By Alex Mendiola
Over the last few months, Americans continue to face grave dangers from violent protests, crippling economic strife, and the worst global public health crisis in living memory. Arguments over the causes and/or the validity of these plights flood the 24-hour hour news cycle and social media channels become a deluge on our collective consciousness practically every waking moment.
Reasonable people, doctors, epidemiologists, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and expert advisor on global health to six presidents, all know this; it is the continued inaction of the Trump administration that accelerates the spread of infection of the Covid-19 virus across this country.
President Trump’s wrongheaded and misguided push to reopen the country puts the most vulnerable (e.g. the sick, the elderly, the young) as well as the healthy at risk of this deadly disease. Disguised as an effort to improve the economic situation of Americans, it actually does little for most. In reality, this move seeks to bolster Trump’s polling numbers.
Unemployment remains at record highs despite recent employment gains. Furthermore, if the spread of the virus continues unabated, businesses will inevitably need to close again erasing any decrease in joblessness.
Already we see staunch supporters of Trump and his policies shrink from the false bravado of opening their businesses and communities in light of record Covid-19 surges in Texas, Florida, and South Carolina–the likes of which we have not seen since the devastating outbreaks in urban centers of the north – Seattle, New York City, Chicago.
The thread to which Trump desperately clings is the racist and inflammatory rhetoric that his base craves. Trump has made a concerted effort to distract from the fact that this disease does not discriminate based on political leanings or the color of one’s skin. He seeks to distract us all from the fact that health care in this country is woefully outmatched confronting a pandemic of this scope (in spite of the truly heroic efforts of all frontline health care workers).
He seeks to distract us from the fact that now more than ever, Americans need healthcare that is accessible to all, effective for all, and affordable for all. Whatever form that healthcare might take, we need to know that all people can get treatment whether it is urgent, palliative, or preventative.
Attacking the ACA
Here’s the good news; such a health care plan exists; it is called the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Yet, the Republican establishment continues to attack and systematically attempt to dismantle it. Perhaps this is because of party loyalty, partisan bickering, or to, like Trump, garner favor with their right-wing base.
To stop the spread of this disease, the sick must be diagnosed and receive the proper care. If they are sick, but without insurance they are less likely to visit urgent care or emergency rooms for fear of financial ruin. When coupled with the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression, this problem is compounded.
What is Trump’s response? Increased racially-charged and reactionary rhetoric. Rather than decisive and considered leadership, Americans receive speech laced with energetic tribalism.
The sad truth is that this is not a new debate. Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to expand health care to include every American citizen as a part of the New Deal but was forced to remove it due to pressure from the American Medical Association. Truman also sought to create a universal health care system but was likewise unable to achieve it due to fears of socialized medicine.
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President Johnson made inroads to expanding healthcare, signing into law Medicare and Medicaid. President Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972, which expanded Medicare for the disabled who did not meet the age requirement of 65.
In response to President Clinton’s proposal for health care reform, William Kristol, then a key conservative strategist, stated in a memo to Republican Leaders that “[Clinton’s proposal] will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.” That same Bill Kristol, critic of the Democratic initiative to provide healthcare to all citizens, is now actively campaigning against Donald Trump.
With no better alternative to provide the healthcare that all people in the United States desperately need, the Affordable Care Act continues to be attacked. Thoughtful Republicans should carefully consider what Trump and his political allies are threatening with calls for repealing the ACA.
With hospitals in Houston at 100 percent capacity with critically ill patients, with record surges in infections in established Republican states, and with a death toll of nearly 130,000, Americans need and deserve more, not less healthcare.