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Here Goes, Doug

Berkley MI
Saturday
I’ve been challenged by my friend Doug, an Ontario resident, to explain to bewildered Canadians “why the current health crisis will/will not move the U.S.A. toward universal health care.” He provided an imaginative list of colorful words that he admonished me not to use, but he didn’t include “dumbfuck,” which has been used in these pages previously, and will no doubt continue to find apt uses.

The answer to Doug’s question is, of course, it depends. It depends—more than it’s ever depended before—on what happens between now and the November election. The future of American healthcare is only one thing—and by no means the most important thing—that will hang in the balance.

America as a concept has been breaking down before our eyes for some time. This virus is exacerbating all the forces contributing to that breakdown, and injecting a panicked urgency into the mix. The possibilities for the next eight months are as staggering as they are fraught with peril.

The happy ending would be that Republicans are overwhelmed in the election, ceding the presidency and all of Congress, ushering in a Democratic administration that (a) immediately brings criminal charges against a hundred or so people starting with Trump and his entire family, and (b) moves to restore enough of both the government and the healthcare system that a universal plan of some kind can, however painfully, emerge.

I’m rolling my eyes even as I write this, but it must be said that this outcome is significantly more likely than it has ever been. Which is not to say it’s likely. But I’m guessing some 60 percent of the electorate is enraged at and embarrassed by our dumbfuck president (there, I got one in). Not to mention everyone around him. And that was before the virus. In a fair election, I have no doubt he will lose. But let’s not be naïve.

At the extreme other end, the nightmare scenario would be that the country devolves into a dystopian anarchy that our methodically dismantled government simply cannot deal with, which moves Trump to declare emergency powers and cancel the election. This would be a shitstorm I can’t even get my brain around, which would, among other things, surely spell the end of the healthcare discussion for many years—which would be the least of our problems. As crazy as this sounds, can anyone looking ahead at the next few months seriously dismiss it as a possibility? Again, let’s not be naïve.

Of course, there are any number of possibilities in between these two extremes, and any scenario will be subject to a whole deck full of wild cards:  the course of the virus, the damage it does to the economy and society, the chances of holding a fair election (not promising), the chances of holding any election at all (better than 50-50, but not by much), and whether there’s anything left of either our institutions or our medical system once the dust clears. And that’s leaving social breakdown and civil unrest out of the equation.

I feel like I’ve answered a question with a question, or with a lot of questions, but only because the real answer is Who the fuck knows?

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