The Racial Component Behind Repeal And Replace

It Is Partly a Reaction to Barack Obama’s Years in Office
By Ron Shinkman

During the decade immediately after the conclusion of the Civil War, African-Americans had their first taste of being involved with the policymaking of their own country. Former slaves were given the right to vote and run for public office. The Mississippi Legislature even elected African-Americans to the U.S. Senate in 1870 and 1874.

            This change enraged the white hegemony in the South, which was helmed by a handful of families made immensely wealthy and powerful due to slavery (the war took their slaves, but they still owned their enormous plantations). They used their influence to continue to stoke racism among the much larger populace of poor Southerners to distract them from the fact slavery had kept them from getting decent jobs. After a decade of seeing African-Americans make some tiny gains, Democrats (who most closely resembled the Republicans of today until the mid-20th Century) brokered a deal to allow Rutherford Hayes to become President in 1876 after a deadlocked Electoral College vote. The deal was simple: For getting their President, the Republicans agreed to withdraw Union troops from the South. Reconstruction immediately collapsed, replaced by the Klan, Jim Crow and a century of white supremacy that would have never loosened its grip if clubbing civil rights marchers didn’t look bad on TV.

            The current Republican attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act offers a parallel to those sad and infuriating times.

            The ACA was a mostly fulfilled campaign promise of Barack Obama’s, and it remains the single most significant policy achievement of any African-American politician. That the avatar for the sputtering, aggrieved white male has replaced Obama is no surprise – it’s the natural reaction of a still significant proportion of the populace that remains deeply reactionary to any perceived usurpation of their power.   

            And Donald Trump’s only achievements so far are undoing regulations or accords promulgated or entered into by Obama. He seems to do so only because Obama created them in the first place. In other words, Trump plying his trade in spite, goaded by thinly veiled racism.

            Meanwhile, the Senate labors to come up with its “replacement” for the ACA. Leading that effort is a cabal of white males mostly from the South. They work in secret, and seem indifferent to what a large part of the populace thinks of their efforts. The fruits of their labors are likely to shift premium subsidies to those with higher incomes and strip Medicaid coverage from millions of Americans, a large proportion of whom are either African-American or Latino. Gutting the ACA also means a huge tax cut to millionaires and billionaires. The ultimate beneficiaries of repeal and replace will virtually all be white, while virtually all the losers will be of color.

            I have been sitting for weeks telling myself that the ACA would not be repealed because the law  has surged in popularity, and that removing protections from tens of millions of Americans would mark a milestone in this country, the very first time a large safety net program has been eliminated. But I now harbor deep doubts.

            I think of the anger that simmered during Reconstruction and the irrational backlash that followed. And I switch to the present: The rise of white nationalism during Obama’s time in office, the insanity of birther Donald Trump as President, the unabashed sabotaging of the ACA by the GOP and the oligarch that uses unlimited campaign funding as a result of the Citizens United decision to bully members of Congress to do their bidding.

            It’s therefore entirely foreseeable that millions of Americans will lose their healthcare for no particular reason other than to serve as a means to an end for white resentment.

            The only bright side at the moment is that the backlash against the radical elimination of a safety net program could spell the doom for the Republican Party majority in both Congress and the White House for a period of time.

            Although Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign failed, he became the first serious contender for a major party nomination who supported single-payer healthcare and was not pilloried for doing so, suggesting that there could be a wider acceptance of it as future policy. If the ACA is eliminated, single-payer is the only viable alternative. If there’s a backlash to the backlash and it can be sustained for a couple of years, single-payer will have its first serious chance of becoming law in U.S. history. But if this is the path required to get there, it will never be confused with the high road.


Ron Shinkman is the Publisher of Payers & Providers.