I woke up last night with dread slithering in my gut. It was late, maybe around midnight. The bill had already been voted on by then, for a while, but I hadn’t seen the results yet. And then I did.
Mitch McConnell looking dreary-eyed and forlorn in the senate chambers, arms crossed, head hung. No late-night celebratory partying from POTUS or Paul Ryan. Democrats with faces teeming with relief, clapping, giving reporters snippets of their emotions in those final disquieting moments on the floor. I didn’t even need to read the headline– “Senate fails to pass Obamacare repeal, again”– to immediately know what was going on.
The Senate had voted nay on the “skinny repeal.” The dread did subsided, not completely, but enough for me to smile at the ceiling and take a deep breath. The anger that had been latent and rising in the corners of my brain, curdling there, threatening to leak completely, tamed itself a bit.
Sixteen million people were not about to lose their healthcare anymore. Planned Parenthood would not be defunded because we all know what that means. The long-winded, exhausting, utterly disheartening attempts of the GOP to repeal– and now, not replace– the Affordable Care Act had collapsed inwards. For now, at least, people would be okay.
I know it may seem melodramatic to have such strong feelings about this bill, or rather, the past three bills, especially as a young person who doesn’t have to rely on my own income yet and am still on my parents’ healthcare, but I can’t help it. I was dismayed by it all.
To be part of Generation Z, I believe, is to, from early on, have activist energy entrenched in you culturally that you can choose to act on or not. What disturbed me most about the past few months was not really about healthcare, because, if we are being honest with ourselves, this had very little to do with healthcare and everything to do with undoing the legacy of our first black President. I can’t say that to people without eye-rolls, but I’m not saying the ACA is perfect. In the words of Chuck Schumer, it hardly is. It needs a lot of work and most importantly, bipartisan cooperation and brainstorming to make that work effective. But if the GOP’s legislation was really about replacing Obamacare with something better, after eight years of complaining endlessly about it, you’d really think they had quite an extraordinary plan all figured out, nuances and all.
It would’ve been about actually improving healthcare in the way it ought to be improved, with the opinions and advice of healthcare professionals and patients. It would’ve paid attention to the Congressional Budget Office’s warnings, to the numerous nonpartisan healthcare unions and organizations’ warnings, to the people’s warnings.
I don’t believe this was really about that.
This was about a far more insidious, and demoralizing theme throughout the GOP: a fierce hatred and resentment of Barack Obama. We know Trump is obsessed with Obama. Out of envy, clearly, but you’d think that not all Republicans are so ridiculously enamored with diminishing the man’s legacy, that not all of them participated in the racist absurdity of the birtherism movement, that at least some of them were opposed to him on the basis of ideology and policy rather than him merely being a decent human being who also accomplished a helluva lot of things. I don’t think they know it anymore, is the thing.
The Republican party ideology has become so conflated with dismantling anything and everything that Obama did that it’s become second nature to them. The healthcare chaos was the most explicit embodiment of that yet.
Obama had a flawed presidency, no doubt, but he was also a deeply decent and compassionate man. As a young, queer woman, I am endlessly grateful to him for how fiercely he advocated for women and the LGBTQ+ community. A lot of his policies didn’t work, but a lot of them did, and for the Republican Party to simply ignore those successes and demonize him, work to create immeasurably worse policy than him just to spite him, and not care about who gets hurt in the process, is irreconcilable with their positions as public servants.
To get straight to the point, the most unnerving part of this all has been what it seems the party so clearly lacks: empathy. Compassion. I think “empathy” is a difficult concept in our contemporary culture. It is far easier to relate to individual, personalized stories and experiences rather than the ungraspable numbers we toss around.
However, compassion, on the other hand, is different. It requires the constant understanding and appreciation that this world is not yours alone, that there are people out there who live entirely different lives, and even if we do not know them, we know they exist. We must take that into consideration in our policy-making, because what is a public servant if they do not serve the public?
If you’re in politics, you have to care about other human beings besides yourself. I don’t think this is a particularly complex idea to grasp, and neither do the rest of millions of Americans who protested profusely and tirelessly against the bill. How you can defend and push for a bill that will, without any doubt, literally kill people no matter how much you deny or ignore fact, is the complex idea to grasp here. I struggle with even trying to confront it.
What is happening to our democracy when compassion is seen as a side note? I am 17 years old, yes, and I am, as I have been chided many times, filled with idealism, hope, and a strong desire to believe that fundamentally, people are good. That’s probably why this is so hard for me to understand. What is it that these men who write god-awful legislation taking away healthcare from millions of people, from their constituents, taking away reproductive healthcare from women, what is it that they really want? I cannot say that I know the answer to this.
Power is not a tangible thing, and once you have it, what is there after? In the latest season of “House of Cards,” I noticed how restless and bored Frank Underwood grew with the presidency. There were no more ladders for him to climb, no more people to drag to the bottom so he could rise to the top, nothing higher than the position he had. It didn’t mean anything anymore, because it was no longer about climbing, it was about actually staying put, and helping people.
So if these men want that kind of power, once they get it, there’s nothing left. Politics should be about wanting to empower people to live their best lives, and specifically, to make sure everyone has equal opportunity to do so. The competitive, zero-sum game we’re currently playing is not productive. It ends up with endless animosity and resentment.
So, back to the bill. Who saved the ACA? Women, primarily. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, both Republicans, were staunchly against the bill from the beginning. Senator John McCain gave that nail-biting thumbs down, too, but to give him all the credit for single-handedly saving America is a bit much. Although essentially anything Ted Cruz does makes me sick to my stomach, his forceful adage “vote your conscience” is a thought I can get behind. I could say that all Republican Congress people are morally bankrupt, and incurably so, but that would be a disservice to all of the senators who fought on behalf of their constituents rather than their party.
This is my meditation on this bill, and if it is scattered, I apologize, but that’s because my thought process is scattered right now. The bill failed to pass, narrowly, and for now, we can rejoice in this, take a short breather.
We need to relax for a moment and allow ourselves to celebrate… the fact that human decency still exists in the GOP, I guess. But the clear message that comes from this mess remains, and it is not something we can ignore: every Republican in Congress has the ability to stand up to their party and fight for their conscience, but only a handful of them did just that. Let me repeat that: the majority of Republicans voted yes on a bill that would take healthcare away from 16 million Americans. That is showing us exactly who these people are. We can’t shy away from that unsettling truth.