May marks 80 years since the start of Hitler’s invasion of France and his establishment of Festung Europa, the Nazi plan to fortify the whole of occupied Europe against a counterinvasion by the Allies in World War II. The rest is history, as every American high school graduate knows: The war went on for five years, with the U.S. coming in for the last year — D-Day, June 1944 — and saving western Europe from tyranny. The war in the Pacific ended a few months later, and America became the greatest, most powerful and soon the richest country in the history of the world. The 20th Century was the American Century, the United States the center of the universe — even more so after the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
And this whole time, as western Europe and the United Kingdom emerged from the ruins of World War II and the frost of the Cold War, Americans kept hearing reports about “socialism” and “socialized medicine,” and how the countries Hitler had invaded had bounced back with social welfare programs and public educational systems that put the well-being of their populations on par with, even ahead of, the capitalist imperative. Feeding off Cold War fears of creeping communism, the words “socialist” and “socialism” stuck as smears through a generation or two. It still has some currency, but, in the Great Pandemic of 2020, criticism of Europe’s social welfare by Americans wreaks more of envy than anything else.
“European societies, with their buffering welfare states that are covering the wages of laid-off workers and providing universal health care, are better prepared than the United States for a disaster on this scale,” Roger Cohen writes in The New York Times.
France and Germany, once at war, have leadership that champions liberal democracy and a strong safety net for its citizens.
But look what we have: Dark irony — Trump as president and Mitch McConnell and spineless Republicans in charge of the Senate at a time when the country is in the midst of a horrible health crisis. These are the forces that fight incessantly against a nationalized health insurance system, claiming it will be too costly, while granting tax relief to America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. These are the same Republicans, libertarians and Koch disciples who attacked Obamacare and continue to sabotage it. This same crowd is comfortable with millions uninsured, with no access to a system that is extraordinarily costly to the rest of us. And how remarkable it is that the biggest crisis of our lifetimes is not what Trump said it would be — the criminality of immigrants and terrorists, requiring walls to defend the country against an invasion of Muslims and brown people from Central America — but a virus. How remarkable that the war against the virus requires a formidable health care system that all Americans have access to, and that it comes 10 years after passage of a law not a single Republican voted for. Republicans have continued to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act out of existence, and the Trump administration supports the latest legal challenge of the law at the Supreme Court.
You have to stop and think about how screwed up that is — that Americans sneer at Europe for its “socialism” while most of the countries there provide full health benefits to all its citizens now, in the midst of pandemic, and always.
Americans hate to hear it, but we need to catch up with Europe.
So here’s another good reason to run Trump and his enablers out of Washington: The country needs health care for all, once and for all. That could be Obamacare extended to more of the millions who remain uninsured, or with an eventual transition to Medicare for All. But neither will happen with a second term for Trump and the re-election of Mitch McConnell. If that happens, if Trump gets to nominate another Supreme Court justice, if McConnell retains control of the Senate, you can forget about ever catching up to Europe, and we will continue to have an expensive and broken health care system.