Amid all the horrors wrought because of the election, I find myself more confused and confounded than I ever thought possible.
As the former director of the Women’s Needs Center of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, I am appalled by the “replacement” of the ACA (Affordable Care Act or Obamacare). It is heartless, a tax giveaway to the wealthy, and particularly harsh to women. And will throw many many millions (estimates are 20-30 MILLION people) off health insurance and into untenable situations, and back to early, preventable deaths. I was always in favor of an expansion of Medicare, or at the very least, a “public option”—but at least the ACA was realistic in trying to expand coverage in a way that would pay for itself. But this plan does not pretend that it will make health coverage “better” (as promised). Sam and I have insurance through his retirement with the State of California, so we are, I believe secure, but if the Californians who gained insurance through the ACA are thrown off, I could very possibly lose my jobs at hospitals, which can now afford chaplains with increased membership or patients; if the ACA is repealed and anything resembling the proposed “replacement” passes, hospitals will be cutting back their staff substantially. It won’t just be chaplains, I’m sure.
But my stomach also churns at the real possibility that 45 and his campaign colluded with Russia to throw the election to him. Both that Russia had the capability to do so and did so and that the Republican party was willing to accept the help and engage in it. If it is true, I can’t imagine what the end game is here. Do Republicans stand up for our country, or is having power that important to them? But I find I have a visceral antipathy to conspiracy theories, and so I keep thinking, “This can’t be true.” Is Rachel Maddow spinning lurid fantasy or is she spot on? Is there some middle ground between the two? Have we experienced a coup that duped millions of people into voting for the Kremlin’s choice?
I have also been trying to discern the use of the word “lie” and “liars” and how it relates to this time we are in. According to the dictionary, lying requires intent, and we can’t know what is in someone’s head until they tell us. Is 45 being delusional or intentional? Does he believe what he says when he speaks or is he playing us? The answer is the choice being lying and being factually wrong. I tend to think it’s intentional, but I don’t know. Either option, coming from the White House, is horrific.
And I wonder what this all does to discourse. How do I “judge for the good” when Republicans say that their health care plan is better than the ACA? It is not better for low income people, women, children, the elderly, or people whose employer does not provide insurance. But maybe their version of “better” has something to do with “freedom” from government intrusion, or from being taxed to pay for those who can’t afford it on their own (income redistribution, which I firmly support, but understand others do not share this). However, both positions seem antithetical to both American values, as I understand them, and moral/religious values, as I understand them as a rabbi. The Constitution starts with the Preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
These are all aspirations, as we have not really achieved justice, domestic tranquility or secured the blessings of liberty for everyone. Especially, I turn to promoting the general welfare as an important value.
As a rabbi and as a chaplain, I keep thinking about how we are supposed to take care of the widow, orphan and stranger in our midst; to remember that we were strangers in a strange land. We—human beings—are supposed to care about the least among us, recognizing that poverty may always exist, but it is up to those who are not poor to help those people out.
When I go into a hospital room, I no longer verbally notice if someone has Fox News on their television screen. I see them in their hospital bed. I talk about what matters to them from their hospital bed; what their spiritual needs are now, whether they support the denial of health care to others, or the dumping of coal waste into streams, or any of the other positions that are an anathema to me. I admit that it took me a while to get to that place, but I have.
I want to see people as people with some version of heart and caring.
At the same time, I worry about the fact free environment we live in—as well as the poor way information is presented. Words matter. How words are framed matters. Ideas matter. Facts matter. (So when the Speaker of the House says his health care bill does not need to be evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office, he is saying something powerful there: he doesn’t want us to know the true impact—on the budget, or on people’s access to health care. Facts matter.)
I don’t want us to trash Kellyanne Conway for her appearance, but for the words out of her mouth. I am not bothered about Melania’s doings unless she is trying to make millions off her position of First Lady, as she said in a deposition. I don’t really care about how much 45 vacations—it’s the Secret Service’s job to guard him and his family. But don’t require the Coast Guard to guard Mar-a-Lago and simultaneously cut the Coast Guard’s budget.
And all the other issues always important to me: racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, and care for the poor… how far it feels like the arc has bent in the wrong direction. I am inspired by all the activism, but will it elect the Democrat in Georgia? Change gerrymandering? How can we remember that it was white Christian working class folks who voted for 45, not people of color or Jews? And how do we talk to them, if they believe Fox and Breitbart and Mark Levin?
And so I pay attention, I keep reading widely. I keep listening. And I pray. And call my legislators. And donate. And show up. I’m eating a woman-owned business today wearing my red sweater. Not enough…