Trumpcare and the angry white people who brought it upon themselves
The old question of “what is a right” has become current again with the Republican insistence on repealing the Affordable Care Act and the (predictable) finding by the Congressional Budget Office that, if they do, 24 million Americans will lose their healthcare coverage.
The Constitution brought the concept of “rights” into our ongoing national discussion. Some rights are both explicitly spelled out—“the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” “the right of the people to be secure in their persons,” ”the right to a speedy and public trial”—while others are implicitly suggested: for example, there is no “right” to be protected from the government seizing private property, but if it does, “due process of law” and “just compensation” must be regarded.
But what “originalists” always miss, when it comes to their interpretation of the Constitution, is that it was ratified in 1789, nearly 230 years ago, before a lot of realities of modern life were even conceived; and thus, to insist on interpreting it exactly as the Founders would have thought is crazy. Does a gay couple have the right to marry? The Constitution is silent; there was no such thing in 1789. Does a sperm donor have the right to be involved in the rearing of his biological child? The question would have made no sense to the Founders—but it does today. In these instances, as in so many others, we grapple with the answers—through the courts, and through the political process. But to insist that the only rights—explicit or implicit—that Americans have are those spelled out in the Constitution is really very stupid.
Clear-thinking Supreme Court justices understand this. One of the best was William O. Douglas, who wrote the majority opinion in one of the most famous Supreme Court decisions in history, Griswold v. Connecticut. In this case, the Court found that Americans do have an inherent “right to privacy,” even though this right is not spelled out in the Constitution. The specifics of the case were prompted by Connecticut trying to outlaw birth control; by a 7-2 decision the Court held otherwise, declaring that, even though there was no explicit right in the Constitution to birth control (interpreted as “privacy”), that such a “right by implication” exists in the form of a “penumbra,” an “emanation” from the Constitution, which seems to foster human freedom, autonomy and liberty. This decision was widely ridiculed by conservative elements—“originalists”—who argued, and continue to argue to this day, that such “penumbras” are fantastical imaginations on the part of liberal judges. (Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia are the most recent examples of such illogical “originalists.”)
So we now come to the conversation over whether healthcare is a “right,” a “penumbra,” or something else. I ask: What the hell difference does it make? The hard fact is that every American needs it. The Founders could not possible have envisioned our system of healthcare, with insurance, premiums, actuarial tables, high-tech machines and pharmaceuticals, not to mention the fabulous sums of money healthcare costs, particularly when people are old. They made no provision for it, so we have to decide for ourselves.
Meanwhile, lost in the arcane subtleties of “what is a right and what isn’t?” are 24 million Americans, mostly elderly, who will lose all healthcare insurance. Lost, too, are the millions more whose premiums will go up significantly. Lost are the hospitals and related healthcare services that will close, lost is the research that will not be funded and the drugs that will not be developed. Lost, politically, will be the trust that the people who voted for this catastrophe, Trump, invested in him, and in his Republican Party. That laid-off 52-year old white man who voted for Trump now will lose his and his family’s health insurance. When Trump was stumping through the Rust Belt, invoking the name of “Obama” as a curse word to thousands of similar angry working-class white men, they wore their little “Make America Great” hats and cheered him on, even as they screamed “Mexico” when he asked them who would pay for the wall and “Jail her!” when he invoked Hilary’s name. Now, you will permit me an indulgence when I say I’m glad these white men are going to have their comeuppance. “I told you so” is not a pretty thing to have to say to someone. But they were told; they were warned; and they refused to heed. Now, their worlds are going to be thrown upside down. This healthcare fiasco, is it goes through, is going to cost them and their families a lot more money than many of them can afford; and many of them are going to die. Whose fault will that be? Obama’s? Certainly not, although Trump will lie and say it is. Will it be Trump’s fault? No, not really. He is only the manifestation of their stupidity. It will be their own fault, the credulous, low information, angry white people who voted for him. They will have met the enemy—and it is themselves.