I was really struck by the interview that Alabama Representative Mo Brooks had with Jake Tapper. They were talking about the issue of the new version of Trumpcare which grants states the right to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Brooks, in the grand tradition of white men who thought it was worth fighting a war to maintain chattel slavery, saw this as a good thing. It showed how the conservative mind (and to a less extent the American mind) works: it doesn’t believe in mercy; it does not forgive other people.
Mo Brooks said, “My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher healthcare costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”
Let’s Not Forgive Mo Brooks
Let’s quickly throw aside the ending point there: that healthy people are seeing their costs skyrocketing. That’s not true. What Brooks is getting at is what conservatives supposedly hate about Obamacare: that healthy people subsidize unhealthy people. We know they are lying about this, because healthy people subsidizing unhealthy people is what health insurance has always been about and conservatives generally didn’t complain about health insurance until they were attacking Obamacare.
We also should shove aside this idea that people are healthy because did things “to keep their bodies healthy.” I can’t help but see this as nothing more than a vague bit of fat shaming. I could be wrong about this. But I’ve heard this so much over the years. When people talk about “healthy,” they almost always mean “thin.” I discussed this almost two years ago, Meghan Trainor, Fat Shaming, and the Health Myth.
I noted in that article that actual scientific studies do not find that being modestly overweight is bad for someone’s health. It’s a great irony that when I was way too thin — so skinny that it actually was unhealthy — no one was ever concerned about my health. Now that my BMI is on the high side of normal, I do occasionally get told that I should lose some weight for the good of my health. The truth is that being my weight — and quite a lot heavier — is actually quite healthy.
But I’m sure that Mo Brooks, who seems to be a fairly slender man, imagines fat people cramming pastries into their mouths. This, of course, makes them unhealthy and who has to foot the bill? Poor old slender Mo Brooks.
Do People Deserve to Live Without Healthcare?
What I’m more interested in is the possibility that Brooks is right. Not about weight, of course. But consider one of my young friends who is a skydiver. Imagine if, in practicing this very dangerous hobby, he managed to suffer a spinal cord injury. Imagine all the extra bills that go along with that!
Or imagine an actual friend of mine who used to be a heroin addict. As a result, she got Hepatitis C. Now it’s been a long time since she’s done any drugs. She does live a very healthy lifestyle now. But she has not always “done the things to keep [her body] healthy.” I suspect that good ol’ Mo Brooks would see her as the the sort of person who should have to pay more money for her health care. He can’t forgive her for her past behavior. And the fact that she will almost certainly die much younger than she would have otherwise doubtless doesn’t make any difference.
Rob Portman and the Limits of Empathy
Remember when Senator Rob Portman became pro-rights for LGBT people — because his son came out to his father. As long as gay men had nothing to do with Portman’s life, he was against them. He could only see them as full human beings once he found out that one of them was his son. Then he could grant them the rights that everyone deserves.
This goes along with the widely documented fact that people who live in high crime areas are less punitive. That is to say that people who live in an area where almost no one ever robs a liquor store will tend to think the punishment for that crime should be much more harsh than people who live in an area where liquor store robberies are fairly common.
This makes sense. In a high crime area, everyone is much more likely to know people who have committed these crimes. Thus, they see these criminals as the human beings who they are. It’s easier to have empathy, just as it was easier for Rob Portman to have empathy for LGBT people once he knew that one of them was his son, who Portman knew was an actual human being.
Americans Have a Pre-Existing Condition
It’s amazing to think that Mo Brooks’ comment did not get push-back because he was saying that he can’t forgive. This isn’t a partisan thing. Americans, in general, are this way. They really do like the idea of punishment. It’s not enough to lock someone away in a cage for ten years, they must also be stopped from having a decent job the rest of their lives.
I’ve heard both Obama and Bill Clinton say on countless occasions that people shouldn’t be punished when they lose a job “through no fault of their own.” Because that’s the thing, right: if someone is culpable for any part of their current situation, we don’t have to worry about them. And that’s because we don’t forgive as a general matter. That is the great American pre-existing condition: lack of empathy.
I get it: if someone is a rock climber, they shouldn’t be surprised if they fall to their deaths. But that doesn’t make the death of a rock climber any less tragic. And as it is, people who are attracted to extreme sports like this aren’t in any more control of it than I am in my incredible fear of it.
Let’s All Learn to Forgive
Trumpcare is a vile piece of legislation. You could make its protections of those with pre-existing conditions even stronger, and it would still be vile. The whole idea of Trumpcare is vile: that the richer and healthier you are, the more the government should work to protect you. But Trumpcare is made worse by making protection of pre-existing conditions weaker.
But it’s sad that most Americans wouldn’t have a problem with denying access to care because people didn’t behave in the past. And this is a much bigger problem than Trumpcare. Americans need to learn how to forgive.
I wish we were better than even that. I don’t think we should feel like we must forgive these people. No one is perfect. We all do things we probably shouldn’t. And whether or not you have a pre-existing condition is nothing but a matter of dumb luck. But I understand that most people can’t understand this.
So how about looking to the Bible, which so many Americans claim to worship. How about embracing the idea of mercy? How about learning to forgive?