Yesterday I wrote, posted, and unposted a vitriol-filled screed about the current Republican response to the health care bill. (To be fair, in the screed I called it a TEMPER-TANTRUM. I used a lot of capital letters à la Kanye in my screed. If you are really curious I’m sure you can read it as Google caches everything, making unposting an unflattering entry a decidedly illusory fantasy.) I was really angry yesterday about a lot of things, not the least of which was my own egotistical desire to not have my American-ness wrested away from me by people who wish to define a “real American” within rather narrow terms. While I’m sure that many people would regard my way of living and my politics as not-American-enough, living in France has consistently made me feel all-too-American, as though I am tagged indelibly with my nationality. The idea that there is something like a national character, and it does shape how people approach others, feels more real to me now than it ever has in the past. I feel like I’ve been coming to inhabit my American-ness more comfortably than I ever have before and it makes me more sensitive to what I perceive as assaults to my sense of national identity and pride.
At the same time, I don’t feel good about what I wrote. I titled it something awful, like “Stupidity is not a pre-existing condition” and complained a lot about the current culture of mudslinging, hate speech at full volume, and rampant anti-intellectualism. When I stepped back from my anger, however, I realized that behind these insane protests must be an extreme level of fear. I suspect that anyone this defensive of a horrible status quo must be accustomed to the status quo only becoming worse when anyone decides to change it. I really hope that some of these legislative changes, and the ones that come about in their wake, will help make the lives of “everyday Americans” better in terms that they can feel tangibly in their wallets, in their sense of physical well-being, and in their ability to take care of those people that they love. I write a lot in my academic work about how people become attached to their state of subjection and to the vision of themselves as victims. Unfortunately, many of the people who are most vocally opposed to health care reform do not just envision themselves as victims of a broken system, they are victims of a broken system. A powerful minority has instrumentalized their voices, but that minority offers no plan of action, only mindless antagonism. I hope that this legislation can lessen the everyday victimization that people feel when they get sick and seek out assistance from the collective. That will be a much more effective response than screaming back.