Gentle Readers, I don’t do this often. What I write below has nothing to do with history. I have some things I need to say. If you want to skip my reasoning and get right to it, contact information is at the bottom of this post.
Neither I nor any of my loved ones receive life-sustaining care through the Affordable Care Act; our lives are not on the line. But countless Americans do. If its protections go away, they face the choice of bankruptcy or death. Tens of thousands of lives are at stake every year. Millions more will be at risk, one accident or bad gene away from disaster. These people don’t have to die before their time. We have the money and we have the power to save them all: the aged grandparents, the newborns, the premature babies, the sick toddlers, the teenager hit by a car, all the people battling cancer, and all the people who battle mental illness and addition every agonizing day just to get to the next. They are all people just like you, with loved ones and people who love them, hopes, dreams, faults, and all the stuff that makes us human; maybe they are you.
Today, July 25, 2017, the United States Senate will vote on a Motion to Proceed on some kind of attack upon health care for all those people. I will be blunt: Whatever they vote on is a plan to murder all those people I just mentioned just as surely as if they were all lined up against a wall and shot. Those who survive anyway will suffer more, needlessly.
We don’t know what they plan to vote to proceed with because the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, hasn’t told us. He has cooked up a health care bill in secret, multiple times, bypassing every institutional norm of the Senate. There have been no hearings. More than once, it seems like he has hurried to get something forward before the Congressional Budget Office could examine it and inform the Congress of its likely consequences. If the Motion to Proceed passes, then the Senate will have no more than twenty hours’ debate over two, maybe three, days. Amendments will fly. None of the Senators have looked at the bill; none of them know what it does. Probably some of them don’t care to know. Once the paper begins flying, no one will know what the final bill is until the ultimate vote. McConnell himself might put in a final amendment that wipes out all the previous ones.
Here’s what we do know: Every previous version of this the GOP has come up with has been a devastating attack on vulnerable Americans. They’re not going to change tracks now. We also know that if they thought this bill was popular, they would be happy to run it through the normal committee hearings to understand how it would touch the lives of millions. They would invite Democrats in to ask questions and suggest modifications. Instead they skulk about like assassins. They know this bill is poison from the start. Every health care advocacy group that’s looked at it, even the health insurance industry themselves, think it’s a terrible idea and will cause tremendous harm. Even the charity that funded Mitch McConnell’s treatment for polio, the March of Dimes, thinks so. He refused to meet with them.
That’s bad enough; I have worse. The reason we don’t legislate like this normally is that we take governance seriously and expect accountability of our politicians. They should know what they’re doing, what the costs are, and who will bear them. The people should have a chance to be heard at every step of the way, even people we personally disagree with or loathe. Democracy cannot survive otherwise, whether we have elections or not. If Mitch McConnell and the Republican party get away with this one, then they will do this for everything they want to do that can’t stand the light of day. We may never get back the deliberative process that, for all its faults, remains a great safeguard of our liberties.
Already we teeter at the edge of a deeper crisis than the one we have faced at least since October, when the Republican leadership learned that Russia was working to win Donald Trump the presidency and insisted that President Obama say nothing or they would attack him for it. That was probably our first coup. The second has been ongoing, in slow motion, since January as the man who lost the election of 2016 by millions of votes works to transform our nation into a dictatorship. He has already fired one man investigating his Russian connections, a Republican stalwart no less. That was the third coup, arising from the second but a signal point in its own right. Now he lays the groundwork for firing the Republican stalwart appointed to continue the investigation. That could be our fourth coup. If he can get away with that, and past precedent suggests the Republicans in Congress are happy to ensure he does, what else can he do? Give him that power and give the Senate the power to draft laws in secret and pass them by virtual fiat, and American democracy may never recover.
Even if you don’t care about heath care and don’t mind Vladimir Putin -a man who regularly assassinates people who he dislikes- fixing our elections, you should care about that. Authoritarianism is present in every society, waiting to be unleashed. Once it is, no one is safe. Southern whites lynched their fellows for not being sound on slavery, a system they insisted upon for the safety of the white race. No one is truly safe in such a world except for a small number of people at the very top, who make us vulnerable so we must look to them for protection and so buy our silence. They will come for all of us, given the chance.
I don’t know if we can save this. I’m sorry; I really don’t. I don’t know if we ever get back to where we were as a nation just one year ago. Despair is a natural reaction in these times. But I know this: enough Republican senators are wavering or can’t agree on a repeal of the ACA, a replacement for it, or something else that all hope is not lost. If McConnell loses this one, then he might be forced to drop the effort and return to normal order for the Senate. He will still pass laws I abhor, but we may inch back from the precipice and in doing so save so many lives.
The only thing left to us is the First Amendment. We can petition our Senators with the convenience of modern technology. Reach out and touch them, especially if your senator is a Republican. If they are, tell them to oppose all the attempts to destroy or undermine the ACA. If they’re a Democrat, thank them for fighting to save it. Every Senator gets regular reports of what comes in over the phones, faxes, and emails. They use that data to get a sense for their constituents. Being a Senator is a job that most of them want to keep for a long time. If they think that voting one way will outrage the great majority of their voters, then they will not do it. We have the ability to save all those lives and maybe our democracy in the bargain. Do we have the decency?
The United States has failed to meet the promises it makes to its citizens and the world on a daily basis for as long as it has existed, but Americans are not a singularly evil people. We can -we have- done better in the past. We can do it again. We are both the nation that instituted and sustained slavery and the nation that abolished it. We can choose the brighter path.
How to Contact Your Senator
The single easiest way to get in touch with your Senator is courtesy of ResistBot, basically an automated operator which will give you phone numbers or fax missives to them. You can access it through Facebook Messenger or your smartphone and it is totally free. If you have trouble talking to people on the phone, as I do, faxes are just like typing an email. The prompts will tell you everything you need to do. It takes minutes. If you call, leave a voice mail if you don’t get a person. If you have to, try more than once over. The Capitol switchboard can put you in touch with your senators: (202) 224-3121. The vote isn’t set until this afternoon, so we have some time. If the motion to proceed does pass, don’t let up. It’s not over until the Republicans give up their crusade or the bill is signed into law. Get in touch every day. If something changes, get in touch again. It’s all we can do. We owe it to all those people depending on us, including ourselves. Please.