Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation
By the time this is published anywhere, maybe the dysfunctional folks in Washington, D.C., will have reached some sort of deal that will prevent the second financial apocalypse the American people and the world have been threatened with in less than three years. But just because the current crisis reaches some resolution, it does not ever absolve our elected officials from the very real human trauma they wrought upon very real flesh and blood human beings as they postured.
Debt ceiling resolution is not absolution from harm done to these blameless masses. And I can see no elected official who has the right to claim any great victory from this despicable display of disdain for one’s own people and one’s own nation.
I spent the past few days with my mother in her senior housing building in Alameda, California. As the days of this crisis have dragged on, senior citizens here worried so much that they did not sleep, and they did not eat or ate almost nothing – they fretted and they stressed themselves. Their worry is whether or not they’ll have Social Security and veteran’s benefits and the funds to pay rent and food and medical costs this week. Some have stressed themselves so much that they are sick now; some may even have died.
Many of these seniors survived the Great Depression. My mother worked – as many American women did – during all of World War II. She worked at a Mars candy factory in Chicago. Working conditions were so difficult during the war that she was nearly injured as a conveyor belt broke and slashed into workers’ legs. She remembers rubber supplies being so depleted from war needs that even the elastic in underpants was not of good quality, causing a multitude of other problems. She worked the whole time I was growing up to provide us with a childhood she never could have imagined in her Depression-era home in rural Iowa. She worked more than half a century and never had reason to doubt that she’d have Social Security, as promised – as contracted with her all these many years.
How ironic that today is Medicare’s 46th birthday. What a way to celebrate.
In my mother’s building, there are also veterans who served decades in the U.S. military who now cannot afford their own healthcare needs, worry about their retirement benefits being paid and labor under the public’s misguided idea that the nation loves and protects its troops. During this debt ceiling crisis, not one of the elected officials has worried about these military retirees except to use them like children of a nasty divorce to banter back and forth at one another.
At any point during the past several days, the President or any number of Congressional members could have wiped the phony, smirking smiles off their faces – especially in those moments when they have thought themselves so clever to have out-maneuvered someone in the other Party -- and stopped worrying about the opening of world markets and Wall Street long enough to show real concern about the seniors who cannot sleep for worry about all of this. The fact that no one cared even that much speaks volumes. There were no reassurances offered. In fact, the seniors were repeatedly taunted with the threat that their checks might not come.
Creating this intense fear and stress also may appear at first glance to make people forget that both parties are now calling for deep cuts to programs upon which our most vulnerable rely. We are about to become a vastly different America in which those who are rich are the only ones entitled to hope for a good life – free from the horrible burdens and suffering of worry and want.
Our elected leaders are about to shape their vision of American austerity that will crush the weak and further embolden the wealthy and powerful. If we have learned much more that we needed to learn from this cycle of insanity in our national government, let us at least tell one another the truth about things – inflicting this sort of emotional and physical trauma on people knowingly and purposely to further your own interests and goals is pathological self-will run riot.
Just as allowing people to die who might have been saved by access to available healthcare is a crime in my book, forcing millions of people to worry and wonder and then have understandable but short-lived relief as you prepare to do them serious permanent financial and therefore very real physical injury is at least as criminal. No one of these players ought be absolved – ever – from what they have chosen to do over the past few weeks. There is no victory in any of this. Their shame is their shame -- forever.
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