Gerrymandering & Voter Suppression

As others have pointed out, there are many causes that led us to the disaster we’re in now. The two most influential factors might be gerrymandering and voter suppression.

According to David Daley, the Republicans realized after Obama won that their party was losing ground and that the only way they could regain that ground fast was through purposeful gerrymandering. So, instead of campaigning and convincing voters of their party’s platform, they took advantage of the post-2010 census redistricting to rig the map to their advantage. It worked. The Republicans are now dominating legislatures and have governors in most states and, of course, Congress. This is not because of their popularity – DJT was only elected by less than 30% the electorate, hardly a majority.

In addition to rigging the map, the Republicans took full advantage of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 by suppressing votes wherever they could. This might’ve led to the “surprising wins” in Wisconsin and other states: People of color who wanted to vote weren’t able to. That’s highly undemocratic.

While several state courts have already struck down some of the gerrymandering attempts as racist, I suspect all of this will get worse. Jeff Sessions has already used the voter fraud ruse to suppress votes, thus as an Attorney General, he is very unlikely to ensure that everybody has access to the voting booth. (It’s a ruse because voter fraud hardly exists.)

I find all this deeply disturbing because it suggests to me that at least those in charge in the Republican party seem to be more interested in obtaining power no matter what than maintaining, let alone improving, our democracy. It is highly immoral.

Inauguration Day Commitment

Sophie Scholl
Janusz Korczak
Rosa Luxemburg
and all the others who resisted quietly and not so quietly, you were my childhood heroes. I will now try to honor your example by continuing your resistance against fascism. I will not go to sleep (again). I will resist. So far, I’ve only been willing to quit my corporate job for my values, giving up money and prestige for a clearer conscience. Now more might be called for. I am ready.

Janusz Korczak decided not to abandon his children not because he thought this would bring down Hitler. He chose death because he knew that his presence would give his children comfort in the last minutes of their lives.

Sophie Scholl simply passed out flyers because she knew that was the right thing to do, that people needed to know what was going on. She also knew that this wouldn’t bring down Hitler. She simply chose to do this because maybe one person would also start resisting or one person would be slightly less afraid.

Totalitarian regimes require our collaboration. They use fear to get us to collaborate because morality and common humanity are not on their side. The more of us refuse to collaborate – big and small – the less total the regime will be.

Uncertain Times

Maybe the most stressful part of this transition period is all the uncertainty. Since this isn’t a normal transition of power, given the president-elects authoritarianism, we don’t know if the 2016 election was our last real election (although it was already very undemocratic, mostly because the leadership in the Republican party seems more interested in power than democracy). We don’t know what the connections to Russia really are, nor what this will mean for us. Was the election a blood-less coup or is all this overblown? At minimum, we know that Trump admires Putin, which in itself is cause for concern.

We also don’t know – and maybe this is the scariest part – how all this will impact us, personally. I am guessing for most people in the United States, the impact will be small. They are the privileged ones who have the skin-color and economic position to simply ignore what is happening around them. They might get upset if their favorite store closes but are oblivious about people disappearing. If people disappear that is. Those of us who are either outspoken or don’t have the right skin-color, that is, aren’t white, or correct economic position (not wealthy) or in some other way don’t fit what is considered “good American,” face at minimum attacks via the internet. These attacks can range from trolls making online life rather uncomfortable to actual physical attacks, endangering people’s lives. We don’t know how much police and the legal system will cooperate with crack-downs (given how much they already are, it’s likely they will continue). We will not know where it is safe and where it isn’t, which reminds me of a point someone made in a documentary about the Prague uprising: You get used to living with fear.

Maybe at bottom is the question of truth: What is true and what is false? We have already seen the dangerous impact of “fake news,” although, as I’ve pointed out, this is just the tip of the iceberg of a misinformation campaign designed to confuse right from wrong. This is one reason scholars of authoritarianism implore us to write down our values. This is also why it is important to deepen connections to people we know, especially locally. We can help each other to stay true to ourselves.

And then, who knows, maybe we’ll be lucky and things won’t get as bad as many of us fear. Authoritarian regimes are notorious for using slipper slopes, slowly, and often unnoticed, expanding their powers and the crimes they commit. The most important thing for us, then, is to remain vigilant, to observe, to question – despite fear and uncertainty or maybe because of it.

Remembering King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On Friday, the first undemocratically elected president will be inaugurated. That inauguration will unleash an administration that is intend on rolling back decades of progress towards justice, at least attempting to undo what King and many others died for.

I have trouble understanding how people can hate so much that they cannot bear seeing equality for people who have been treated like cattle in the past. What twisting of their minds is necessary for them to dehumanize to such an extend that they are determined to take away rights and lives.

I watched a documentary on King last night. It increased my respect for him tremendously. In the face of brutal violence, he urged people to continue to fight with nonviolence. He called it militant nonviolence – they were not going to back down because they knew justice is on their side. In his letter from the Birmingham jail, he explains his concept of justice:

An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

This is such a simple, straight-forward explanation! Unlike his first explanation, it does not even require an appeal to a god. The only premise it relies on is the equality of all human beings. King continues to use voting rights restriction as an example: African-American voters are made to jump through hoops no white voters have to go through. This is unjust.

I believe this definition of justice can also be expanded to granting rights. Giving one group, say members of Congress, access to health care, for example, and then turning around to deny that access to others is unjust because the members of Congress give themselves the access while denying it to others who do not have the same power.

More importantly, King’s words point out why the next president of the U.S. has been elected unjustly. His election was marked by numerous undemocratic tactics, including systematic voter suppression through laws that could be enacted because the U.S. Supreme Court destroyed part of Martin Luther King’s legacy as it gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Again, I do not understand how people can bend over backwards to roll back these gains. I do not understand how it can be so threatening to them to see people who aren’t white men succeed. Something is deeply troubling about a society, about a culture, that enables such unjust forces.

Health Care and Freedom

With the Affordable Care Act on the irresponsible Tea-Party-Republican chopping block, the health care system – or rather the sickness profiteering system – has been on my mind again. One of the libertarian arguments against single-payer health insurance that I’ve heard is that it would take health care providers’ freedoms away. I never fully understood that argument – possibly because it’s more motivated reasoning than argument derived from a visceral aversion to anything government. Let’s take it a bit more seriously, though, and look at this issue of freedom within the context of health care.

A health care provider, I presume, would want the freedom to treat her patients in ways that would be best for the patients. That treatment would be science-based medicine, incorporating the latest research and best treatments. The assumption seems to be that this happens under the current system and wouldn’t under a single-payer system. Anybody who has ever spent time in a doctor’s office knows that assumption is absurd. Health insurance companies are for profit businesses – that’s why I keep referring to them as sickness profiteers. They try to prevent any costs to them thereby restricting treatment options – a treatment reimbursement is a loss to them, after all. On top of that, they require immense amounts of paperwork that a doctor has to provide in order to get paid. That paperwork is not standardized across companies making it challenging – and time consuming – to file it properly. Insurance companies restrict treatments often seemingly arbitrary. It seems to me that simply streamlining payments would free up doctors to do their jobs better.

What is often lost in these arguments are the patients. There is even more lack of freedom under the current system on the patient side. As I wrote shortly after I embarked on my career change, tying affordable access to health insurance to an employer makes leaving that employer very risky. Such a decision is likely tied to the loss of not only a pay-check but possibly life-saving health care. The Affordable Care Act has provided more of that freedom: The freedom to choose our own path, independent of who we might want to work for.

Let’s say that we are just changing employers, not careers. This requires a change in health care plans. The employer picked the plans that we can choose from (restricting our freedom…). The new employer might have plans that do not have our current doctor in their networks. Establishing a patient-doctor relationship is crucial, especially for those of us with chronic conditions. Being forced to find a new doctor just because we found a new job is another impactful restriction on our freedom. If there were a single-payer insurance, who we work for would not impact our health care choices. That seems to me the ultimate measure of freedom!

When I look at single-payer, I see more freedom all around, not less. Maybe this is why I have such trouble understanding the arguments against it.

How an ACA repeal would impact me

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to my Senators requesting they fight to keep ACA and improve it instead of repealing it, which only less than a third of USAmericans want.

I was aghast to read that [on January 3rd, 2017] the Senate Budget Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-WY) introduced a budget resolution that would enable Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) without a replacement in sight. Please don’t allow a repeal of the ACA without a replacement because I and millions of other U.S. citizens depend on the ACA for our health care, some of our lives depend on it.

I have hypothyroidism. I was first diagnosed in 2005 and will have to take medication for the rest of my life. Because the thyroid interacts with other hormonal systems, as I entered perimenopause a couple years ago, my hypothyroidism became less easily managed. I ended up with heart palpitations. They were benign but required the evaluation of a cardiologist. I need to see my doctor often because the right level of hormone replacement changes with my changing body. Thanks to her assistance, I now remain functioning. And thanks to the ACA, I can afford to see her.

What would happen if I lost my health insurance? Although seemingly minor, hypothyroidism impacts almost everything in my body. The right dosage of the replacement hormone is crucial. When I was undermedicated, I slept 10 hours and had two hour-long naps per day – and still could barely function. When I was overmedicated, I couldn’t sleep because of heart palpitations and anxiety – both of which made me suicidal. Not being able to see a doctor and have medical tests regularly, which is what would happen if I lost health insurance, would return me to these non-functioning states. Only after getting on ACA was I able to afford the care I really needed and I am slowly returning to a level of functioning that allows me to participate actively in this society.

And my story isn’t even the most dramatic one. Some people take medication that is so expensive and yet so necessary for their very survival, they might literally die if ACA is repealed, especially without replacement. I know at least one person for whom this would be the case.

Therefore, I urge you to prevent the repeal of ACA at least until a viable replacement has been put in place.