I sat down next to Spinner, my sixth cousin twice removed, or something like that — I’ve never been good at family math. I’d just met the kid, but I disliked him immediately.
He was wearing a vintage Rush Limbaugh T-shirt, which contributed to my foreboding sense of dread. Spinner’s dad wanted me to explain the new Senate Republican health care bill to the kid for his class project, and I reluctantly agreed. I’d already been warned that this 13-year-old made the average conservative look like Abbie Hoffman.
We got off to a great start.
“You’re a lefty, aren’t you?” asked Spinner, whose real name I still don’t know. He looked and talked like a small Sean Hannity, complete with the smirk. “Don’t you feel bad you’re completely out of touch with the rest of Wyoming?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “There’s room for all types of political opinions here. It’s a big state.”
“Whatever,” he said, with an eyeroll. “I hope you know that Obamacare is in a death spiral. It’s all over the news.”
I agreed that climbing insurance premiums were, in fact, all over the news, but countered that such coverage only told part of the story. Lots of insurers were leaving the Obamacare market and thus driving up costs, I explained, because Republicans have actively worked to cripple Obamacare and refused to allow improvements to the system. Their only goal for eight years has been to repeal it. Then, when they realized they also had to replace it with something better, they didn’t have a clue what to do next.
“But it’s been a total failure,” Spinner interrupted. “Like Donald Trump says, it’s a disaster.”
“That’s one perspective,” I replied, trying to be patient. “But the reality is that the goal of the Affordable Care Act was to insure more people, and thanks to the system Democrats put in place all by themselves, 20 million more Americans have health insurance today.”
He agreed that’s a lot, but he said whether the House or Senate GOP plan passes, it will be much better. “The president said everyone will be covered and it will cost less and be better health care,” Spinner said. “Everyone’s going to love it.”
Now, I admit I shouldn’t have shown it, but that ticked me off. “Trump doesn’t even know what’s in his own party’s plans,” I said. “First he claimed the House version would cover all pre-existing conditions, which was a total lie. He also promised he wouldn’t cut a dime out of Medicaid but both bills take more than $800 billion away from the most-used and popular health care program on the planet.”
Then I hit him with the statistics. “Half of all births are covered by Medicaid, and the program pays the expenses of two-thirds of nursing home residents. One-fifth of Americans depend on Medicaid for their health care. If Medicaid goes down the tubes,” I said, “it will hurt a lot of people.”
Spinner wasn’t impressed. “Sean Hannity said there’s a lot of waste in Medicaid and Republicans just want to weed out the deadbeats who take advantage of the rest of us.”
“Do you want to really know why Republicans want to gut Medicaid?” I asked. “They want to use that money to give huge tax breaks to the rich. And they’re willing to take health insurance away from about 24 million people to do it. That’s obscene.”
“Sounds like something Rachel Maddow would say,” Spinner said. “But what will really happen is that the rich will use all the money they save in taxes to create jobs, and that will give us all a chance to get rich.”
“You know that’s all trickle-down economics, which has never worked since Ronald Reagan tried it,” I said, patting him condescendingly on the head. His eyes got wide and then he shouted to his dad that I was saying mean things about the greatest president who ever lived. I covered his mouth with my hand to drown him out and contemplated actually drowning him.
When I let him speak again, he accused me of being part of the lamestream media that makes everything up. “I heard on TV that the Senate bill will close down Planned Parenthood,” he said. “Isn’t that great? No more abortions.”
I’d anticipated this, so I handed him some Planned Parenthood brochures and explained that the agency is about a lot more than abortion. Two-and-a-half million women in the U.S. have their health care provided by Planned Parenthood.
Spinner looked at me blankly. I realized he couldn’t have cared less. I decided to use my trump card and show him something that would get his attention. I surfed to YouTube and we watched Capitol Police dragging protesters out of wheelchairs and carrying them away from a peaceful rally against the proposed Medicaid cuts.
“That’s disgraceful,” I told him. “Can you imagine that this is the way disabled people are treated by the government in this country just because they want to keep their health care? The police didn’t even know what their disabilities are, but they dragged them down the hall, handcuffed and arrested them.”
“Fake news,” said the distant cousin I was now prepared to disown. “Never happened.”
“Say, how’s your grandfather?” I asked. “Is he still in the nursing home?”
“Of course he is,” he replied. “Where else would he be?”
“Well, once we get Trumpcare or whatever they decide to call it, the nursing homes will have to start kicking old folks to the curb. Medicaid won’t pay for a lot of them anymore. Where do you think your grandpa will live then?”
He paused for awhile before crinkling up his face and yelling, “Here? There’s no room here!”
“Well, there is if he moves into your bedroom, which is what your parents will probably have to do, looking at the size of this place,” I said. “They could buy you a cot and you can be roommates. You might prefer to sleep on the couch or in the hallway, though. Old people can get pretty cranky and loud.”
“This can’t be happening,” Spinner said. “Maybe they don’t have to cut Medicaid after all. It sounds like a stupid idea.”
“But the rich need tax breaks,” I said. “You said so yourself, so they can create jobs. Of course most of that money will just go into their banks. It always does.”
“Cops really shouldn’t drag people out of their wheelchairs,” Spinner said softly. “It’s mean.”
“That’s funny — that’s how President Trump described the House bill. He called it mean,” I said. “But some people, including me, think the Senate bill is even meaner. It gives poor people worse health insurance and makes them spend more money, and millions of people won’t even have any health insurance at all because it will be too expensive.”
“That stinks,” he agreed.
“Listen, the next time I visit, I’ll tell you all about Bernie Sanders and how he would have been elected president, if he hadn’t been jerked around by the system,” I said. “And then we’ll talk about campaign finance and how corporations aren’t people, and how women should be in control of their own reproductive choices. Pretty soon we’ll change your name to ‘Lefty,’ and let your friends know you’ve abandoned the dark side. Would you like that?”
Spinner rapidly shook his head no. “Don’t press your luck, ‘Cuz. We may still need to do DNA tests to see if we’re really related.”