The Defining Feature Of The Republican Party Is Cruelty
I continue to marvel at the abject cruelty espoused by the current Republican party. And, if anything, their actions since the election of Donald Trump has exposed the fact that there is really no ideological basis or consistency for what they do, only seemingly cruelty for cruelty’s sake.
Let’s just start with the opposition to Medicaid expansion by red states. For a small increase in spending, most of it initially covered by the federal government, states had the option to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of its citizens. But many red states opted to leave their citiznes without Medicaid coverage, using the supposed logic espoused by on Georgia state legislator, “We can’t go in the hole. We can’t borrow this year thinking the economy will balance next year. … That money looks enticing but you have to dig deeper.”
The reality, however, is that states that expanded Medicaid have shown “no significant increases in spending from state funds as a result of Medicaid expansion and no significant reductions in state spending on education, transportation, or other state programs”. In addition, states that expanded Medicaid actually saw per-person spending decrease by over 5%, while states that refused Medicaid expansion continued to see per-person costs rise by that very same percentage. And all this occurred while most expansion states saw a far greater increase in enrollment than was expected. All the evidence shows that Medicaid expansion is not a budget buster, as Republicans claimed, but actually can increase coverage and save money at the same time.
But ignoring evidence is a strong suit of Republicans these days. As of the beginning of this year, there are still 18 states, all Republican strongholds, that had not adopted expansion. Even worse, one red state, Kentucky, that had expanded successfully is now rolling it back under conservative Governor Matt Bevin. Kentucky will spend nearly $375 million more in order force 100,000 of its citizens from the Medicaid rolls. Part of this expenditure is to track the new work requirements that the state is imposing on Medicaid recipients. In addition, the costs for the remaining Medicaid recipients is also expected to rise as the 100,000 drop out. In essence, Republicans in Kentucky are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that tens of thousands of Kentuckians lose their health insurance, while increasing costs for those that remain. The only explanation for such behavior is cruelty.
Of course, Kentucky is not the only state that has started to impose work requirements for Medicaid. Indiana has also received approval to make this change and 11 other states, again mostly Republican strongholds, are also seeking a similar waiver from the Trump administration. Most Medicaid recipients will be exempt from these requirements and even Indiana admits that under the most optimistic scenario (from the GOP point of view, the worst scenario for most compassionate human beings) less than 30% of current Medicaid recipients in the state will be effected. But, as in Kentucky, whatever savings the state might make will be somewhat offset by the cost of setting up and maintaining a system to actually track the individuals covered by the work requirement. What it does accomplish is to create another set of complex rules that the state can use to deny coverage to its own citizens if they do not follow them to the letter.
All this, of course, follows on the heels of the Republican efforts for virtually the entire year of 2017 to throw millions of Americans off of health insurance and guarantee tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of needless deaths of American citizens by the wholesale repeal of the ACA. And the whole point of that exercise was to simply take those savings from healthcare and bundle it into the giant tax cut the GOP always had in mind.
While that effort failed, the subversion of Obamacare continues. Despite Mitch McConnell’s (empty) promise to Susan Collins, Congress has still not voted to restore the CSRs. The Trump administration is relaxing the time limits on short-term policies that do not comply with the ACA’s requirements for ignoring pre-existing conditions or providing the essential health benefits. The time limit on those policies is currently 3 months and Trump will extend that to one year, allowing even more, probably healthy, people to drop out of the ACA risk pool and raise premiums for everyone else.
That’s just on the health care front. Take a look at the continuing disaster in Puerto Rico. Over 400,000 people on the island, nearly one-third of the population, are still without power as they endure the longest blackout in modern American history. In addition, the deteriorating financial condition of the island’s power company threatens continued power even for those who have had it restored. Many homes are also still without water. The suicide rate on the island has skyrocketed nearly 30%. The island’s economy had already been decimated via financial exploitation, one third of the island is in need of reconstruction, and 200,000 Puerto Ricans have already left the island, most of them for good, as they see no prospects for a decent future. But you’d never know there was a crisis if you listen to Republicans. They are happy to let the Puerto Ricans suffer, as long as they suffer in silence.
On immigration, ICE is destroying families that have lived perfectly peaceful and productive lives in this country for decades and some of those being deported are being sent to their deaths. The Huffington Post recently had a piece documenting how at least one child suffered from PTSD directly related to the stress of living as an undocumented family and seeing her father deported. Children who were brought to this country when they were just that, children, are now under threat for deportation from Trump’s revocation of DACA.
A different kind of cruelty comes from the desire to make sure certain citizens are denied the right to vote. This has a long and sordid history in which Democrats clearly hold a large share of the blame. But, today, Democrats believe in not only the sanctity of the franchise but also expanding it. Republicans don’t and, while the overriding reason is simply to maintain power, it is also something more cruel and more personal than that. They simply don’t believe in equal rights for a distinct group of people that are not “like” them.
Now, the obvious commonality between all of these examples of Republican cruelty is that they involve the nineteenth century vision of the “undeserving poor”. For many, the undeserving poor is merely just code for racists and misogynists, for minorities and (mainly single but also powerful) women and, under Trump, they are now openly willing to admit it. But, for decades, Republicans, like that Georgia legislator, hid behind the fraudulent claim that it wasn’t simply cruelty that drove them but a concern for fiscal responsibility and the elimination of government waste. The passage of this latest tax bill seems to have finally blown that myth out of the water, although the same tactics were used by Reagan and Bush II with great success.
As Eduardo Porter writes in the NY Times yesterday, “It is hardly premature to ask, in this light, how the Trump administration might manage the fallout from the economic downturn that everybody knows will happen. Unfortunately, the United States could hardly be less prepared. Not only does the government have precious few tools at its disposal to combat a downturn. By slashing taxes while increasing spending, President Trump and his allies in Congress have further boxed the economy into a corner, reducing the space for emergency government action were it to be needed…To top it off, a Republican president and a Republican Congress seem set on completing the longstanding Republican project to gut the safety net built by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, which they blame for encouraging sloth, and replace it with a leaner welfare regime that closely ties government benefits to hard work.” (Now, I think we all know that “encouraging sloth” is another nice Republican euphemism for the euphemism of the undeserving poor.)
Of course, that safety net pulled millions of elderly out of poverty and prevented tens of millions of citizens too old for the work force from falling into destitution and poverty. It provided families of children with disabilities the opportunity to provide the best life possible for their child. It provided for families like Paul Ryan’s when the breadwinner died young and unexpectedly. It prevented families from losing their savings and their homes while they were unemployed during economic downturns. And it was recently updated to also prevent families from losing everything in order to provide for a sick member who needed costly and ongoing medical treatment. This is the safety net that the Republicans want to destroy and, with their most recent actions, have made harder for the government to provide.
We see Republican cruelty in the absolute refusal to do anything to stop the proliferation of guns and the resulting mass killings that destroy thousands of American families every year. Again, they hide behind Second Amendment rights that have already been clearly and definitively restricted by the Supreme Court, most recently in 2008 in the US v. Heller decision. And their answer to each new massacre is to claim that more people need more guns, despite evidence from all over the world that fewer guns mean fewer deaths. Again, the unwillingness to confront reality and evidence leads to only one conclusion, namely that of cruelty.
A different kind of indifference to innocent deaths is Republican support for the death penalty. The Innocence Project alone has cleared numerous individuals who were on death row but were completely innocent. The current criminal justice system is decidedly flawed, yet Republicans still believe it can be relied on to provide a determination to put someone to death. And, as Chris Mathews points out in a rare moment of insight, Republicans will tell us in one breath that we need to deal with mental health issues, as opposed to the easy availability of weapons designed to kill people, to stop mass murderers like the Parkland shooter, but they will also demand the death penalty for him when it comes to his trial. And they will refuse to let us see the deadly and gruesome process of that action taken in our name.
Please explain to me what the ideological underpinnings of any these GOP policies are. We know tax cuts do not increase revenue. We know cutting Medicaid will lead to needless deaths and arguably costs states more money than not. We know that Social Security is the greatest anti-poverty program in history. We know that immigrants add value to our society and economy and are more law-abiding and productive than the general population. We know that fewer guns lead to fewer gun deaths. The only ideological constant for Republicans is the desire to pass as much money as possible on to the plutocrats now controlling the party. And any reduction on government spending is just additional money that can be funneled to the 0.1%.
But most Republicans aren’t in the 0.1%. Thomas Frank and others have focused on the importance of social issues to these voters, specifically abortion and multiculturalism, for lack of a better term. And there is probably some truth in that. But it takes a particular type of mindset to continually vote simply on a single issue to the detriment of the health and the pocketbook of yourself and your family.
There have been studies, some of them admittedly challenged, that show Republicans brains are just wired differently. According to one recent study described in the Huffington Post, “Liberals tend to value equality, fairness and protecting the vulnerable, while conservatives emphasize patriotism, group loyalty, respect for authority and moral purity”. Well, it is hard to see how election of Donald Trump was a vote for patriotism, respect for authority, and moral purity. Trump and his campaign never once notified the FBI that the Russians were continually approaching them about influencing the US election. Mitch McConnell refused to be part of a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference when presented with the evidence that it was ongoing. And Trump and the Republicans have done absolutely nothing to defend our country and our democracy from the continuing Russian attacks. Some show of patriotism. Trump continually attacks judges, the intelligence community, the FBI, politicians in both parties, and pretty much anyone or anything that he senses threatens him. Some show of respect. And he is an admitted sexual predator. Some moral purity.
That, of course, leaves us with the Republican attachment to group loyalty, in essence tribalism, along with the dominance of the fight-or-flight mechanism that pervades their thinking. It’s what makes every election a Flight 93 election. It’s what makes any attempt at gun control an attempt o take all guns away from every American. Its what makes the existence of an immigrant, a minority, or an LBGTQ person an attack on their culture. It’s what drives making sure those “others” do not receive assistance or health care, even at their own expense. And that deadly combination of tribalism and fear is what creates the inordinate amount of cruelty in the Republican party. There is no overriding ideological rationale or consistency. It’s racism, it’s misogyny, it’s fear of the unknown; but at its base level, it’s simply cruelty. Like the bully in the schoolyard, it is cruelty as a way of empowering their own identity and cruelty simply for cruelty’s sake. Rant over.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on February 22, 2018.