During several elections, I have been out of the country on one book project or another. I missed the next-to-the-last presidential election, in fact. As I picked up a local English-language newspaper to read the election outcome, a man remarked to me, “Do you have any idea how unique you Americans are?”
I asked him what he meant.
“You argue and you fight during your political campaigns. Your passions run so high. But then the election is over and you all settle down and work together. No one burns down anyone else’s village. No one murders the opponents. You still disagree, but you work together until the next election.”
I nodded my head. “The idea is to work for the good of the country.”
“Yes,” he said, “but do you understand how unique that is? We all look at you with amazement and admiration. America is an example to the world.”
Yes. Well. That was back then, wasn’t it? I wonder what they’re saying now?
I watched on television at all the congresspersons up on the congressional balcony, egging on the protestors on the grounds below, some of whom hurled racial slurs and called out death threats to those who voted for the health care bill. (Those congresspersons are our employees, by the way. Yet not one of them has loosened their iron grip on their own cushy benefits in the interest of fiscal solvency.)
One of the demonstrators insisted, “If you want health care, you go and get health care or work for it.”
I have a friend who has just lost her home because of her family’s crushing medical bills. Their health insurance was canceled when her husband had the audacity to get sick. Other friends are fighting bankruptcy. Yep, impossible medical debts. In that family, both husband and wife are employed, but only one gets benefits, and only for herself. When my first husband was terminally ill and disabled, his insurance was also canceled. We struggled to pay $1,000 a month for $5,000 deductible insurance. The official suggestion to our dilemma was to declare bankruptcy and move onto welfare. We didn’t.
Even so, I’m not dismayed about either citizens or lawmakers who see agenda matters differently than I do. That happens all the time. It always has and it always will. My dismay is with the growling, threatening, watch-your-back-or-we’ll-get-you tone that has overtaken us.
“Do you have any idea how unique you Americans are?” the man across the sea asked me.
I thought I did.
Now I know differently. I guess the whole world does.
“We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada.”