It’s an unseasonably warm January Sunday and I’m finally getting back to my project of writing to you after taking care of all sorts of typical, beginning-of-semester tasks and delivering a lecture at the college where I teach on writers from rural, working-class backgrounds.
I picked up the newspaper on the side porch this morning to see a story about President Trump’s plan for a month of executive actions to dismantle the work of President Obama and I thought, “I’d better write to Tom; I’ve got to give him an assignment.”
Your assignment, Tom, and the assignment of everyone who has been elected or hired to serve or work for our government, is to keep things stable and functional in a time of disorder. President Trump was elected in part on a platform of disruption—to dismantle many of the structures of our government and to replace them with something else. A lot of people around the country believed that this was an important and necessary thing to do.
So now it’s like our country is doing a massive home renovation project—we’re gutting the walls, ripping out the electric, replacing the appliances—all while we are still trying to live in the house. Friday’s executive action gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services permission to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” parts of the Affordable Care Act. The part of the law to which this seems directed is the “individual mandate” requiring everyone to get insurance. If that part of the law is no longer enforced, and young healthy people stop buying insurance, insurance companies will no longer get income from them, and will have to figure out some other way of remaining profitable. In the past, they’ve done this by denying covering to people with pre-existing conditions or in other ways limiting the services that they pay for. Our new President and members of congress like you say that there are plans to replace the law with a new and better one that will solve these problems. Now that executive orders are being issued, you’ve got to act fast to get those new plans in place.
We’re living in this house while it’s under construction. How are you going to make sure that our government does not devolve into chaos as the new president dismantles structures that—while sometimes problematic—are the very structures presently making things work?
I’m nervous, Tom. Times of disruption are times when really bad things can happen.
But then I remember that I’ve got you. You were elected by a solid majority of constituents in our district and you’re heading off to work every day to keep the government functioning. You, unlike our new president, have experience in government. You know how our laws work and how to get things done. You and your colleagues are my best hope right now. I didn’t vote for a president who wanted to disrupt the status quo. But that’s what I’ve got. I accept that Donald Trump is my president. But you are also my representative to congress.
Will you promise to try, to the best of your ability, to keep chaos to a minimum during this reconstruction project? Will you make sure that we’re not breathing in the dust from demolition; will you vacuum up the shards of glass before we step in them? Can you make sure that the laundry gets done and dinner gets put on the table even as the appliances are put on the curb? Can you make sure that the contractors are doing everything up to code?
Thanks, Tom. I’m depending on you.
Write me soon.