I realize this title only applies to 300 million people out of the seven billion people of this world. Among my readership, such as Facebook friends and Twitter followers, the percentage is probably higher. I can live with that. (Wow, what a lousy way to start this essay.)
Two hundred and forty years ago, British colonists in North America declared independence for thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America. (I’m sure there’s a good, historic reason we didn’t include British colonies in what’s now Canada, but researching that might well delay this essay until the next American national holiday, a cost I’m not willing to pay. But, I digress.) The colonists were united by their anger at King George III and their desire to determine their own course and their own laws, and this anger had been fermenting for more than a decade, in differing levels in different colonies. There are reminders that the writing of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t a quick, conflict-free process, but there was enough common ground to reach consensus on that, and later the Articles of Confederation and eventually the Constitution.
There has always been conflict about our form of government. That it should be a democratic republic hasn’t been too much challenged, but after that, the details get tricky. That there are the Articles of Confederation in between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution speaks to the perennial debate about how strong the Federal government should be. The government allowed by the Articles of Confederation clearly was too weak, but ever since, there has been a tug-of-war about how much power we should allow or grant to the Federal government. That we would be thirteen or more distinct states with their own governments united by one overarching government has never really been questioned; never to my knowledge has the idea of dissolving states in favor of one uniform government ever gained substantial traction, even after the Civil War less than a century after our declaration of independence — and of common cause as well. However, only slowly have we transformed from a nation led by white men to a nation voted upon by men and women of all races and social statuses.
Somehow, these conflicts about the nature of the governments of the United States of America have crystalized sharply over the past decade, even more than they have crystalized over the Civil Rights movement sixty years ago. After a decade of fighting about the premise that we have a collective obligation to make sure everyone can afford health care through health insurance regulations and subsidies, we seem to be fighting about the fundamental purpose of the Federal and even state governments.
Scott Pruitt represents those who would roll back regulations protecting the environment and the health of Americans from the effects of pollution and other abuses of the environment. He, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, would dismantle the protections afforded by the agency since its inception almost fifty years ago, consistent with the goals of the fossil fuels industry and other corporate interests who have funded so much of Pruitt’s political career. Nominally, they might state they wish to let states regulate the environment, but that premise is a fiction covering two truths. First, environmental issues quickly cross state — and national — borders. For example, it was well established twenty years ago that power plant emissions in the Midwest caused acid rain in the Northeast that decimated plant life there. The second truth is, many state governments are already beholden to corporate issues due to deliberate efforts to take over those legislatures with corporate allies through gerrymandering and political contributions. This parallels the history of the effects of race on civil rights: in the South, many states clearly and blatantly discriminated upon racial grounds, while in the rest of the country, any such discrimination was less blatant and had fewer effects upon racial minorities.
Betsy DeVos represents those who would do to public education what Pruitt’s supporters would do to environmental protections. They would replace locally-controlled public schools with government subsidies for private schools, both secular and religious. This in turn would let conservative social forces funnel children into schools that reject progressive ideas such as racial equality, gender equality, and the tolerance of non-conformists and minorities, be they the LGBTQ community, the pro-choice movement, non-Christians, immigrants and refugees in general, or anyone else. This movement, of course, would also roll back Federal regulations requiring schools at all levels that receive Federal funding to follow certain regulations about, yes, gender equality, religious neutrality, and these other same social issues that so motivate some of these forces. Again, they would return power to the states, knowing that they’ve already captured so many states’ education departments and legislatures so they may return their schools to academies of conformity and privilege out of the Forties and Fifties.
Dr. Tom Price leads the Department of Health and Human services, ready to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its effects as soon as Congress allows him after years of his vocal attempts to repeal the ACA while he himself was in the House of Representatives, and if he can dismantle or neuter Medicaid, too, he’ll take that opportunity. Dr. Ben Carson leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development because of his public skepticism for that department’s programs and purpose. Rick Perry leads the Department of Energy despite his apathy about nuclear energy in this country and his hostility to Energy’s more recent programs to promote alternative energy forms, such as solar and wind. Our Secretary of State, a recent oil company chief executive, oversees a department with almost no leadership of the diplomatic corps due to vacancies among so many appointment positions. Only scandal prevented a corporate CEO with a history of labor law violations at his companies from becoming the Secretary of Labor.
Behind it all, Steve Bannon is the President’s “Chief Strategist,” a minister without portfolio who has in his past made clear in interviews a desire to “destroy the state.”
Forget GIFs of a TV reality show star beating up a wrestling villain, now labeled as a cable TV news network. Forget the history of misogyny of the TV reality show star who is now our elected President.
Do you want a government that deliberately forfeits its powers to establish a minimum standard of health and well-being for all residents, that deliberately reverses of decades of inclusiveness and generosity in favor of implementing an attitude of, “I’ve got mine; screw you!” that lets corporations run free without regard for individual citizens from whom governments derive their power?
It’s easy for liberals, progressives, and others with mere shreds of common decency to be outraged by the daily acts and rants of our elected President. It’s shocking when we find people who aren’t outraged, who can find some fig leaf to hide behind while defending him. What we have to remember is, Our President is just an empty figurehead, being manipulated by those who would reverse the government’s course over the past six decades for their own selfish purposes.
Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others don’t like Donald J. Trump and wouldn’t have chosen him, but they can use him. They are using him! Steve Bannon is using Donald J. Trump. Tom Price accepted his appointment of Secretary of Health and Human Services not to serve Trump but to implement his his own agenda, shared by those who whispered his name in Trump’s ear.
Is this what you want?
Do you want to roll back six decades of social and environmental progress?
If you want this, own it! Don’t hide behind “states rights” or the alleged faults of the ACA. Own it! Tell us that’s what you want! Tell us that your Christianity (or other religion) lets you reject refugees out of fear of strangers and takes away health care from the poor because you think your Jesus would somehow judge them “undeserving.”
If you don’t want this, Resist! Continue to call your Senators and Representatives. Find and support candidates in gerrymandered House districts and in polarized states. Work to make Trump and all that hides behind him a one-term embarrassment as hard as those same forces worked to oppose all that Obama did and steal a Supreme Court seat from him.
Own it, or resist it! It’s our country; what do you want?