earned Income Credit, educational grants, family planning services, food stamps/SNAP, the Head Start program, Job Corps, Medicare, public housing, Social Security, and weatherization services for low-income households are all social programs used by Americans of all different economic backgrounds and political affiliations. Um, you’re welcome.
Back to the role of feminism in America and in the world today, though. Feminism, at its most basic and essential, speaks to equality of opportunities and rights irrespective of gender. As suggested earlier, some men, notably those dyed-in-the-wool, old-fashioned sexists—whether they are conscious of it or not—view the advancement of women as a threat to them and their way of life. Feminists also face obstacles from institutions primed to favor men, chief among them the world of business, rigid standards of morality and religious conservatism, and even censure from other women who view their lot as whiny man-haters. In the discussion of not wanting to give the haters more fodder, though, certainly, card-carrying feminists must stick by their principles and do so without concern for excluding those uncomfortable with calling feminism by its rightful name. They should not have to fight this fight alone, however, and with a new generation of young men more sensitively attuned to ideas related to female sexuality, gender equality, and women’s issues, it would appear necessary that they recognize women’s struggle for equality as one which affects them as it does the women advocating for greater autonomy of self, and without concern for their (the men’s) immediate personal benefit. Their mission is our mission. Their losses and gains ours as well.
Now more than ever, with a man in the White House who identifies as pro-life to court religious conservatives despite expressing support for a woman’s right to choose in the past—not to mention boasting about being able to grab women “by the pussy” and defending his words as “locker-room talk”—and a Republican-led Congress which has targeted Planned Parenthood’s federal funding despite it not being used for abortions, already a small portion of the organization’s total services, men must support women’s rights as part of a unified front against others who would seek to abrogate these liberties. Accordingly, the following points should be considered non-negotiable, and let it be stressed that the feminist/women’s rights agenda is not limited to just these items:
Constitutional equality. I’ll speak briefly about equality in pay in a bit, but for women across demographic lines, constitutional guarantees to educational opportunities, full Social Security benefits, and job opportunities and political opportunities/power, are lacking. The Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, has yet to be ratified in a three-fourths majority of states (only 35 of the 50 have ratified it), but efforts continue at the grassroots level to get its language specifically into the U.S. Constitution.
Control over reproductive rights. This includes access to safe abortions and available, affordable birth control and reproductive health services. I know I specified earlier that men should advocate for these points irrespective of any immediate benefits, but as they stand to, ahem, benefit from women’s healthy expression of their sexuality, right off the bat, this should be an easy sell.
Ending violence against women. Domestic violence and violence against women in college settings jumps to mind, but across international and cultural borders, there unfortunately are too many instances of the subjugation of women by physical and other means. Female genital mutilation sticks out in this regard, being inflicted on upwards of 200 million women and girls worldwide, chiefly in the regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It is deemed by the World Health Organization as unnecessary and dangerous, and by the United Nations and other international bodies as a human rights violation. Violence against women in its various forms is a serious problem in our world today, a reality that is made all the more disturbing by all the underage females who are targeted because they can’t protect themselves and/or to satisfy some illicit trade, as in the sex trafficking of young girls. This should not be considered a remote problem for distant continents either. This is a human problem and one that affects all of us.
Equal pay for equal work. Seems fair, right? Arguing against equal pay for women on the basis of their supposed inferiority is outmoded and foolish thinking, plain and simple.
Freedom from stigmatization of normal bodily functions. Earth to Donald Trump and some other men—women menstruate. This is uncontrollable, and symptoms of PMS shouldn’t be assumed against them when they dare to show emotion or, you know, do their job as female reporters/news personalities (what up, Megyn Kelly?) Also, women breastfeed. They shouldn’t have to hide this fact, especially given the idea babies need sustenance to survive and thrive. Stop, ahem, being such babies about this.
Justice for women of color and for the LGBTQ community. In the pursuit of gender equality, those who champion women’s rights are usually not provincial in their focus. Though they might frame their discussion of job discrimination, pay equity, Social Security and pension reform, and what constitutes a “living wage” in terms of women’s issues, these topics are applicable to the larger conversation about income and wealth inequality that pervades societal problems in the United States and elsewhere. Part of the women’s rights movement is addressing opportunities for women of color in all areas, especially education, employment, and health care, and for the LGBTQ community, notably with respect to child custody, employment, health services, and housing.
Again, these are not strictly “women’s issues,” but ones that affect all of us, considering how they impact and have impacted the lives of the women around us—our mothers, our grandmothers, our wives, our daughters, other female family members, our female teachers, our female nurses, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, despite the progress we have made in this regard, there is much work to do, and realistically, we should be further along than we are. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked two years ago about why gender parity in his Cabinet is so important to him, responded simply with the line, “Because it’s 2015.” It’s 2017 now, and the vast majority of us—women and men, men and women—should be proud to say we are feminists. I certainly am, and you should be too.