It’s tremendously cruel to kick 23 million people off health insurance. To leave babies born prematurely with no hope of being cared for because they’ve already hit their lifetime limit. To force disabled people to live in institutions because they’re kicked off medicaid. To leave people to die in order to give the 1% a few more million dollars.
I’ve been puzzling over the immense cruelty of the Republican health care bill. How can anyone accept–let alone advocate–for this? Are they just corrupt and mean? Are they pinned down and forced to vote yes because of the authoritarian power Trump claims to have? Are they racist and sexist? Are they all formerly abused children who now must be abusive?
Probably the answer is yes to many of those questions for many republican legislators. But it’s usually a mistake to blame policy on personalities. It’s cultural. The cruelty is cultural and it’s ours. It’s American. Which isn’t to say it can’t change or it shouldn’t change. It must change. But it’s not those bullies, those other people, it’s all of us.
Concurrently, there’s a debate raging about including autistic kids in the classroom. I don’t think I can stomach digging into it, but Michelle Sutton has an excellent overview of what’s going on. Segregation is cruel. If you are not “normal”, if you’re not on track, if you’re not white, our culture puts you in a ghetto or institution or segregated public school system–whether by ability or race–and your status as other means it’s OK to leave you behind and abuse you. To have cops chase you down with guns if you’re a ten-year-old Black boy. To lock you away for autistic behavior. And then after you and your family are traumatized by radical, historic, and constant insecurity, you don’t get access to health care.
Every time I call my landlord I get chewed out for asking for a broken window to be fixed, or an air conditioner to be repaired, or an exterminator to come. The person on the phone does her very best to make me feel that I’m in the wrong. That I’m lazy. That it’s not a big deal. That I’m incompetent. Why? To make more money.
Our culture is cruel. Our culture is sexist, racist, ableist, and capitalist. Our culture teaches us that errors and deviation are an individual’s fault and if we’re hurting because of them we just need to try harder. Our culture teaches parents that if a child is crying you should drag them up and say “you’re OK you’re OK” in a fed up voice till they shut up.
The Republican health care bill isn’t that out of the ordinary.
Why do we think that every time someone asks for help they are exploiting or manipulating us as individuals? Until people just give up asking and either wane away or start cutting themselves or hitting their classmates or burning down buildings.
We have family visiting from Europe and at dinner last night one of the teenagers popped out with “Does ANYONE drive electric cars here? ” Many grown ups answered with a discussion of car prices and subsidies. But the real answer is, we’re so cruel we are literally driving ourselves straight toward disaster. Culturally, we are inclined to think of paying for health care or surviving the disruptions of climate change as problems to be solved by making smart strategic choices as individuals and winning the game.
Our capitalist, racist, sexist culture is destroying us. We’re OK with destroying the lives of each of the 23 million who’ll lose care under the Republican bill and every person on the planet not rich enough to buy a new house and drive away when climate change leads to their home flooding or burning. That’s OK, just as long as I imagine that I myself will find a strategy to survive and win the game and maybe be rich!
I don’t mean this to be a “Europe is so much better” statement. There are good things about the US. But we need to start practicing how to care. We need a culture shift for the sake of saving each other’s lives, in the next year when someone needs cancer treatment or a supportive school or safety. And in the next decade as climate change ramps up in intensity. We need to care that Black people are subject to state violence. We need to care that autistic kids want to make friends but they might need patience, more time off, head phones, fidgets. We need to care about refugees from climate change and war and gang violence. We need to care when a kid falls and not act like they’ll be forever damned as a weakling if they take a moment to cry.
We need to do this in a way that is part of our American culture, a way that combines care with individual autonomy. And rather than just hate the Republican senators who are trying to kill so many of us, we need to work together with all the millions who want a more just and kind country to figure out and practice and revise a culture of collective care and collective change. A culture that, by promoting care and kindness, better enables individual autonomy than our oh so deeply broken system.