Memory is a funny thing. When memory fades, some people act as if the event(s) remembered never really occurred. My mother (born in 1919) and father (1916) lived through the Great Depression — that dreadful period in American history that spanned the years 1929-1941, the year America went to war. Naturally, my grandmother and grandfather lived through the Great Depression as well, but they both died in the early 1970s, and whenever we’d gather for holidays or other celebrations, they seldom dwelled on dreary days past. The Great Depression was something they’d survived, not something they wanted to discuss.
Sadly, those who remember the Great Depression — those with direct, firsthand knowledge — grow fewer by the minute. In another decade, all those who struggled through hardship and privation, all those who pulled together collectively so that the United States could recover from an unthinkable financial catastrophe, they will all have joined the cadre of lost loved ones.
What then? What happens when no memory of the Great Depression exists, when no one remains to testify, “I was there?” What then? Will our government decide there is no need for the social safety net born in the midst of the Great Depression? That’s what is suggested by 2017’s as-yet-unsuccessful legislation called the American Health Care Act. The AHCA would gut Medicaid, and financially cripple millions of American citizens. Why would anyone vote for such legislation?
Since the hard days of the Great Depression, America has developed a Social Safety Net—Social Security (1935), Medicare (1966) and Medicaid (1982) — because the United States is a community. The word “community” rings hollow until members of that community act with other-interest rather than self-interest. What the social safety net declares — for all the world to see — is that the U.S. is a community. We are interested in others. We take care of our own. We don’t abandon the weak, the infirm, the old or anyone in need. A collection of self-interested people can never call itself a community.
Additionally, a day seldom passes without a congressman or senator bragging that the USA is the greatest country on earth, the richest country God has ever endowed or the moral leader of the known universe. Do they really mean what they say, or is it all just scripted for the cameras? Can we be moral if we abandon those who so desperately need Medicaid? What does it mean to be “the richest country in the world” if we defund programs that feed children? How can we be great when we elect a president who is a womanizing bully with no impulse control?
It’s time. Time to live up to our vaunted reputation — “greatest,” “richest,” “most moral” — and act and legislate that way, or admit to ourselves and the world that we are a small, selfish, petty nation, and that greatness has passed us by.
John R. Scannell