Small World: The message from Trumpland

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Until a recent evening, I had never met a self-described Trump supporter. Maybe it is because I move in excessively liberal circles — but I have lots of self-described conservative friends who eschew the Trump label. Or maybe it is because hidden or secret Trumpites of my acquaintance simply wanted to avoid derision or obloquy.

Whatever the background, the other evening I found myself chatting with a woman who readily admitted to membership in the president’s clan of supporters. Asked why or what drew her in, she replied something like, “because I believe people ought to take personal responsibility for their own wellbeing.” The conversation, also joined by a Trump opponent, quickly became a debate over health care proposals (of which more I write in a paragraph or so).

Growing up in the solidly Democratic, FDR-loyal state of Georgia, all of my relatives were anti-New Deal Republicans. That is, all except for one cousin whose father ran for governor of South Carolina on the Socialist ticket and came in ahead of the Republican candidate — just shows you how weak the Republicans were down there in the “olden days.” My family’s creed against the WPA, CCC, NRA, and other anti-Depression agencies was we must combat economic travail with the local lady’s doctrine of individual responsibility. It didn’t matter how utterly the doctrine had failed under Hoover and other Republicans; it mattered that “the fabric of society not be weakened by attachment to or dependence on Washington.”

Down South there was also a touch of holding the line against always-feared racial equality that seemed an inevitable byproduct of government by radical Democrats. Sooner or later, it was thought, as government largess was spread about, the racial lines would fade and benefits for some would be transformed into benefits for all on the basis of equality of citizenship. I don’t say that the Trumpite lady I met was so motivated — although some in the anti-Obama camp were surely so persuaded. No, she seemed to draw the line not along racial lines, but on societal division — those who can and will cope with life’s aggravations and those who don’t want or bother to struggle.

Take health care, for example, as our conversation did. The Trump lady seemed to think that if a fellow citizen suffered from an accident or serious illness, he/she should have taken well beforehand the precaution of buying insurance against such an event. She acknowledged that a small child or aged person on hard times might be exceptions to the rule of individual responsibility, but not the able-bodied citizen. One less IPhone or TV set; instead, regular insurance payments.

There is lurking in this doctrine the fragmentation of our solidarity as a nation. We believe in and are willing to pay for the common or public goods of national defense, anticrime measures, or educational spending (within limits to be sure). But health care appears to an exception to this rule of helping fellow citizens, especially those who can’t help themselves. Other developed (and some developing) nations have organized themselves for single government-provided health care at less cost and comparable quality to us. Why not America? Why is it that we will gladly pay taxes to haul away the trash of others but not to patch up their wounds?

Perhaps it is that health care is the most important common good and, hence, not to be entrusted to government hands generally deemed to be incompetent. We see what can happen to postal mail that is lost or slow in semiofficial hands; we don’t want that to happen to our treatment in the hands of a [government-hired] physician. Meanwhile, don’t dare touch our Social Security or Medicare.

We see this philosophy in the Republican-devised bill (1) to replace Obamacare with a reduction in the number (mere millions) of persons receiving Medicaid benefits, and (2) the companion gift of reduced taxes on the wealthy, which were designed to pay for those benefits. It is the fulfillment of the dream of Trumpites to elevate with one swoop the doctrine of self-responsibility and the avoidance of taxes. It is a negative form of nationalism (America First!) that celebrates solidarity against the world beyond our borders but scants the world of neighbors within.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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