Watching the news makes people sick
At the outset I must confess to being addicted to watching the news on television. Although my favorite televised news sources are on PBS, on most nights I supplement the PBS News Hour
with the news on one of the traditional network stations or a cable news channel. Something that has repeatedly struck me in watching the evening news on traditional network stations is that advertisers have obviously learned that the vast majority of people who watch the evening news are suffering from indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, erectile dysfunction, atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart-valve problem, moderate to severe psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, insomnia, restless leg syndrome or dry eye disease. If not afflicted by one of those conditions, they are being assaulted by meatballs or chicken wings.
Not all the commercials are pushing drugs, of course. Interspersed with all the pharmaceutical products are commercials featuring lawyers who are prepared to sue pharmaceutical companies for offering products that have life-changing side effects, and health insurance plans that complement Medicare to provide coverage to pay for all those pharmaceuticals that TV viewers are urged to ask their doctors about. Given the evidence of television commercials, remarkably few of the people who watch the televised news are under the age of sixty-five and have sound minds in sound bodies.
An often-heard claim of those who are convinced that the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act has all but destroyed the health-care system in the United States is that the ACA (which they persist in calling Obamacare) has driven insurance premiums through the ceiling, thus bringing financial ruin to small businesses and confronting hard-working Americans with having to choose between health insurance and sending their children to overpriced universities. What is missed in this analysis, of course, is that health insurance is expensive because medical care and pharmaceuticals are expensive. Also left out of consideration is that almost every pharmaceutical product sold in the United States is available in Canada for a fraction of the cost.
Why don’t Canadians pay their share of the cost of drugs?
A claim I have heard many Americans make, clearly a claim that they have learned from the pharmaceutical companies themselves, is that the prices of pharmaceutical products are so high in the United States because it costs pharmaceutical companies a great deal of money to do the research necessary to develop new products. Some American friends have even shown indignation that Americans are subsidizing Canadians, who derive all the benefits of expensive medical research but pay none of the cost. Once, when I was still living in Canada, I received an email from a (former) friend in the United States who accused me, in language unsuitable for anyone not in either the navy or a motorcycle gang, of being a freeloader who was enjoying good health at the expense of poor Americans. That claim was false for two reasons. First, I have almost never been prescribed a pharmaceutical product and tend to avoid over-the-counter medical products. Second, there are better explanations for why pharmaceutical prices are outrageously high in the United States. So the answer to the question “Why don’t Canadians pay their share of the cost of drugs?” is that they in fact do pay their fair share. Americans pay more, not because they are subsidizing freeloading Canadians, but because Americans pay far more for products than it costs to develop and manufacture those products.
Why do Americans pay for overpriced pharmaceuticals?
The pharmaceutical companies typically claim that they must charge high prices for their products because of the high cost of developing them. It cannot be denied that running controlled tests on new products and making sure the products meet safety standards is costly. It should also be pointed out, however, that advertising the products once they are developed is also costly. To that can be added that pharmaceutical companies also tend to pay shareholders rather high dividends. When health care products are manufactured by for-profit corporations that have investors to reward with high dividends, then costs naturally rise. While the claim of many advocates of free-market capitalism is that competition keeps costs down, the opposite is often the case. If two companies are competing for a share of the market, the cost of the competition—the advertising of products to potential consumers of the products and to potential prescribers of those products—can be quite high.
Neither of those kinds of advertising is necessary. There is no justification whatsoever for running expensive advertisements on television that end with the line “Ask your doctor whether…is right for you.” There is no need to make the patient into a sales representative for a product that the patient may end up buying. If someone has, say, osteoporosis, then it should be sufficient for the physician to suggest a range of possible treatments, and to tell the patient the desired effects and the likely side effects of each of the possible treatments. And that information should be given directly to the physician in the form of the results of clinical trials, not in the form of slick presentations delivered in the context of work-vacations at expensive resorts. The cost of disseminating objective information is relatively low, whereas the cost of trying to persuade a physician to prescribe product A rather than the almost-identical product B is much higher.
One way to bring medical costs down is to make advertising of medical products illegal, as it is in some countries that have lower costs for pharmaceuticals and hands-on medical care. Another way is to have government-imposed limits on the amount of profit a company can make on a product, as is also the case in some countries that have reasonable consumer-costs for health-related products. A third way is to have a government-run insurance plan that negotiates prices with pharmaceutical companies and imposes a cap on how much a pharmaceutical company can receive for its products. There is no need for a government-run plan to be managed by the central government. In Canada each province has its own plan, and no two provinces have exactly the same setup.
Health care is far too important to be left to the vagaries of markets in a for-profit corporate scheme. The good health of the entire citizenry is far more important than the bank accounts of capitalist shareholders. There are plenty of other markets in which investors can make or lose their money. Pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers of medical devices, clinics, hospitals and retirement homes for the elderly should not be in the private investment sector of the economy. (Neither should correctional facilities, but that is a matter for another day.)
Americans desiring affordable health insurance should first advocate for more affordable treatments, and that is best achieved by a not-for-profit health-care system. They should be asking for, in fact demanding, more government involvement and less private-sector investment in products designed for health. Such a change in outlook would, however, require that Americans first seek a cure for their addiction to free-market capitalism and the delusion that the best way to keep costs down is to let the market determine prices. That strategy has been tried again and again, and it has failed again and again. It is time for Americans to considered an alternative system (not to be confused with “alternative facts”).
Next time you see a television commercial for an expensive treatment that you have seen a hundred times before, instead of simply reaching for the mute button on the remote control, ask your doctor whether socialized medicine is right for you. If you doctor says No, then consider seeking a second opinion.
Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin‘,
I’m sittin’ here, just contemplatin‘,
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of Senators don’t pass legislation,
And marches alone can’t bring integration,
When human respect is disintegratin’,
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
—P. F. Sloan. “Eve of Destruction” (1964)
On Tuesday, November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to be elected President of the United States. His running mate was Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, an active opponent of slavery who had begun his political life as a Democrat but switched to the Republican Party in 1856, convinced that party was more in line with his staunch anti-slavery views.
Reaction to the election of Lincoln and Hamlin was swift. On Thursday, December 20, 1860, the State of South Carolina seceded from the union. A document entitled South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession began with this paragraph:
The People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D. 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
Among the specific articles of the Constitution of the United States that the Convention of South Carolina stated was Article 4, Clause 3:
No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
One of the stated causes for South Carolina’s leaving the union was that there were Northern states that were not honoring this clause but were harboring fugitive slaves. The constitutional obligation of states to return fugitive slaves to their rightful owners was, the document goes on to say, “so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made.” The States that allowed slavery would never have agreed to sign the Constitution of the United States or to be part of the Union unless their rights to own slaves, and to have that ownership honored by all the other States, was ensured.
The document drawn up by the Convention of South Carolina served as a model for similar documents in other slaveholding states. By the time Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin were sworn into office on March 4, 1861, six more states (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas) had already declared themselves to be sovereign nations no longer part of the United States of America. During the first four months of Lincoln’s presidency, four more states (Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee) seceded from the Union. When the Lincoln-Hamlin ticket was elected in November 1860, there were thirty-three states. By the time they had been in office for ninety-five days, eleven states had declared independence from the United States, and one state (Kansas) had been added. Elected to be President of thirty-three United States, by June 1861 Lincoln was President of twenty-three United States, a nation that had been at war with the Confederate States of America since April 12, 1861. By the time the war—generally called “The War of the Rebellion” in the United States and “The War for Southern Independence” in the Confederate States of America—came to an end, there were an estimated 750,000 American military deaths (in contrast to 405,399 in World War I; 116,516 in World War II; and 58,209 in the war in Vietnam), or nearly 2.4% of the total American population at that time. About a month before the war was declared fully ended in May 1865, President Lincoln had been assassinated and succeeded by his second Vice President, Andrew Johnson, formerly a Democrat from the State of Tennessee, who had run with Lincoln in 1864 on the National Union ticket. President Johnson favored a quick restoration to the Union of all the states that had seceded, but his plans made no provision for the protection of former slaves. The failure to provide this protection enraged the Congress, dominated by Republicans, and the House of Representatives impeached him. The Senate, however, voted by a margin of a single vote to acquit him, allowing him to finish his single term as seventeenth President of the United States.
Although the thirty-six states—West Virginia had been admitted to the Union in 1863 and Nevada in 1864—of the United States were officially united again, it could be argued that the deep conflicts that had divided them have never been resolved. Nearly every politically charged issue in the politics of the early twenty-first century has some dimension of the unresolved controversy of whether there should be national policy or fifty different state policies. Should there be a national Environmental Protection Agency, or should each state have its own policies, or lack thereof, on protecting the environment from human enterprises? Should there be a national Department of Education, or should each state fund its own schools, set its own curriculum, and have its own criteria of whether the educational system is meeting its goals? Should there be a national Bureau of Land Management, or should each state determine how the lands within its borders are used and by whom? Should it be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that all women in the nation have access to birth control and abortion, or should each state have its own policies? Should there be a national policy on who can have access to which kinds of firearms, or should each state be left to decide its own policies? Should there be a national schedule of which substances people can use for medicinal or recreational purposes, or should each state have its own food and drug policies? Generally speaking, should the central government be subordinate to regional governments, or vice versa? These issues were hotly debated as the United States Constitution was being drawn up, they came to a boiling point during the American Civil War, and they have been simmering ever since. Ever since the Constitution of the United States was written in 1787, there have been heated disputes about the balance of jurisdictions between the central government and state governments, and in many states disputes about the balance of jurisdictions between state and county and municipal governments.
One could be forgiven for thinking that 230 years of failure to arrive at a smoothly working federalism—that is, a mixture of central and regional governments—may stem from the fact that the very idea of federalism is fundamentally flawed. Two possible remedies to this failure are both such a radical departure from what has been in place for twenty-three decades that neither is likely to be adopted, for either one would mean an end to the States of America that are United in name only. One remedy would be to abolish the states altogether and simply have a national government with a unicameral legislature, a single House of Representatives with no Senate (and no electoral college). The other remedy would be to abolish the central government altogether and to have a number of sovereign nations—ideally, far fewer than fifty, since many of the current states have arbitrary borders that were drawn with a straightedge and a compass in Washington, D.C. without any regard to the geographical, economic and cultural integrity of the regions enclosed in those borders.
I personally would be more inclined to favor the first of those two radical solutions; indeed, I would be in favor of abolishing every sovereign nation and replacing them all with a single planetary government with jurisdiction over the entire planet Earth. I do not expect to live long enough to see that solution put into place. It seems more likely that I may live long enough to see at least the beginnings of the opposite radical solution, a dramatically weakened central government with correspondingly strengthened state governments, the result being a very weak union of nearly sovereign states held together only by the glue of the vested interests of major corporations that have no regard for anything but material profits and the foolish pride and dangerous over-confidence of a delusional figurehead with autocratic pretensions.
My fellow Americans. By the way, that is the cue for all you illegal aliens, immigrants with green cards, visitors from foreign countries and descendants of former slaves to turn off your televisions and stop using electricity provided by your nearest coal-fired power generating facilities. And how about those coal miners, folks? Aren’t they terrific? They love me. They voted for me. Let’s give those terrific coal miners a round of applause. [Wait two seconds for applause] OK, my fellow Americans, that’s enough for the coal miners. Save your applause for me. I don’t want for your hands to get sore, because believe me, you’re going to be clapping your hands a lot when you hear what I have to say in this, the first State of the Union Address of my amazing presidency. And by the way, your knees will get sore rising up every time you give me a standing ovation, so you might as well just remain standing for the rest of this speech. See how I’m always thinking of your knees? I want you to keep them in good shape for the genuflections you’ll be doing later as I make my spectacular and dramatic presidential exit.
My fellow Americans, this has been an amazing presidency, following an amazing election in which I won by an amazing landslide victory in which my opponent was able to get only two million more votes than I did, despite all the lies the nasty media were paid by my opponent and the Canadian government to tell about me. But that’s alright. Nobody watches CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC or ABC anyway, and nobody reads those third-rate newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, because everyone knows all they tell is lies told by losers paid for by my opponent. Folks, I think that’s the longest sentence I have ever spoken. It was almost forty words long, several of them two or three syllables long. It was an amazing sentence, spoken in this, my first State of the Union speech, three days after my amazing inauguration, which by the way, more people attended than were at the inauguration of President Franklin Pierce on March 4, 1853. And how about that terrific son-in-law of mine, Jared Kushner? He’s an amazing scholar. He looked up President Pierce’s inauguration date on Google for me. He’s an incredible scholar. He’s Jewish, you know. The people of Israel love me, and nobody loves Israel more than I do. Jared is also a terrific son-in-law, because he let my daughter Ivanka keep her maiden name. He agreed with me that Ivanka Kushner sounds horrible. It doesn’t sound daughter-of-the-presidential. And speaking of Ivanka, how about that beautiful necklace she is wearing tonight just above her breathtakingly beautiful cleavage? Replicas of that necklace will be on sale for a staggeringly high price through her incredible website immediately after tonight’s show. Also available on Ivanka’s amazing website are replicas of the tiara that our beautiful First Lady, Queen Melania, is wearing tonight. I don’t mind calling her Queen. Members of the LGBTQ community love me, and nobody loves them more than I do—in a wholesome and proper way that Mike Pence would approve of, of course.
But that’s enough about other people for now. Let me say a few words about how great I have made this country again. Take a look at the Members of Congress sitting in the box seats here at Yankee Stadium—the Capitol Building was much too small to hold all the people who wanted tickets to see this, my first State of the Union address. By the way, I heard that scalpers are selling tickets for up to ten scalps. That’s how much people want to be here on this amazing occasion. Unfortunately, the previous owners of those scalps were unable to be here tonight, but I have sent their families red baseball caps as mementos, just like the red baseball caps you see on the heads of all the Senators, Representatives and Supreme Court Justices who are here tonight. This I can tell you, every one of them is so proud to be wearing the new national uniform. Stand up, all you Members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices. Let the people see your red baseball caps and the almost matching yellow jerseys that say “Make the Washington Redskins Great Again.” Let’s give the members of the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch a big round of applause. [Wait two seconds for applause] OK, folks, let’s not overdo it. Save your applause for me.
One of the things that makes this amazing nation so great, especially since I became President, is the spirit of forgiveness. That’s why I have pardoned Crooked Hillary for all her hideous war crimes and for selling state secrets to those who wish to destroy us. I have also pardoned former director of the FBI, James Comey, for his criminal negligence in failing to charge Hillary with all the horrible crimes she committed. He has sent word to me that is very happy in his new home inTierra del Fuego, where he moved after discovering that he just didn’t fit in in this country. And because Hillary is a terrific person, and because she appreciates my magnanimous forgiveness so much, she has taught me how to set up my own private email server. It’s very secure. I have been assured that it is by far the most secure server in Moscow. Eat your heart out, Julian Assange.
One of the vicious lies the crooked media told about me before I repealed the First Amendment by executive order on my first day in office was that I was insensitive to the feelings of people of color in this country. That was such an unfair thing to say. Colored people love me, and nobody loves darkies more than I do. And that is why I have changed the name of my residence in Washington, DC. What kind of message was it sending the American people to have the President of the greatest country in the history of the world living in a place called The White House? What an insult to all those people who made this nation great by coming all the way from Africa to pick our cotton, and to all those folks who kindly moved to Oklahoma so the rest of us could build shopping malls and Interstates and oil pipelines on their former hunting grounds. So on day one, I changed the name of the President’s residence. People in central Virginia can read their newspapers by the light of the big sign at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that says Trump House. And how about those terrific people in rural Pennsylvania? They love me in the great state of Pennsylvania, and nobody loves Pennsylvannikers more than I do. That’s why I have signed an executive order to change the name of their state to Trumpsylvania. What kind of a message was it sending the rest of the world when the country with the most powerful military in the history of the galaxy had a state named after William Penn, a Quaker pacifist?
There are so many things to say about my amazing first three days in office, and we only have four or five hours to say them, but one of the amazing things that needs to be mentioned is that next week I will be announcing the winners of the new Medal of Fairness award, which replaces the Medal of Freedom award that former Presidents handed out like candy. The Medal of Fairness will be awarded to patriotic Americans who have heaped the most fulsome praise upon their President. I’m going to keep you in suspense about who the first recipient will be, but I’m going to tease you by giving you a hint. It’s going to be Kellyanne Conway. What a terrific lady. She just can’t find enough positive things to say about me. And what a beautiful smile she has. And so sincere. Let’s give her a big round of applause. [Wait’s one second for applause] OK, folks, let’s not cut into my time too much. I have so much more to say.
I would like to conclude this, my first State of the Union address, by talking about what a terrific job I have done streamlining legislation. The old way of drafting new bills was a total disaster. Legislators would draft laws that were billions and billions of pages long. Nobody could possibly read all those words. Members of Congress were voting on laws that were so verbose and full of adjectives that no one could possibly know what was in them. Besides, they had so much legal gobbledegook in them that the average unemployed ranch hand in Wyoming couldn’t understand them. So one of the first seventy-five executive orders that I signed during my first hour in the Ovaltine Office in the Trump House was an order saying that no bill in Congress can be more than 140 characters long. I figure if a bill is any longer than my attention span, I don’t even have to look at it. Send me a bill with 141 characters and I get out my veto pen. It’s that simple. Just think of how much money that will save all the taxpayers, not to mention paper. Tree-huggers love me, and nobody loves trees more than I do.
There is just one more thing to say before I conclude this, my first State of the Union address. A lot of people have been worried about how they will get affordable health care now that I signed an executive order repealing every word of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. There is absolutely nothing to worry about, my fellow Americans. Before repealing Obamacare, which by the way was a total disaster, by far the worst law in the history of the universe (which my terrific Vice President Mike Pence tells me is five thousand years old)—before repealing Obamacare, I signed an executive order banning all diseases and injuries from this great land of ours. What kind of nation allows diseases and injuries inside its borders? A nation of sick people, cripples and losers, that’s what kind. But America is a nation of winners. So there will be no more disease or injury in this nation. And I have also banned tooth decay, myopia and deafness. And therefore we do not need hospitals, clinics, dentist offices, opticians or veterinarians, which is why no one will need health insurance—unless they travel to some socialist country such as Canada or Norway. Medicare also been consigned to the ash heap of history. We are now a country of healthy, able-bodied winners.
And that concludes this, my first State of the Union address. There is just one more amazing accomplishment I want to tell you about before we leave the stadium. For years I have been deeply concerned about our catastrophic national debt, and I was determined to do something to remedy that disastrous situation. When I looked into the matter, I learned that the cause of the national debt was the huge budget of the Library of Congress, which was costing every man, woman and child in this country trillions and trillions of dollars every hour. So I signed an executive order turning the money-losing library into the biggest used bookstore in the nation. When all the books, magazines, newspapers and archived documents have been sold, the building will be renamed The Trump Library, which will house the book I read in college, all the books ghost writers have written in my name, and terrificdioramas that will inform the American people about my amazing presidency.
And that is all I have time to say, my fallow Americans. But just before we go gentle into this good night, I think it would be good to explain why I signed an executive order to invade Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the lies being circulated by the nasty media, which nobody pays attention to, because they are all a bunch of losers with worthless degrees in journalism from third-rate universities, there has been some confusion about why I ordered our military to make Saudi Arabia a colony of the United States of America. And some people are reportedly worried that I might order a nuclear strike. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, my reason for taking over the Arabian Peninsula has nothing to do with oil. It’s not about the oil at all. It’s about the sand. I need that terrific Arabian sand for the traps in all the golf courses I am planning to build in Russia, Kazakhstan, North Korea and Burkina Faso. And that’s why there’s absolutely no worry that I will order nuclear strikes in the Middle East. Nuclear explosions would wreck the sand. That would be a stupid thing to do, and I don’t do stupid things, because I am the smartest President in the history of the Milky Way.
My fellow Americans, I am going to stop now so I can spend some quality time with my comb and mirror. If I have more to say, I’ll send out a few hundred tweets. And this concludes my first State of the Union address. God bless us, every one—by which I mean all the members of the amazing Trump family and even our Jewish son-in-law, Jared Whosit. God bless you all. And God help the United States of America.
During the 2015–2016 election cycle, it was not unusual to see Donald J. Trump characterized as a fascist or as a Nazi. Such labels rarely help clarify what is happening, because in stressing similarities they overlook important differences. One important difference between Trump and the Fascists, to give just one example, is that the Fascists had a clearly worked out ideology and an agenda for carrying it out, which they did with brutal efficiency, whereas Trump does not. People who have worked with him say that he has a remarkable ability to “read” people and to know what to say to persuade them or intimidate them or play to their basest instincts, but having the ability to spot people’s vulnerabilities and to take advantage of them is not quite the same thing as having policies for a nation and a plan for how to implement them. Donald Trump is no Nazi. He is much too capricious and unstable for that epithet.
While the candidate who became the president-elect cannot accurately be described as a Nazi, he can be described as being one who does not see. This squib will outline a few of the ways in which Donald Trump and the Trumpistas do not see.
- Trump apparently does not see that his broad-brush negative characterization of some sectors of the population sets an example that others feel justified to follow. All over the country since the November 8 election there have been reports of Muslims, Hispanics and Asians being singled out and heckled, humiliated and told to leave the country. When this was pointed out to him by Lesley Stahl in an interview broadcast on the program 60 Minutes, Trump said he had no idea that such things were going on and was very sorry to hear it. One cannot help wondering how he could not see that his inflammatory rhetoric, repeated loud and often for more than a year of campaigning, would enflame people and encourage some of them to act out on the implications of what he said.
- Trump apparently does not see that by kindling the fiery passions of his followers, he has made a substantial segment of the population feel less safe, less welcome, less included, more fearful, more unwanted and more vulnerable.
- Trump evidently does not see how his frequent remarks on the appearances of women, his characterizing them as either “hot” enough to be ranked as a “10” or as not being capable of satisfying the sexual needs of their lovers or as “not looking presidential” has the effect of trivializing women, making them feel their only value is in their most superficial characteristics and overlooking their real accomplishments.
- Trump clearly does not see that the underemployment or unemployment and the consequent precariousness of thousands of industrial workers has less to do with “disastrous” trade deals and an influx of immigrants “taking jobs” away from citizens than with increasing mechanization and reliance on robotics. He does not see that even if tearing up NAFTA and imposing high tariffs on American corporations that manufacture goods abroad resulted in those corporations returning to Ohio and Michigan and Indiana, only a fraction of the people who used to work on assembly lines and in mills would regain employment. If one observes a modern automobile assembly plant and compares it with films of assembly lines in the 1950s, one sees that a process that used to take hundreds of human workers now takes hundreds of robots programmed and maintained by a handful of highly specialized technicians. Trump does not see that he cannot possibly fulfill his promise to bring jobs back to the rust belt.
- Similarly, Trump does not see that the former workers in the extraction industries have not lost their jobs because of burdensome governmental regulations aimed at protecting the environment, but because of a variety of other factors. As long ago as 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was meeting with coal miners in West Virginia about increasing unemployment following in the wake of increased mechanization. Slowdowns in the fossil fuel industry have far less to do with environmental regulations than with increased technological efficiency that has resulted in overproduction; when supply exceeds demand, prices fall, and when prices fall, production slows down.
- Trump does not see that abandoning, or refusing to enforce, the many environmental regulations that have been in place for the past few decades will surely result in the further degradation of a planet, the consequences of which will be both immediate and enduring for generations to come. He apparently does not see that a healthy biosphere is of inestimable value and surely far more important than the short-term financial superabundance of a handful of shareholders.
- Trump apparently does not see that the focus on “Law and Order” (which is usually a euphemism for “Surveil and Punish”) has rarely produced the desired results. Prisons are already overcrowded and woefully inept at providing inmates with the resources needed to prepare them for being reincorporated into society on the outside. When the emphasis is on being tough on criminals and punishment and isolation rather than training and reintegration, it is no wonder that the recidivism rate in most American prison systems is unacceptably high when compared to prison systems in Europe. Very little in the American prison environment is either physically, emotionally or psychological healthy. (I will never forget one prisoner writing to me, “I cannot imagine hating anyone so much that I would make him eat the food we are served in this prison.”)
- There is not yet reason not to believe that Trump does not see that being President of the United States is nothing at all like being a king, that a presidential cabinet is not a collection of loyal courtiers, that cabinet posts are not sinecures for one’s friends and relatives and that firing off angry tweets is no substitute for fielding questions from seasoned political reporters in a press conference. He also apparently does not see that newspaper and television editorials can provide valuable feedback that can help the captain of the ship stay a good course. Unless the future president can escape the gravitational field of his own ego, he will not see how much he, and the country he governs, stands to benefit from the humble act of listening to others.
In many ways it is not surprising that the United States is about to find itself being governed by a Not-See executive branch and a Not-See Congress, for all those people in office have been chosen by a Not-See electorate. The privileged too often do not see how life is for the poor, the marginalized, the different. Americans as a whole society as a rule do not see how people in other nations and the indigenous people of their own nation experience the world, and far too many Americans do not see that there is much to learn from the way that the overlooked peoples in their own country, and neighbors in the rest of the Americas, and Europeans, and Asians, and Africans and Antipodeans have found to make life sustainable and fulfilling for their populations. There are far too many Americans who do not see that the United States of America is not the greatest country in the history of the world, or even the greatest country in the present world, or even that the very idea of any country being the greatest country is an absurdity, a bankrupt conceit that precludes the possibility of being great, good or even adequate.
The time is still here—it has been here for my entire life—for the United States to stop being a Not-See empire and to open its eyes and eyes and minds and hearts and to join the rest of the human race.
So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
—John Woolman (October 19, 1720 – October 7, 1772)
William James observed that most of us human beings preserve and defend the same framework of beliefs and views we learned as children and that we change them only when, in his famous phrase, “experience boils over.” That is certainly true of me, at least in the area of political views and social attitudes. In those areas, my beliefs have not changed much at all, and like reasonable creatures, I have managed to find reasons for maintaining the prejudices I acquired from my parents and grandparents. I do not expect my reasons to persuade anyone whose inheritance of bias was different from my own, but it is an interesting exercise to spell those reasons out from time to time.
Up for rationalization today are two convictions, namely, 1) that government interference in the lives of private citizens should be kept to a minimum and 2) that government regulation of corporate entities is necessary. This constellation of issues is what the On the issues website calls a Hard-core Liberal position. The view that individuals should tolerate everyone’s freedom, since different people make different choices on moral matters, deserves to be called Liberal, since the word “liberal,” after all, comes from the Latin word meaning “free.” But what On the Issues website calls Hard-core Conservative, the view that markets should be free and unrestrained by governmental interference, has historically also been called Liberalism. When Ronald Reagan was President, Americans tended to call him a conservative, while European (and French Canadian) newspapers labeled him an ultra-liberal. While such labels are interesting, at least until they become confusing and cumbersome, what I find more interesting is the reasoning that leads to one of these positions. Allow me, therefore, to make a case for Hard-core Liberalism, or what I prefer to call Libertarian Socialism.
The defense of Hard-core Liberalism or Libertarian Socialism requires defense on two fronts. The first thing to defend is belief in government-managed economy. Second, since this political stance rejects the totalitarian authority that state communism holds over individuals and thus rejects attempts to legislate personal morality, it requires a defense of the policy of keeping governmental intrusion into the lives of individual citizens at a minimum.
The principal reason for having some regulation of corporate enterprises designed to make a profit is that corporations are not persons and do not have as part of their nature a tendency to consider a full range of consequences of their decisions. Corporations, of course, do not make decisions at all. The people who manage them make the decisions, but when people who manage for-profit corporations make decisions, the only consequences they are charged to take into consideration are those that have an impact on the profitability of the corporation. They are not charged with taking into account the effect that their decisions may have on employees, on members of the community in which they are situated, on animals, or on the environment. Given that decision-makers for corporations are not expected to take consequences other than profits into consideration, someone other than the decision-makers for corporations need to be appointed to consider the consequences that the corporation’s pursuit of profits has on employees, the community and the environment. In most nations, governmental agencies are assigned the task of monitoring the engines of the economy, and that system usually works out rather well, especially when the governmental agencies are not corrupted by the vested interests of the corporations they are charged to monitor.
In the United States, as in most other countries, corporations have resisted being monitored. They have tried to weaken or even to eliminate regulatory agencies that are designed to make sure that the drive for profits does not have an overly negative impact on the community and on the earth itself. In the United States, perhaps more than in most other industrialized nations, this effort to evade effective monitoring has been successful. The results for the environment and for the human beings who must share the world with corporations have been, predictably, largely negative. The drive for profits that has been the raison d’être of the corporations has been a significant factor in the degradation of habitats for both wildlife and human life. That drive has also been a factor in the creation of an economy in which a handful of families have accumulated far more wealth than they can possibly use, while far too many families (and individuals who no longer have families in any real sense of the word) struggle to find adequate nutrition, shelter, healthcare, safety and education.
There is a deep and abiding injustice in the American economy, and no one—even those who are apparently doing well in this system—is served well by injustice. Injustice is unsustainable, and when the imbalance of resources reaches a tipping point, the result is often violent revolution and its ensuring chaos. It is really in the interest of the wealthy to live in a society in which no one lives in grinding poverty of resources and amenities. So long as the wealthy do not take the responsibility of looking after their own interests, there is a place for governmental agencies to look after the welfare of both the very wealthy and the very poor, and of everyone in between those two extremes. The so-called Hard-core Liberals tend to realize that, while the so-called Hard-core Conservatives tend not to.
Having made a case for government serving as the conscience of essentially amoral for-profit corporations, let me now try to make a case for government not serving as a conscience of essentially moral individual human beings. When I say that human beings are essentially moral, what I mean is that human beings are strongly inclined to form opinions about what kinds of deliberate actions are acceptable and what kinds are not. About many kinds of conduct—taking or damaging property that belongs to others, embezzlement, extortion, various forms of physical violence, taking the life of a human being who clearly wishes to stay alive— there is a broad consensus, and those proscribed behaviors become the basis of criminal law. There are many other kinds of behavior, however, that some people disapprove, while others do not, and about which no amount of argument is likely to change the minds of those who have an opinion. It is folly for laws to be passed making behavior in that category criminal, as was made abundantly clear soon after Congress passed the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within the United States and its territories and the importation of intoxicating liquors into and their exportation from the country. That amendment was finally repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933, after the experiment in prohibition led to the thriving of organized crime, which supplied the goods that many people desired and found inoffensive. Attempts to prohibit or severely limit access to firearms, abortion and recreational drugs have had, or would have, similar results. Trying to legislate the prohibition of disapproved substances, services and items is rarely successful, as is legislation against sexual behavior that only some people strongly condemn.
During the administration of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Canada (in office 1968—1979 and 1980—1984), a phrase that one often heard was that government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation; during those years the Canadian government largely got out of the business of regulating the sexual conduct of individuals and of saying who could and who could not marry whom. It also greatly simplified divorce laws. Any couple who lived together for a year and wished to declare themselves as a married couple were considered married in the eyes of the law. Any couple that separated for a year and declared their marriage over was considered to have met all the requirements for a no-fault divorce, and whatever assets they had accumulated as a couple during the time of marriage was divided evenly between them, as was responsibility for supporting any children born into the marriage. Trudeau was leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and his attitudes in such matters were liberal and indeed libertarian. I lived in Canada during Trudeau’s years in office and came to appreciate the non-invasive nature of his policies.
In Canada, unlike the United States, marriage and divorce fall within the purview of the federal government, whereas the United States Constitution explicitly states that matters not made federal matters by the Constitution fall within the jurisdiction of the individual states; marriage and divorce are not made a federal matter, so they are left to the individual states to legislate. The jurisdiction, however, is immaterial to my position. The liberal position is that no government at any level should be in the position of imposing on all its citizens a particular decree in matters of marriage and divorce, consensual sexuality, abortion or recreational use of intoxicating substances. Those are all matters of individual taste, and taste cannot be successfully legislated any more than it can be settled by an appeal to reason or evidence. De gustibus non est disputandum.
As Jane Mayer has chronicled in her book Dark Money, a number of extremely wealthy families in the United States—families with the surnames Koch, Bradley, Olin, Mellon, Scaife—have for many decades sought popular support for their resistance to taxation and to environmental and safety regulations and to laws stipulating minimum wages for workers by suggesting, without evidence, that governmental regulation of the economy is necessarily linked to the limitations of individual freedoms. Any government that limits where an oil company can drill or what safety conditions a company must provide for its workers, they have argued, is also necessarily dedicated to enslaving its citizens and dictating every possible detail of their personal lives. In the view of these billionaires, there are exactly two kinds of society: laissez-fair capitalist economies in which individuals have maximal personal freedom, and regulated communist societies in which individuals labor under the burden of oppressive authoritarian governments. The very idea of a libertarian socialism, they have insisted, is a contradiction in terms. And despite the fact that a good many nations in Europe, Asia and the Americas have managed to cultivate successful libertarian socialist societies, a good many Americans remain convinced that such societies are logically impossible.
Some eighty years of billionaire-supported propaganda has been very effective in limiting the imaginations and perceptions of the American public. There are, however, signs that perceptions are beginning to change and that the Libertian Socialist or Hard-core Liberal view is being distinguished from the policies of authoritarian state communism and is being perceived by many as a viable form of government for the United States.