President Trump first caused a sensation by declaring that the Republican Party would soon be known as the party of health care, cancelling the less than perfect plan that Obama managed to set up. A few days later he announced that his ‘better’ plan, would probably not be announced until after the 2020 presidential election: talk about holding Americans hostage!
To understand why, it’s important to bear in mind how the US became the only developed country that denies its citizens government-backed health care. Believe it or not, it’s all about ‘liberty’. For the Pilgrims to be ‘free’ to worship God as they chose — Luther’s one-on-one relationship with Him — they had to be free from government interference. This notion eventually led to what is commonly referred to as ‘the separation of church and state’, embodied in the First Amendment to the US Constitution in 1791.
America’s founding principle of individual freedom is that people can do anything that does not violate the law or infringe on another individual’s rights. However, the War of Independence resulted in a severe economic crisis that fell hardest on soldiers returning to their land. Having been poorly or not at all paid for defending their country, they found their farms mired in debt; and when the fledgeling government failed to find adequate solutions, many rebelled. Shay’s Rebellion, after the name of their leader, was an early instance of class war before Marx wrote Das Capital’.
In the nineteenth century, the government invited immigrants to settle Western land won from the Indians. Meanwhile, however, as dramatized in Michael Cimino’s stunning film “Heaven’s Gate”, wealthy second and third generation Easterners were buying that land for more profitable ranching, hiring thugs to brutally evict the immigrants. With private enterprise becoming an unstoppable motor in America’s expansion, settlers began to turn against a government that enabled it.
In World War I, the heroism of the US military was offset by the inevitable inefficiency of the large bureaucracy that kept it in guns and uniforms, and the Great Depression did nothing to improve that perception. However, during the Second World War, American soldiers were seen as heroes, while industry became the prime example of efficiency. Government employees, whose pay is not based on performance, are still seen as drone bees, with no authority to tell people how to live their lives. Largely because of this, modern Americans have failed to perceive government as representing the solidarity that characterized small communities. Although life has not become noticeably easier, to be respected, each individual must fend for him or herself.
This notion opened the way for the licensing of advertisers, first on radio, then on television, to interrupt programs every ten minutes, whether they were reporting on a war or running repeats of soap operas. As a bi-product, it transformed ‘freedom’ into ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. To this day the average American, while adamant that government shall not run his life, sees no contradiction in being told what to buy and how to live by business.
Capping this historical trajectory, the Republicans claim the US ‘can’t afford’ healthcare for all, while commentators never mention that this is due to the high cost of being the world hegemon. Americans have recently been informed that we are far from the top in international health statistics, yet no one dares question the government’s reluctance to remove health care from private insurers.
Nor do the major networks invite people who have lived in countries that provide universal, single-payer health care to explain how they manage this on far smaller budgets. In the sixties, I had a baby in revolutionary Cuba and another in wealthy Holland, each of which was registered at birth for government health care. In France, where I lived for thirty years, each year the government establishes how much the health industry can charge for every service and medication. Patients were free to pay out of pocket to consult expert practitioners who, like all self-employed, were heavily taxed.
While toying with a European-style health tax on earnings to replace private insurance ‘premiums’, President Trump swears that the United States “will never become a socialist country”, in which ‘cradle to grave’ government support saps self-reliance. Meanwhile, pharma-ceutical companies instruct Americans to ‘talk to your doctor’ about this or that medication, to ‘see it it’s right for you’, in effect sapping the authority of the medical profession.
As long as it’s not ‘the government’ that’s telling them how to live their lives, Americans’ are ok with that. But they won’t have universal health care anytime soon.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years. She can be reached at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.