I don’t know what makes human beings capable of cruelty toward any living creature other than a warped need to exercise dominion over the weak and defenseless out of a moral failure to acknowledge one’s own frailties. I cannot comprehend how one man, much less 217 others—men and women—could so callously and casually draw, aim, and fire bullets tipped with pain, fear, and financial ruin into a crowd of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, and then, in a garden of roses, celebrate the carnage they inflicted on millions of innocents.
Maybe such public displays of cruelty reflect some internal self-disgust that will not be put away in a dark place—like Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” refusing to be hidden in a closet. I believe the “Picture of Republican Health Care” as passed by the House on Thursday is just such an image. It is a soulless portrait painted in the bleak pigments of false hope, hubris, self-interest, and lies, and applied to a cheap legislative canvas with a brush of indifference held by the cruelest artists of our times.
The English novelist and essayist, G.K. Chesterton, wrote “Cruelty is, perhaps, the worst kind of sin. Intellectual cruelty is certainly the worst kind of cruelty.” What the House Republicans foisted off on the public on Thursday was nothing less than intellectual cruelty playing to the emotional and financial uncertainty of a portion of the electorate primed by the president and conservative media (news and social) to distrust and fear facts and truth.
Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), in an eloquent Floor statement denouncing the healthcare bill, said, in part,
TrumpCare codifies a worldview that divides America by fate and fortune. A worldview that scapegoats the struggling and suffering and that see illness as inadequacy. The ultimate test of our country’s character is not the power we give the strong, but the strength we give the weak. It is among the most basic human truths: Every one of us, some day, will be brought to our knees. By a diagnosis we didn’t expect, a phone call we can’t imagine, or a loss we cannot endure. That common humanity inspires our mercy. It fortifies our compassion. It drives us to look out for the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the most vulnerable among us. Yesterday’s bill ― yesterday’s devastating bill ― does the opposite.
I will never forget the image of “Tank Man” the unknown protester, standing firm in the face of Chinese armor rolling toward him in Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989. In my mind, looking back at the tipping point in that man’s life—watching him not only hold off the tanks, but get on one of them, talk to crew, get off and resume his resolute place in history—I see the tipping point for millions of Americans now in the path of the obscene armored division of the Republican Party’s merciless healthcare legislation.
As the driver of the lead GOP tank, it is the president’s intent—of this I have no doubt—to do great harm to the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless, and the disheartened Americans who struggle every day to make ends meet, and who are so desperate that they will believe any lie fed to them by false prophets. Trump and his witting cadre of Ryan/McCarthy followers, have little use for people who don’t look like them, who don’t add value to the economy, who are struggling just to pull their own weight and that of their families’.
Trump conjures up boogeymen to frighten us into building a wall; he pretends to demonize the wealthy to the delight of the poor—all the while planning tax reform that will further improve the lives of the rich, and further diminish the hopes of the impoverished; he drives wedges of distrust into the cracks and crevices of a racially-tense nation; he pulls the welcome mat from America’s front porch, and even our allies are unsure as to whether to trust us to come to their aid. And now, he reaches out to pull healthcare’s life-support plug for millions of desperate Americans. Because they are weak, because his form of cruelty hungers to hurt the poor, disparage the disabled, demean those who are different.
Weakness is intolerable to Trump. It is anathema to his very being. He can’t even admit his own faults…refuses to say “I was wrong.” And if you are a weak American, clawing up the sides of a deep well of despair brought on by pre-existing conditions, or that unexpected diagnosis, or the unimaginable phone call Joe Kennedy mentioned, you are of no use to Trump or the House Republicans. Shielded in their impenetrable armor of disdain, they cannot hear the cries of the helpless.
I do not know what the Senate will do with Trumpcare (or, as I called it in my column of May 5, “Don’tCare), but I believe that the next few weeks or months of deliberation in the Upper Chamber will present all Americans of conscience with the opportunity to stand firm in the face of the Trump tanks arrayed against those who need healthcare the most.
Cruelty is not a fiber in the fabric of our country. It is, instead, a stain on the whole cloth of our society. It can be washed out, but only if we all work together in the cleansing process. Right now, this very day, the future of healthcare for men, women, children, the very young, the very old, the soon-to-die, and the yet-to-be-born, hangs in the balance. Those of us with strong voices and willing hearts must speak for them, must stand in front of them against the encroaching cruelty of heartless legislation. We can do it.
As Joe Kennedy said, “We must decide, instead, to take care of each other ― because, but for the grace of God, we will all one day wake up in need of a little mercy.”
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