American exceptionalism: June 22, 2017

Dear Mr. VP,

I feel like I’ve done a fairly good job of keeping it together in the months since the 2016 election. I’ve funneled my energy into writing to you, finding a new job, parenting, finding like-minded people to discuss policy with, listening to a lot of loud music. Even though every day seems to bring something new and awful, I’ve tried to take it in stride and process, figure out how to react, and keep moving.

Until today, when the Senate bill to replace the ACA was unveiled. I hadn’t yet read any analysis when I found a CNN live feed of people protesting outside Mitch McConnell’s office. People with disabilities were being carried out of the hallway by the Capitol police, and I was sitting at my desk sobbing.

I can’t believe this is where we’re at right now. A bill that cuts billions from Medicaid, which provides care to 1/5 Americans — poor, disabled, elderly — and gives tax breaks to rich people. A bill that allows older Americans — our parents and grandparents — to be gouged in the health care market, making it legal to charge them five times what younger Americans are charged.  A bill that defunds an organization that gives tens of thousands of people cancer screenings each year.

We’re coming up on the Fourth of July, which is my favorite holiday. People seem surprised when I tell them this, but it’s true. There’s the obvious: a family party, I love hot weather, we eat a ton of clam-related foods, fireworks, and I really appreciate any dessert that uses berries to recreate the American flag. But there’s also the less obvious: deep down, I like this place I live. We have a troubled history, no doubt, and I certainly understand that I have experienced a significant amount of privilege in my life related to my economic standing and my race that makes this an easier statement to make. When it comes right down to it, though, despite all my skepticism and cynicism, I have a deep respect for the fundamentals of democracy and I think, if we really tried, we could make America great.

Not great again. There’s the difference between you and I. I can’t look at any point in American history and say “that’s when we were greater than we are now.” There’s always been flaws and hypocrisy, things I wouldn’t want to go back and experience or subject other people to. But I do believe that if we really tried, we could get on the right track and be a place where everyone has opportunity.

That’s why I love the Fourth of July. The promise of what could be. This year, though, I live in a moment in which disabled people are being dragged down Capitol hallways as they literally fight for their lives against a load of able-bodied rich white people who are about to take away their access to comprehensive health care. What is there to celebrate? The promise of a great America seems too far away.

As someone who touts the idea of American exceptionalism, I hope you can see this is not exceptional. This is not even mediocre. This is deplorable.





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