Town meetings in the season of our discontent
The universal reality in our country is that no matter where one stands on pertinent issues like health care, taxation, illegal immigrants, Trump possible ties with Russia, foreign affairs, military intervention, trade, etc., protestors have resolved that the new administration is either leaning in the wrong direction or is not adequately expositional in what their policy will be. So, those who detect unfairness or view injustice on the horizon are voicing their discontent in the status quo together with a growing number of agitators at local town meetings.
Thus, in the recent week of adjournment from congress, senators and representatives have faced the angry, the apprehensive, and the fearful in town meetings, which seemed like the precursors to greater incidents of societal disruption to come.
In the era of President Trump, the fear of what changes in law and policy may come to fruition, are apparent well ahead of any reality of actual change. Thus, certain executive orders have been couched as similarly powerful as passed legislation. While miswritten orders have been challenged and stalled in courts. Yet, the significance of these orders have been over-exaggerated and used as a rallying cry to corral support for adversaries of the nascent administration.
Equally surprising, Democrats and Republicans have reversed positions on certain age-old standpoints in this new revolutionary political world. Further confusing to political pundits, what where thought to be bedrock principles of the two main political parties such as the GOP support of free trade and the Democrat support of grand infrastructure repair have been converted.
Yes, these are strange times indeed. And, the only thing we can be assured of is that the majority of Americans are worried to a degree we have not witnessed for some time. Consequently, unless stability and a sense of promise are restored our society and our nation will suffer.
The most pressing issues of the day are creating a divisiveness that is being demonstrated in protests across the country. Crucial to the majority of the loudest critics are the opaque adjustments to the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). At this point, no one is sure what the often spoken words “Repeal and Replace” will actually mean to the 23 million newly covered insured. Or for that matter, middle-class and small business owners are skeptical if rates and availability would return to pre-ACA standards. Without a clearly understandable replacement scheme, virtually everyone seems at least apprehensive if not downright scared of what the repeal might look like.
That wariness has been expressed in town meetings across the nation. For example, at a Tennessee Town Hall a chronically ill, 32-year-old man named Mike Carlson voiced his nervousness. “I have to have coverage to make sure I don’t die.” And, “There are people now who have cancer that have coverage, that have to have that coverage to make sure they don’t die.”
When the Tennessee congressmen gave elusive answers on repeal and replace they were shouted down with chants of “ACA,” “ACA.”
Iowa Senator Joni Ernst changed her standpoint somewhat when confronted at an Iowa Town Hall. “All we hear is repeal and replace, but we don’t hear about a real clear plan.”
Similarly, when US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA) was confronted about proposed changes in taxation, which will favor the super rich and possibly pay for the cut by paring down social programs, he said “People get rude and stupid” at these type of forums. While Rubio was dodging verbal bullets, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) avoided a town hall in his native Janesville, Wisconsin, and instead opted to attend a fundraising event in nearby Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida.
Five-term New Jersey Congressman Leonard Lance conducted his 41st town hall meeting with surprising results. Usually 300-400 attend these meetings however, this time the hall was packed to its maximum person capacity of 1,000, with an equal number of constituents outside in line. New Jersey residents pelted Lance with questions about Trump’s possible hair trigger regarding his comments about ramping up nuclear weapons capabilities and his hawkish remarks about foreign intervention and ISIS. Lance stayed a target for what seemed like an eternity on the stage trying to answer questions that, this early in the Trump administration, are unanswerable.
At a combative town meeting in Arizona, Republican Representative Martha McSally faced an avalanche of diatribes regarding illegal immigrant issues and the Mexican Border Wall. As a result, McSally modified her position stating: “I wasn’t sold on his plan to build a wall”. And, “Not a continuous 2,000 mile wall, no.” After an elongated heated discussion on those issues, McSally was faced with complaints about climate change, possible withdrawal of funding for PBS, zealous far-right White House advisor Steve Bannon, and academically unqualified Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Many town hall meetings focused on President Trump’s connection with Russia. Most protestors want an independent prosecutor to investigate and they are imploring their representatives to call for one. At a town hall in New York, Representative Tom Reed was hesitant to recommend a special prosecutor and was met with angry assails. Protestors yelled: “What are you covering up?”, “Do your job” and “Russia, Russia, Russia.” Reed who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, tried to explain why Congress didn’t more vigorously pursue the truth on the matter. “The reason why we voted against that is because if the government goes on the attack on one individual, that is a very dangerous level of power.” Citizens did not buy his argument.
Additionally, Florida US Representative Matt Gaetz had a change of heart when cornered at a recent town meeting. The congressman has now called for the president to release his tax returns immediately to expose any financial ties to the Russian Federation. Also, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was challenged by American veteran Jeremy Hammet as to why Cassidy had not sought exposure of Trump’s connections with Russia. Hammet said, “I’m a lifelong resident. I spilled blood for the state and the senator doesn’t want to answer my questions.” Additionally, Senator Ernst at that aforementioned meeting in Iowa chimed in “Trump needs to stand up against Vladmir Putin.” Ernst strident words in demand for exposure of the Donald/Vladimir relationship seems to be a direct result of her being challenged in public forums by active citizens.
Ernst’s fellow Senator Chuck Grassley had faced a barrage of questions regarding the Trump intentions towards immigrants and the executive order prohibiting the entrance of foreigners from seven predominately Muslim countries. An Afghan translator who worked with US troops in Afghanistan named Zalman Niazy complained to the senator. “I am a person from a Muslim country and I am a Muslim. Who is going to save me here? Who is going to stand behind me?” Mr. Niazy has legal status in our country and hopes to become naturalized someday. In service to our country, Mr. Niazy has been shot twice in the field of battle.
Grassley’s lackluster response to this inquiry was: “Trump’s executive order on immigrants wasn’t carefully drafted”.
Along with alterations of stands resulting from citizen challenges in these circus-like meetings, party identities are switching as well. National infrastructure programs have long been pillars of Democrat concerns. Now the president and the hierarchy of the GOP are heralding the need for such a program. Democrats were once staunch defenders of unions and now a Trump led GOP is pushing for well paying union manufacturing jobs to return stateside. Corporate friendly Republicans were traditionally for the cheap labor that flooded seasonally over our southern border to work in our agriculture sector and now they are demonizing those temporary workers. And, the Democrats are acting as a protectorate for these migrant workers.
As the widespread unrest at the town meetings have indicated, the entire nation is in an uneasy state of uncertainty. Political parties are not sure what their identities should be to curry favor with the electorate. Health compromised citizens are worried about mere survival in the face of repeal and replace of the ACA. Citizens are concerned about the president possibly acting in favor of Russia predicated upon some financial relationship that has not been revealed. Trump’s erratic statements in regard to our military acumen and nuclear capability have sent chills down the spines of many Americans.
The uproar and unrest of these forums are emblematic of a society in a state of flux. If in time the administration and the congress show stability and adroitness, then perhaps the season of our discontent will pass into a spring of hope.