We tell ourselves stories in order to live, as Joan Didion said. We do this as a nation, as individuals, as families – even when that construct is demonstrably false. For the United States, the biggest institutional lie of the moment is that we have a government of the people, responding to majority will.
On almost every single concern, Congress – whether it’s the misnamed People’s House, or the Senate, laughably mischaracterized as the world’s greatest deliberative body – is going against what most of the country wants. And Congress is doing this because there will be no consequences.
We have a fake democracy, growing less responsive and less representative by the day.
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The biggest example of this is the monstrosity of a health care bill, which a cartel of Republicans finally allowed us to peek at Thursday. The lobbyists have seen it; of course. But for the rest us, our first look at a radical overhaul of one-sixth of the economy, something that touches every American, comes too late to make our voices heard.
Crafted in total darkness, the bill may pass by a slim majority of people who have not read it. Inevitably, with something that deprives upward of 23 million Americans of health care, people will die because of this bill. States will be making life and death decisions as they drop the mandated benefits of Obamacare and cut vital care for the poor, the elderly, the sick and the drug-addicted through Medicaid. The sunset of Obamacare is the dawn of death panels.
It would be understandable if Republicans were doing this because it’s what most Americans want them to do. But it’s not. Only about 25 percent of Americans approved of a similar version of this bill, the one passed by the House. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, people would prefer that the Affordable Care Act be kept in place and fixed, rather than junked for this cruel alternative.
The Senate bill is “by far, the most harmful piece of legislation I have seen in my lifetime,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders. At age 75, he’s seen a lot.
Remember when Republicans used to pretend to care about crafting the people’s business in sunlight? “It’s simply wrong for legislation that will affect 100 percent of the American people to be negotiated behind closed doors.” That was Mike Pence in 2010.
Why are they doing it? Why would the people’s representatives choose to hurt their own people? The answer is further evidence of our failed democracy. About 75 million Americans depend on Medicaid. This bill will make their lives more miserable and perilous in order to give the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans a tax cut.
And where are the 75 million now? They are nowhere. The sad fact is, the poor don’t vote. Up to 80 percent of low earners do not show up at the polls, and it’s even worse in midterm congressional elections. The Republicans can screw the poor, whose population is disproportionately large in red states, because those citizens will not fight back.
So, little surprise that Republicans are also working to make it even harder for the poor to vote. They can seek to disenfranchise one class of Americans, and get away with it from the safety of gerrymandered seats.
The symptoms of democratic collapse – from the opioid crises of people who long ago checked out of active citizenship to the stagnation of class mobility – cry for immediate action.
It takes the median worker twice as many hours a month to pay rent in a big city today as it did in the early years of the baby boomer era, as Edward Luce notes in his new book, “The Retreat of Western Liberalism.” Add towering increases in health care and college costs to that and you’ve got an unclimbable wall between low-income limbo and a chance at the middle class. The United States, once known for our American Dream, now has the lowest class mobility of any Western democracy, according to Luce.
What is Congress doing? Nothing on wages. Nothing on college tuition. And the health care bill will most surely force many people to choose between buying groceries and being able to visit a doctor.
Our fake democracy reveals itself daily. Less than a third of Americans support President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. In a truly representative government, you would see the other two-thirds, the common-sense majority, howling from the halls of Congress.
Most Americans are also against building a wall along the Mexican border. They would prefer putting taxpayers’ billions into roads, bridges, schools and airports. But the wall remains a key part of Trump’s agenda.
Trump is president, of course, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million people. Almost 60 percent of the public is against him now. In a parliamentary system, he’d be thrown out in a no-confidence vote. In our system, he’s primed to change life for every citizen, against the wishes of a majority of Americans. Try calling that a democracy while keeping a straight face.