Not So Great Gatsby: Happy Birthday, America

Dear Nick,

Happy 4th of July! The intersection of everything going on in Washington, DC, and the celebration of our declaration of independence from tyranny got me to thinking. We are knee deep in strange times. Our president is a tiny-handed man who is clearly more comfortable mocking daytime television hosts through social media than he is actually leading or building. The latest kerfuffle was the president bullying someone named “Morning Joe” and his wife.  Trump accused the wife of showing up at a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago bloody from a facelift. Now, I have never heard of Morning Joe and his wife, and I would never begrudge someone for doing whatever they want with their body, whether it’s a facelift or painting themselves orange like an orangutan, but Trump’s account doesn’t pass the smell test. Imagine someone who is sensitive enough to feel they need a facelift, but is brave enough to show up at a fancy party bleeding from the face from said facelift? Now I don’t know who the woman is, but in a vacuum, that doesn’t line up. So why would the president make that up? Why does he care? Is he just a crazy person, or is he a master manipulator of the media? We are now 6 months in and I have no idea. We truly live in bizarre times; the world’s turned upside down.

Some media pundits claim Trump is a genius at manipulating the media and all of the cyber bullying is to take focus from the Russian scandals and his horrible healthcare bill. The senate, a body of elected officials who work for and by we the people, under cloak and dagger devised a healthcare bill that, and I am not being hyperbolic here, will be a death sentence for the most vulnerable among our citizens. It also provides billions in tax breaks for the richest among us. Now let me be clear: If you are reading this, you are not among the richest and this tax break will NOT help you. You make $185,000 a year and own your own business with some employees? Good for you; you are indeed doing well, but this bill is not for you. It’s for the top 2% or so and applies to payroll tax and investment taxes like capital gains. So if you are making more than $250,000 per year from your stock trades, then you have a vested interest in seeing this bill pass. Odds are that is not you.

The bill itself is short-sighted and mean. Mean even by Trump’s standards, as that is what he called it when someone read the highlights to him (he infamously gets bored with policy and laws that don’t involve him; aides have started peppering his name and some compliments into the briefings so he will continue to listen to the reports).  I was out last week and heard a finance person say, “It’s about the economy, and if it helps the economy, I am for it.” Let me give you a brief economics lesson, old sport. John pays $200 a month on healthcare. It is supplemented by $100 a year in taxes that are paid by all US citizens. He has a pre-existing condition that he needs treatment for that costs $500 a month, but because of the wider insurance pool and the small supplement from taxpayers, he can manage it. Costs may go up, but they will go up incrementally like everything else in the world. Now, let’s get rid of the ACA. John still has the pre-existing condition, but because insurance companies are not required to accept him he doesn’t have insurance. People are not required to have insurance, so the insurance pool is smaller, driving up costs across the board. Because taxpayers are each contributing so little, the costs are not off-set. Instead of $200 a month, John’s cost increase to $6,000 a month. John makes $52,000 a year, so he cannot afford to live and treat his condition. He can allow it to go untreated and potentially die, or he can rack up bills and then claim bankruptcy, ruining his financial future and sticking the taxpayers for the thousands of dollars in bills he couldn’t pay. This is the way economics works. This is what is at stake at a very basic level. Lives are going to be ruined and people are going to die, just so rich people can save money they probably didn’t need on their taxes.

Republicans have done an impressive job of getting the poor and middle class to count themselves among the 1%ers reaping the benefits of tax breaks. In the past, it was only mostly untrue. Now, with this version of the senate healthcare bill I am telling you explicitly, THIS TAX CUT WILL NOT HELP YOU, THIS BILL WILL ONLY HURT AND POTENTIALLY KILL YOU OR A MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY.

When I was just a young Gatsby, one 4th of July a group of friends were playing capture the flag down at Bonnet Shores. We were all young, probably between 10 and 12 years old. We had just picked for teams when Sue Rogers came down asking to play. She was only 9 and slow and not popular with the kids. No one wanted her on their team.  She would hurt our chances to do well. But it was a small neighborhood and it was just a game. Twelve-year-old Gatsby took a step forward and said, “Sue, you can play on our team. I know you’ll try your best!” I wish I could say she was the hero and captured the flag. She didn’t. She was the first one captured and told someone on the other team where our flag was. And we lost. But I tried to lead by example and be inclusive of all the kids. It hurt the team, but it didn’t really hurt me in any way because it was just a game.

What’s the point of this story? Well, Nick, with all the talk in DC, it’s time for someone to step up and lead by example, even if it may be to their personal detriment. I am calling on Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and Representatives David Cicilline and Jim Langevin to introduce a bill that senators and representatives will have the same healthcare options, or lack thereof, of the most vulnerable of their constituents. Put your money where your mouths are and actually do something to change the horrible bullying that is going on in congress. Think of what a powerful message this will send. Whitehouse is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Jack Reed in the lower tier. Cicilline is gay and Langevin has a pre-existing condition. Together they could take a stand for the most vulnerable Americans from the smallest state in the Union. It’s time for our elected officials to take action or be replaced by those who will.

There is a legend that when the British surrendered at Yorktown they sang a song called “The World Turned Upside Down.” We turned the world on its head leading by example and acting against a tyrannical government. As we celebrate the birth of our independence, we are already mired in what seems like a world upside down. It is time to turn things right.

Happy Birthday America,


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