Ask your doctor if Republican talking points are right for you

Last night’s installment of the July Democratic debates was a mess. With Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren standing at center stage, CNN’s questions seemed designed to invite attacks from the Center and the Right. A common theme was that the Democratic Progressives are far too radical for America and that “reasonable” and “pragmatic” people from the Heartland are America’s only hope. Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Hickenlooper, Ryan, and Bullock had thus been chosen for this media-staged matchup. To their credit, Warren and Sanders defended their positions admirably. Particularly on Medicare for All.

Early in the debate, CNN host Jake Tapper asked Bernie Sanders to respond to a talking point by fellow candidate John Delaney: “You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for government-sponsored health care for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy, and previously he’s called the idea political suicide that will just get President Trump reelected. What do you say to Congressman Delaney?”

Delaney, an informed viewer would know, is a healthcare executive (and three-term Maryland Congressman) who made $230 million by first providing home health care services by using underpaid workers, and then founded a health care investment corporation to take a cut of your medical premiums. While in Congress, Delaney served on the Financial Services Committee. His top campaign donors were J.P. Morgan Chase, Alliance Partners, Capital One Financial, and several other insurance and investment companies. Delaney is the human personification of everything that is wrong with American healthcare — and, to some extent, the Democratic Party.

Objecting to the framing of the question, Bernie Sanders replied, “Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. And, by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight, on this program…” — before being cut off by Tapper.

And Sanders was exactly right. During the ad break, CNN broadcast a commercial for Otezla, which “partially clears skin at the cost of nausea, diarrhea and depression at a listed prices of $3,400 for a 30-day supply.”

The American Prospect‘s David Dayen wrote that, besides hearing from the pharmaceutical industry, debate viewers also heard from “the anti-single payer group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), funded by hospitals and drug companies, and an Alzheimer’s disease patient advocacy group that takes major funding from drug companies.”

“The unfiltered 90 seconds of three of these commercials in succession comprised more screen time than anything in the debate about money in politics,” Dayen wrote. “The country cannot afford to have CNN creating the proscenium through which America gets informed.”

Unfortunately, half the Democrats on stage sounded exactly like Republicans when it comes to health care. Delaney, Ryan, Bullock, Hickenlooper, and to some extent also Klobuchar all said that Americans would fight tooth and nail to preserve their healthcare plans. All gravely warned that any talk of removing the private option would frighten voters into the hands of Republicans.

Certainly no one should ever underestimate the credulity of the American public, but it would help if the issue were not being improperly framed by corporate media like CNN (and its advertisers) and by Big Pharma’s and Big Healthcare’s friends in both parties.

“Don’t take my healthcare away!” is absolutely the wrong demand, and an abuse of the English language.

Like organized crime, insurance companies don’t provide healthcare. They take a cut of your payment to your doctor. These companies are in it for the money. For journalists and presidential candidates to associate “healthcare” with the insurance industry is professional and linguistic malfeasance. And little more than corporate propaganda.

These are companies that require customers to spend hours and hours trying to adjust rejected or screwed-up claims. Do consumers really want to preserve relationships with these companies? Maybe it’s just me, but the best relationship with the insurance companies would be none at all.

I’ve seen it myself in Germany and Canada. I simply pay my premiums (through taxes or other deductions) and I don’t get nickeled and dimed on copays, approved pharmaceuticals, or have to worry about scheduling treatment because I haven’t yet hit some arbitrary annual dollar amount. I simply go to the doctor or the hospital and everything’s been paid for. Without the possibility that some unusual condition or treatment will bankrupt me. That’s my definition of healthcare. And if I were a small businessman in America, I wouldn’t need to spend half my time negotiating deals with insurance companies.

“Healthcare” is provided by healthcare experts. Doctors, nurses, midwives, physician assistants. “Healthcare” has nothing to do with the corporate parasites who currently profit off human frailty and mortality. If there is a healthcare relationship I want to preserve, it is with my doctor, not an insurance company.

While Sanders was plainly frustrated with Democratic friends of Big Pharma and Big Finance — who refused to allow that a national healthcare plan is most certainly possible because every other Western nation in the world has already done it — Elizabeth Warren did a better job of explaining what the stakes are. Like Sanders, Warren was cut off by CNN while trying to recount the tragic story of Ady Barkan, who has ALS, and whose illness is bankrupting his family despite premium private medical insurance. Still, Warren made her point.

“We are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do,” said Warren, a co-sponsor of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill. “And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.”

Racism is Trump’s philosophy and his election strategy

If you’ve been biting your fingernails while watching HBO’s Years and Years or Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale, don’t dismiss your Angst as the result of dystopian fiction. A lot of it is really happening. While the Imperial Presidency was tweeting White Supremacist attacks on enemies of all sorts, except (of course) whites and Christians, defying Congress and lying non-stop, members of his administration just served up a few more dishes in the endless buffet of Gleichschaltung Americans are being force-fed daily by Republicans working under the Führer principle.

This month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched his Commission on Unalienable Rights — an end-run around internationally-recognized standards of human rights. Instead of international laws, Pompeo wants to privilege his friends in Riyadh, K Street, and Jerusalem who espouse religious freedom but are hostile to secular freedoms. Margaret Drew, a law professor posting to Human Rights at Home, writes that “to accomplish this weeding out of human rights, Commission members will examine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other documents, to determine what rights are fundamental and, among other questions, who has the power to grant rights. The likely answer is God, who no doubt will be whispering in the ears of commission members.”

Prosecuting people who leave water in the desert for asylum seekers, ending asylum in violation of international norms, and keeping asylum seekers in abysmal concentration camps all must be excused by redefining human rights. It’s something Orwell would appreciate.

Liberals justifiably don’t want to fund these assaults on human rights. Robin Wright, writing in the New Yorker, and noting Trump’s many friendships with dictators and dictatorial regimes (besides his own), cites the “unbelievable hypocrisy” of the commission. Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, said in a statement, “It’s time to call the Commission on Unalienable Rights what it really is: a thinly veiled religious fundamentalist panel that aims to cut back the human rights of people all over the world.”

Columbia University’s Human Rights Law Review publishes the “Trump Human Rights Tracker,” which charts human rights abuses under the Trump administration: “It is difficult to keep up with all that the new administration is doing that threatens human rights.” Masha Gessen writes in The New Yorker that “the new commission will contemplate who is and isn’t human, and who, therefore, possesses inalienable rights.” Fetuses will be accorded rights, and the LGBT community stripped of them. The ACLU writes that “Pompeo’s commission is a dangerous initiative intended to redefine universal human rights and roll back decades of progress in achieving full rights for marginalized and historically oppressed communities. It is likely to use religion as grounding to deny human dignity and equality for all. It will undermine the existing State Department’s well respected and legally-mandated Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs. And it will be a waste of taxpayer dollars, which would be better spent on implementing U.S. human rights treaty obligations and putting an end to Trump’s era of human misery and assault on our humanity.”

In an administration that cares little for diplomacy and international norms, Pompeo has become less a Secretary of State and (in line with Gleichschaltung) more a Propaganda Minister. In late June Pompeo convened the “Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.” The event was organized, in part, by Thomas Farr of the Religious Freedom Institute, whose own website betrays its Islamophobia. Predictably, VP for Christian Citizens Only Mike Pence delivered the keynote address.

Apparently running concentration camps, winking at journalists being hacked to death by “friends,” supporting decade-long occupations, and cozying-up to the world’s dictators are no impediments to targeting the real problem afflicting our society — those pesky constitutional protections which prevent the government from championing a specific religion — Christianity. Breakout sessions were led by representatives from a number of countries where religion is used to persecute non-religious and sexual minorities. Parallel to Pompeo’s “Ministerial,“ Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Campaign were looking into the question of whether religious liberty is being used as a tool to deny secular freedoms.

If all this were not bad enough, members of the Trump Administration and his FOX News Cabinet participated in the National Conservatism conference at the D.C. Ritz-Carlton. As billed, the emphasis was on “nationalism.” For three days you could hear renowned White Supremacists and Islamophobes — including Tucker Carlson, Daniel Pipes, John Bolton, Daniel McCarthy, Amy Wax, Peter Thiel and others — argue for a return to Anglo-Saxon traditions. Organized by the Edmund Burke Society, Israeli-American and Kahanist “political philosopher” Yoram Hazony took center stage to outline the ultra-nationalist ideology — with a twist — that he was selling.

The nationalist ideology he was selling has a name: Zionism. Hazony argues that the United States needs its own form of Zionism — as opposed to U.S. imperialism (though many would argue that Zionism too is imperialistic). Daniel Luban summarizes Hazony’s argument in a piece in the New Republic: “Hazony frames his theory around a conflict (‘as old as the West itself’) between two principles of international order: ‘an order of free and independent nations,’ and a universal empire striving to unite all nations under a single legal regime. The former ideal, he suggests, originates in the Hebrew Bible, with the biblical kingdom of Israel serving as the first national state, but reached its apotheosis in early modern Europe under the ‘Protestant construction of the West.’ The golden age of nation-states stretched from roughly the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 until the end of World War II. But after Hitler discredited nationalism (wrongly, for he was actually an imperialist rather than a nationalist) the imperial principle made a comeback, at least among ‘educated elites who have, to one degree or another, become committed to a future under an imperial order.’”

Hazony’s take-away is that nation-states should not expand, invade and then have to embrace internationalism like the Roman empire. Instead, they need to build walls around themselves and expel those who don’t fit nationalist criteria of race and religion.

As Jeet Heer summarizes in the Nation, “Instead of the blunt jeers heard at Trump rallies, where the name of Ilhan Omar raised the chant of “send her back,” the attendees of the conference spoke in more genteel terms about the need for national cohesion and an immigration policy that respected the nation’s cultural traditions. Yet these more mellifluous words differed from the hooting of Trump rallies only in terms of tone, not intent.”

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley must have brought his bedside copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion with him because he mentioned “cosmopolitans” a number of times. “They run businesses or oversee universities here, but their primary loyalty is to the global community,” Hawley said of the “cosmopolitan elite.” “And they subscribe to a set of values held by similar elites in other places: things like the importance of global integration and the danger of national loyalties; the priority of social change over tradition, career over community, and achievement and merit and progress.”

Although Heer himself didn’t conclude Hawley’s speech was anti-Semitic, he noted: “Hawley’s use of the loaded word ‘cosmopolitan’ was combined with a denunciation of four academics, three of whom were Jewish. One of those was the philosopher Martha Nussbaum. When Hawley mentioned her, the crowd hissed. Hawley’s speech has been accused of containing anti-Semitic dog whistles.”

But Amy Wax didn’t need dog whistles; instead she had her weasel words. “Let us be candid,” she said. “Europe and the first world, to which the United States belongs, remain mostly white for now, and the third world, although mixed, contains a lot of nonwhite people. Embracing cultural-distance nationalism means, in effect, taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites. Well, that is the result, anyway. So, even if our immigration philosophy is grounded firmly in cultural concerns, it doesn’t rely on race at all.”

Admittedly, these are people who can string two sentences together without a 280-character limitation or a Covfefe. But their racism is as crude as Trump’s and anything uttered at a Klan meeting.

The hyper-nationalism and racism we first glimpsed from Trump in 2015 was real. Trump is a racist. Trump is a nationalist. Trump is a neo-fascist. Trump is almost singularly obsessed with building a wall on the Mexican border, stopping even legal immigration, and disenfranchising voters of color. His 2016 campaign was based on white male privilege. His 2020 campaign is also likely to be about Whiteness, if not also Christian privilege. In fact, Trump has now doubled down on racist attacks on House members of color, and it seems calculated. Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker tried to make sense of these calculations in their Washington Post piece:

“Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former White House official, said that even if Trump’s rhetoric offends some suburban voters, they will still vote for him rather than siding with Democrats. ‘He can excite his base without alienating suburbia to the point where they’re not voting for him,’ he said. ‘That’s what a coalition is. Not everyone agrees with everything.’”

Note: “excite his base” = “appeal to white racists”.

While Republicans are confident that racism will be a unifying strategy, Democrats aren’t so sure if it will succeed or backfire.

“Democrats are banking on the idea that even if Trump’s language excites his base, it is likely to offend a diverse coalition of voters who will turn out to defeat him. ‘I don’t think it’s going to depress Democrats. I think it’s going to make them angry,’ said Jennifer Palmieri, an adviser to Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Brian Schaffner, a political science professor at Tufts University, said a review of exit polling data from 2016 does not give a clear sense of what effect Trump’s amplified appeal to white working-class voters will have in 2020. ‘We can’t really know for sure from our data whether the white grievance rhetoric is going to mobilize more support for Trump in 2020,’ he said. ‘And it’s very possible that he may mobilize just as many — or maybe even more — opponents with this rhetoric.'”

Given how racist this country is, it’s a good bet that Trump’s appeals to White Supremacy will win him re-election.

The accounting of history

For White America, the accounting of history is all assets and no liabilities. Iowa’s Steve King never stops saying that the profits on America’s balance sheet all belong to white people because, over hundreds of years, it was white people who tamed a brown continent and brought “civilization” to it. Ask White America about Confederate history and you will hear that the Lost Cause is a crucial part of American history and American identity. To take down rebel monuments is to strike assets off White America’s ledgers.

The Western Canon, still taught in some universities, is a sort of Western/white supremacist version of world history and culture. It originally consisted of almost exclusively Greek, Roman, and Christian sources. Ask a white Evangelical Christian, who now only grudgingly acknowledges the “Judeo” part of our newly-reformulated “Judeo-Christian” culture, and you’ll hear that the biblical kingdoms of “Samaria” and “Judea” should be reserved for overwhelmingly European settlers under Israel’s Law of Return, and that Palestinians should remain under perpetual occupation. There’s a thick thread of racism running through all of Western history and culture.

But when it comes to reparations for slavery, White America has a completely different accounting scheme — a scheme in which all debts are automatically cancelled. In this scheme, since all contributions by non-whites are negligible, and their presence so unwanted, their claims on American history are nothing but petty annoyances. If someone wronged you, your parents, your grandparents — even every generation of your ancestors — well, too bad, it’s not our fault. Get over it. No debts were incurred. And no debts need be paid after such a long time.

For a people who don’t believe in a free lunch — not even for poor children — it is curious that White Americans so resolutely refuse to pay their debts. And as a nation we have some pretty big ones — colonialism, genocide, territorial expropriation, slavery, and centuries of racism. In the history of American Capitalism, it was slavery that set the Confederate economy in motion. And it was slavery that underpinned the cotton trade upon which the Northern textile industries were based. Thus, even New England cities — under Northern Capitalism — became rich from slavery. Today White America, South and North, wring their hands over the complexity of the accounting. But regardless of the unwillingness of the debtor to pay the debt, the interest on our Original Sin just keeps accruing.

In the orthodox [White] re-telling of American history, Our good fortune simply fell off a truck. We were lucky enough, and smart enough, to simply scoop it up for ourselves. The triumphalist says: I got mine; the hell with the rest of you. Yet, whether by lying to ourselves about our history or by the sociopathic glorification of it, White America knows full well what it has stolen. And for those who recognize the stolen merchandise as theirs, they know what crimes were committed and that payment is due. That payment must consist of not only a monetary value but a moral accounting.

As much as Republicans and Centrist Democrats would like race to simply go away, a national discussion about reparations — like racism itself — is long overdue. It is not surprising that we are hearing about reparations in the 2020 presidential campaign from both candidates of color and several white Democrats. Ta-Nihisi Coates recently penned a long “Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic, and in it he makes the case, mentioning H.R.40, a bill sponsored in the last legislative session by Michigan Democrat John Conyers, Jr., “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.”

Like a Truth and Reconciliation process, a reparations commission would require White America to come to grips with our real history. The questions are complex, the solutions even more so. How do we make amends for crimes committed by past generations that are repeated and still resonate today? Who would all the recipients of reparations be, and what forms would reparations consist of? Following the implementation of reparations, how could we determine if they were lifting up those who needed them the most?

But Coates sums up a reparations commission’s greatest good: “No one can know what would come out of such a debate. Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as — if not more than — the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.”

Our fragile democracy cannot survive the shameful present reality of the two Americas the Kerner Commission predicted over fifty years ago. Apologies are due, and debts must be acknowledged and paid. Those who have suffered the most must be lifted up and made whole.

This nation must be made whole.