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Dr. Seuss, the culture wars and the American Rescue Plan

When President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, Joe Biden turned to him and said, sotto voce, “This is a big (expletive) deal.” It was. And despite all Republican attempts to repeal ACA, while offering not a hint of a replacement, it has prevailed.

The Republicans were then and are now not a party of policy but a party of obstruction and antipathy.

Regarding the recent, historic passage of the American Rescue Plan, it is far more than a “big deal.” Its fulcrum is the word “rescue.” Implicit in that word is the understanding that what was necessary was not just the acquisition of more vaccines or developing an infrastructure for their distribution and inoculation; rather, it was also essential to address the far-reaching and devastating impact of COVID-19. The economy fragmented, and the harrowing damage done to the lives of millions of Americans has been unrelenting: unemployment, loss of health care, food insecurity, school closures, lockdowns, evictions, illness, hospitalization and death.

Consider first the hundreds of billions of dollars in direct payments to most American families, followed by an extension of federal unemployment benefits. Billions are slated for small-business loans, food and drinking establishments, transportation and transit, and rental and housing assistance. As well, the plan includes hundreds of billions to reform and repair the social safety net, including the temporary expansion of the child tax credit, which will slash child poverty by 40 percent and poverty overall by a third, while including equity for childless workers. There will be an expansion of ACA offering greater subsidies for Americans purchasing health care insurance, thereby reducing the number of uninsured by more than 4 million.

The American Rescue Plan is the most extraordinary piece of anti-poverty legislation to pass since FDR and LBJ, targeting the profound immiseration felt deeply and broadly, made manifest by what has been a ruinous pandemic.

Which brings me to a stark truth: Not one Republican in either chamber of Congress voted for the plan. Their weak rationale was that it should have targeted just virus mitigation, while ignoring the widespread collateral consequences sweeping the country.

But their unanimous vote should have been no surprise, for the GOP has been transformed. It is now the CPAC-Trump party: radicalized, conspiracy-driven and anti-democratic.

It is convinced it stands no chance of winning elections based on just a cult of personality. And so, in the absence of policy, it has chosen Jim Crow-era voter suppression, citing “ballot security” as its justification.

They plan to prohibit ballot drop boxes, truncate or eliminating early voting, purge voter rolls and, in Georgia, make it a misdemeanor to serve food to voters waiting in line (nationwide there are more than 100 bills advanced by Republicans that would restrict access to the ballot box). As well there are the GOP sidebar culture wars (Dr. Seuss, “cancel culture,” political correctness, “fake news,” and the gender wars, e.g. Mr.& Mrs. Potato Head).

When HR1, For the People Act — a massive voting rights, ethics and election bill intended to repair the U.S. election system while increasing ballot access — was recently passed by the House, no Republicans voted for it. Their hope is to block this legislation in the Senate.

For our system of constitutional government to function as intended, to carry on the robust dialogue essential to democracy, it is essential that we have two robust political parties that share the same reality. The CPAC-Trump hybrid is not such a party. A recent study found that nearly 80 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Trump; two-thirds still are convinced there was widespread voter fraud in the last election; and 56 percent believe that the use of force may be necessary to save “the traditional American way of life.” By any definition, that is not democracy but authoritarianism.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.

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