Posted Friday morning, April 28, 2017.
Paul Ryan laying out the GOP’s ritual for human sacrifice through the Republican health care plan. Photo courtesy of the high priest himself.
The GOP is owned and operated by rich greedy bastards who are driven mad by the idea that they don’t own the whole country outright, they can’t do whatever they want to make themselves richer, they have to pay for anything, and they are beholden to anybody or constrained by anything like laws, regulations, and common decency. They resent and despise anybody who costs them not just money but thought, which is to say everybody but themselves. They especially hate the poor but they hate their own employees almost as much. They hate their customers too, because customers don’t just hand over money for nothing, they expect something, a good or a service, in return. If you get in the way of their making all the money they want, by, say, wanting to be paid for the work you do, you’re a cost and therefore their mortal enemy. And God forbid, you need help in any form from the government because that’s their tax money paying for it, you parasite! They want the rest of us punished for existing and taking their money to pay for our existence.
The politicians who work for them are a mixed bag of dupes, stooges, cynics on the make, wannabes---small scale business types who think their trucking business, insurance agency, dental practice, car dealership, or waste collection company makes them them kings and queens of the free marketplace or would if the damn government would just get out of their way and not make them pay taxes---and true believers.
The true believers go the rich greedy bastards they work for one better in thinking the purpose of life is to make money and the measure of human worth is material success. For them is practically people’s sacred duty to---never mind what Jesus said---store up treasure on earth and a sin to fail to do so for any reason, including misfortune and illness, and they are happy to act as God’s instruments in seeing that the sinners are punished. At the very least, they see to it that the poor and the sick are publicly shamed. That’s when they’re feeling merciful, and when they are they’re the first to compliment themselves for it while in the same breath letting us know they regret their weakness.
All of them, the dupes, the stooges, the cynics, and wannabes are some combination of the others, but all share in the faith that the point of everything is money and it’s God’s will that those who don’t make it are to be punished with pain, shame, and suffering. The true believers lead the processions but the others enthusiastically join the crowd harrying the sinners to the pillory, scaffold, and stake.
This is why I’ve said cruelty is the defining trait of the Republican Party.
Assuming they’re not just born sadists, one of the reasons for their cruelty is their superstitious approach to life. They refuse to admit that most of life is a matter of chance. Never mind that they seem to think people pick when, where, and into what family they’re born, they don’t want to face that fact the success is life is usually due to your having turned left one morning instead of right and so avoided getting creamed by a bus on your way to the interview that got you the great job that has resulted in all your material and happiness since while the other candidate for the job, who was better qualified, more deserving, and usually so much more charming and personable, woke up with killer cold and dragged herself to her interview red-nosed, irritable, and brain-fogged, and made a terrible impression, which the interviewer was still brooding about when you showed up whistling a happy tune that happened to be the one his mother used to whistle herself while packing his lunch for school.
Good things come to the deserving and from deserving. Whatever good fortune you’ve enjoyed you’ve earned by doing the right things. So it you do the right things you will continue to earn and deserve good fortune---this is essentially living to placate the gods.
Many people don’t know how insurance work. Oh, they “know” but they don’t know in the sense that that’s how they think of it working. They think of it as a special sort of bank from which they can draw on their savings when they need it or take out a loan (Where the loan money comes from they don’t ask, but who asks where the money for their mortgage or car loan comes from?) that they’re confident they’ll pay back. Either way the money’s there when they need it and will always be there because of course they’re always going to have insurance. They’re always going to be able to pay their premiums. They’re always going to have a job.
It’s human nature. We assume things work the way we need them to. We expect circumstances to continue as they are. It’s also human nature to be superstitious. We do things that we irrationally believe will make things work the way we need them and make circumstances continue as they are, if we are happy with the way they are, or make them change for the better if they’re not. We should know better. Most of us do know better. We cross our fingers, wish upon stars, wear our lucky socks, and say our prayers anyway.
And when see people like us for whom crossed fingers, wished upon stars, lucky socks, and praying didn’t help, we look for ways they weren’t really like us---our situations aren’t really the same, the circumstances are particular to them, they made mistakes we wouldn’t have made, they didn’t have our advantages, they courted disaster, they went looking for trouble, they didn’t keep their fingers crossed, they didn’t pray hard enough, they sacrificed the wrong animals, they brought it on themselves, they deserved it, it’s their own fault, serves them right, what were they thinking, anyway?
And instinctively, reflexively, we shy away from people who come to us looking for help with their troubles. Not just from the homeless person begging for a buck on the street or from the frightened and hungry children with pleading eyes staring out from posters on the bus and the church bulletin board and the television. From the friend at work going through yet another breakup. From the neighbor whose kid has had another run-in with the cops. From the relative who’s been diagnosed with cancer or who needs a loan. Often this recoiling isn’t due to lack of compassion but to a sense of helplessness. There isn’t really anything we can do at the moment to solve their problems for them except offer advice they’ve probably already heard or express sympathy that embarrasses both us and them.
But as often---maybe more often---it’s fear of contagion. We’re afraid their bad luck will rub off on us.
There’s a whole strain of Christianity that actually preaches this, that your good or ill fortune is your own doing, you earned it or brought it on yourself by pleasing or displeasing God, and He can change his mind about you and withdraw his favor in an instant and you won’t really know what you did wrong to deserve your punishment. Your only hope for salvation is to stick strictly to the rules, make a big show and a lot of noise about how fervently and abjectly you love and serve the Lord---as if he won’t know if you don’t keep reminding him---and offer up regular human sacrifices in the form of people clearly not enjoying his favor at the moment left to suffer whatever misfortune God in his wisdom and mercy has decided to clobber them with. Not surprisingly its most faithful adherents are conservatives.
When you get down to it, it's as I said, superstious belief like this is at the core of every conservative's thinking. "It's your fault! Now go away before your bad luck rubs off on me!" and, what love of money doesn’t explain, it explains about Republican policies regarding the social safety net in general and health care in particular.
Paul Ryan is as superstitious as the next Republican. Maybe more so.
It’s not that he doesn’t know how insurance works. He knows. He just doesn’t like it. He believes it shouldn’t work that way. But it’s not the way insurance itself works he doesn’t like. It’s what the way insurance works says about the way life works that bothers him. It’s the way life works he doesn’t like.
When he says healthy people shouldn’t have to pay for sick people’s medical care, he talks about “healthy” and “sick” as if they’re more or less fixed categories and not transient conditions we all pass in and out of until permanent injury or intractable illness or age traps us or death relieves us from whichever condition we’re in at the moment.
And he talks about them as if there’s more to them than the mere physical. There’s a moral element to them, as if “healthy” connoted good and deserving and “sick” implied some sort of failure of character as well as body---as if failure of the body was due to failure of character. He talks about them the way he talks about having money. You’ve either earned it or you’ve failed to earn it because you worked hard or you didn’t, you showed good character or you didn’t.
In Ryan’s mind, bad things happen only to the weak and the morally degraded. Bad things happen to those who deserve it.
I’m writing fiction here, but it’s based on a real life event that I think turned him superstitious and therefore into a certain kind of conservative---his father dying when Ryan was in high school.
Now, it could have had the opposite effect. It could have taught him that life is random and unfair, that bad things happen to good people no matter how good and careful they’ve been, and that God might have his reasons but whatever they are they don’t include making us happy or life easy and if he is just and merciful it’s not in any way we understand either word. The lesson from this, you would think, is that since we can’t rely on God to take care of us, we have to look to each other and look out for each other.
But what many people learn from it is that we have only ourselves to rely on and we have to look out for our self first. And maybe that’s what Ryan learned or told himself. He had to be strong. He had to be tough. He had to go it all alone. His only other choice might have seemed to be to collapse and give up on life. And from that he developed a personal philosophy of self-reliance that quickly turned into a code of selfishness. From here on, I look out for Number One. That would account for his attraction to Ayn Rand and why his “bible” is Atlas Shrugged. It would explain why he doesn’t feel any shame about lecturing poor people on how to be successful, despite his having become successful through family connections and marrying into money. He survived and got through the most terrible thing that could happen to a young person through force of will and strength of purpose, and if he could do that, you can do whatever you need to do the same way. You don’t need the government’s help. You just need to have and demonstrate character.
That would mean that the GOP’s health care plan is a product of an adolescent’s self-infatuation.
But I’m writing fiction with that too. I don’t know what Ryan thinks he’s doing. I only know what he is doing. But if I’m going to tell a story about it, I prefer the story about a sixteen year old who decided he was never going to let another bad thing happen to him again and who has lived his life ever since keeping his fingers crossed, wishing upon stars, wearing his lucky socks, saying his prayers, and steering clear of his fellow human beings’ pain and suffering so that their bad luck won’t rub off on him.
In short, Ryan's political philosophy is based on teenager's superstitious belief he can cheat death and ill fortune, and if he can do it, you can too.