interesting times

Trumpcare Destroys Any Notion That American Conservatism Gives a Damn

Celebrating what? Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

A word on Obamacare. I relied on it until just recently when I joined New York’s staff and went on an employer’s plan, and, to tell the truth, part of me didn’t even want to make the change — even though it will obviously save me a lot of money. What Obamacare did for me, living with the preexisting condition of HIV, was, first of all, give me far more independence and freedom. It gave me the confidence to quit a previous job and start my own little media company — my blog, the Dish. It gave me peace of mind when I subsequently shut that business down and was able to stay on the same plan. It allowed me to be a freelance writer without fear of personal bankruptcy. I got no subsidy, but I was glad to pay the premiums for me and my husband because it gave me a sense of control over our finances and our future. I knew I wouldn’t suddenly find myself facing soaring health-care costs or no health care at all — and the premium actually went down a smidgen last year.

You might think Obamacare would violate my generally conservative principles, but it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to me to be an effective marriage of conservative principles and, well, human decency. The decency part comes from not blaming or punishing the sick for their condition. The conservative part comes from the incremental nature of the reform, and its reliance on the private sector to provide a public good. For good measure, it actually saved the government money, and it slowed soaring health-care costs. The exchanges, with predictable early hiccups, largely worked — a case study in the benefits of market competition. The law allowed for experiments to test how efficient health care could be. It even insisted on personal responsibility by mandating individual coverage. And the concept of insurance is not socialism; it’s a matter simply of pooling risk as widely as possible. If any European conservative party were to propose such a system, it would be pilloried as a far-right plot. And yet the Republican Party opposed it with a passion that became very hard for me to disentangle from hatred of Obama himself.

The Trump GOP’s attempt to abolish it is therefore, to my mind, neither conservative nor decent. It’s reactionary and callous. Its effective abandonment of 95 percent of us with preexisting conditions will strike real terror in a lot of people’s hearts. Its gutting of Medicaid will force millions of the poor to lose health care almost altogether. It will bankrupt the struggling members of the working and middle classes who find themselves in a serious health crisis. It could hurt Republicans in the midterms —though that will be cold comfort for the countless forced into penury or sickness because of Trump’s desire for a “win.” But it’s clarifying for me. It forces me to back a Democratic Party I don’t particularly care for. And it destroys any notion I might have had that American conservatism gives a damn about the vulnerable. It really is a deal-breaker for me. I hope many others feel exactly the same way.

The one aspect of the current, drama-filled European political scene that hasn’t gotten enough attention, I think, is the power now wielded by women. All three of the biggest economies in Europe — Germany, Britain, and France — now have women at the very center of their national politics. Angela Merkel and Theresa May currently run their respective countries and Marine Le Pen is only the second woman in the final round of a French presidential campaign. And here’s the refreshing thing: No one seems to care much about their gender. Neither Le Pen nor May is appealing to women as some kind of gesture toward gender solidarity. And their opponents almost never mention May’s or Le Pen’s gender, either.

You can see the impact of this in the opinion polls in Britain and France, where the gap between men’s and women’s votes is close to nonexistent. May, Merkel, and Le Pen, it seems, have been pioneering a new politics of gender equality, but none of them wants to make a big deal out of it. Compare this with the Hillary Clinton campaign. Yes, I know she based her campaign on many issues beyond her gender. But when she was asked how she would bring change to America, did she really say that being a woman was change in itself? And when she brought her convention to a climax surrounded by women celebrating the breaking of a glass ceiling, she couldn’t have been more different than her successful European peers.

Merkel and May. Photo: Ulrich Baumgarten/via Getty Images

That’s not to say, of course, that their gender isn’t salient in subtler ways. Le Pen has promoted an image of herself in the French campaign as a woman and as a mother, changed the party’s logo from a flame to a blue rose, and deployed gender in her campaign against Islam: “In France, we respect women,” she declared recently. “We do not beat them or ask them to hide behind a veil as if they were impure.”

May has tried a more British tactic. During her campaign to win the Conservative Party leadership last July, she pounced on a “hot mic” gaffe by a Europhile Tory grandee, Ken Clarke. He was caught saying that May was a “bloody difficult woman” to deal with. This Thatcher-style soubriquet helped rally support behind her — even or especially among the male-dominated Tory parliamentary party. Last week, May reached back to this moment. Details of a private, contentious meeting about Brexit with EU leaders in Downing Street — almost certainly leaked by the German government — had painted her as delusionally confident about negotiating Brexit with her European partners. Claude Juncker, the president of the EU Commission, was quoted as saying their meeting made him ten times more skeptical about the feasibility of Brexit, and that May was living on another planet. May responded publicly by insisting that, indeed, she intended to be a “bloody difficult woman” in negotiating Brexit with Juncker. Not quite a “nasty woman” moment — but close. And she deftly exploited it to bring the Tories near an unprecedented 50 percent in the polls.

I’m also struck by the fact that so many working-class men have rallied behind Le Pen and May — the very demographic that Clinton lost. Check out this video of an older Brit who says he had always voted Labour before but this time will vote for May because she is “a strong woman” who will defend Britain’s interests abroad. And take a look at this revealing Guardian video interviewing men and women in a region in rural France that was once a bastion of the left. You can see that there’s a mild gender-influenced strain behind “notre Marine” but that she is reaching new heights for her party among women almost entirely because of the core question of globalization and nationalism.

Perhaps the first female president of the U.S. will have to come from the right, as May, Merkel, and Le Pen do. That position scrambles the gender war in such a way that conservative women may be more likely to succeed in politics than liberal women — at least at first. (The pioneer in this, of course, was Margaret Thatcher, who was subjected to sexist criticism entirely from the left.) It’s also true that feminism in Europe is still, at the political-elite level, interested in getting past gender, rather than obsessing about it. When Le Pen loses the vote next Sunday (as seems likely), the one thing you can count on is that she won’t blame misogyny. It seems as if those who actually succeed in breaking the glass ceiling don’t actually campaign on breaking the glass ceiling. I wonder if the Democrats will one day realize that.

One of the great achievements of the gay-rights movement has, in my view, been its successful engagement with the police. I was reminded of this most starkly watching the video of the memorial service in Paris for gay policeman Xavier Jugelé, who was shot in the head by an Islamist terrorist last month. His civil partner, Etienne Cardiles, gave a beautiful eulogy, while President François Hollande, Marine Le Pen, and Emmanuel Macron put aside their political differences and watched and listened. None of this would have been imaginable a generation ago. Jugelé himself was an activist for gay rights. He “was a simple man who loved his job, and he was really committed to the LGBT cause,” Mickaël Bucheron, president of the French association for LGBT police officers, told the New York Times. “He joined the association a few years ago, and he protested with us when there was the homosexual propaganda ban at the Sochi Olympic Games.”

We can easily forget how new this is, how profound the transformation of the West on this subject has been in such a short period of time. From cops busting the Stonewall Inn or enforcing sodomy laws, we now have openly gay cops defending us from Islamist terrorism (and we have openly gay soldiers doing exactly the same thing). In my own city of Washington, D.C., in my adult lifetime, we went from cops wearing rubber gloves to shut down a Halloween drag race in the AIDS era to a Pride March which proudly includes gay cops and which is made possible by the work of many straight cops who police the event. It moves me every time I see this. It is a quiet and profound revolution.

And that’s why it is so deeply saddening that a faction of the far left is now attempting to shut down or disrupt Pride marches next month … in part because they include gay cops. It has already happened in San Diego, where a group called “No Justice No Pride” held up the parade for five minutes and caused the local sheriff to leave the event. In Toronto, the Pride March was held up for half an hour last summer until the Pride organization agreed to a set of demands from a Black Lives Matter group, including a ban on gay cops in the parade in the future. This year, gay cops will indeed be barred from the parade entirely because BLM wants more “inclusivity.” I’m not kidding: Exclusion is now inclusion. A new board member of Toronto Pride, one Akio Maroon, explained her position: “We cannot have the same people who are beating us, who are harassing us, who’re responsible for violent encounters with us, dancing with us in revelry in uniform with their guns on their side while being paid to participate. Absolutely not.” The “same people”? Does she have any proof of this blanket description of all gay cops as violent racists? Or does she simply believe that gross generalizations about an entire group of people can be applied to any member of that group?

In D.C., a branch of the same group is threatening to do the same this year because the police are part of “the very forces that oppress queer and trans individuals.” So far, Capital Pride has not capitulated the way Toronto has. But I fear it is only a matter of time before Pride everywhere is hijacked by the social-justice left. For them, gay rights are inextricable from the broader social-justice agenda, and “intersectionality” requires solidarity with any number of other demographics, even if it means discriminating against our own. And I have no problem with their expressing their views on this. I’d defend their right to march and to express themselves as loudly and as passionately as they want. That’s what you call inclusion and diversity of viewpoints. But I don’t think they have a right to unilaterally define the gay-rights movement along far-left lines, to exclude anyone with a politics different than their own, to use the tactics of physical confrontation to impose their will and to discriminate against and vilify some of the heroes of the movement. More to the point, their bid to exclude gay cops from Pride is obviously counterproductive. It cannot help but alienate the very police we need to engage.

Remember the righteous protests against the various Saint Patrick’s Day parades because of their exclusion of openly gay Irish marchers? Does no one see the excruciating and damning parallel here? It seems to me that inclusion and diversity mean, well, inclusion and diversity. And that this is a core principle worth defending.

Correction: This article originally stated that Marine Le Pen is the first woman to reach the final round of a French presidential campaign. Ségolène Royal reached the run-off against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

Trumpcare Destroys Notion That GOP Gives a Damn