Rachel Shukert is a TV writer, author, and journalist living in Los Angeles. All opinions are her own.
Hi. My name is Rachel. I am a healthy, reasonably young person who has never had a major stay in the hospital or a severe chronic illness. I have, however, at different times in my life, been formally diagnosed with acne, allergies (in particular to most common antibiotics, requiring arcane and formerly ruinously expensive prescriptions), anxiety, and anorexia — and that’s just if we stay in the As. My husband, also healthy and reasonably young, had a bicycle accident a few years ago that left him with a persistent shoulder injury.
I am, at the time of this writing, exactly 35 weeks pregnant, and while every diagnostic test and detailed ultrasound afforded me by the twin miracles of modern technology and excellent health insurance has left me with every expectation that our son will thankfully be born with no abnormalities that can be detected in utero, there’s no telling what could happen when he makes his first appearance a month from now. He might have a complicated birth or require intensive care. He might be turned the wrong way in my uterus and require a C-section, which could, under the new bill passed last week by the Republicans of the U.S. House of Representatives, add its name to the long list of things that might make his mother permanently uninsurable.
The truth is, despite our various medical histories or genetic signatures, everyone in the world has the same pre-existing condition: We are alive.
You see where I’m going with this. My younger sister, the mother of twins born at 34 weeks, requiring one and three weeks in the NICU respectively, also had a C-section, and tends toward anemia. My mother has hypertension, high cholesterol, and a probably-congenital heart arrhythmia that in 67 years has caused a single bout of fainting at an office Christmas party, but still counts as a black mark on her record. One of my closest friends had a cerebral hemorrhage at age 27; another, a fair-skinned redhead, regularly has pre-cancerous moles removed from her body despite armoring herself in sun-protective gear every time she so much as crosses a parking lot; another is HIV-positive.
My point is, I have pre-existing conditions, you have pre-existing conditions, Paul Ryan has pre-existing conditions (including, let’s not forget, a family history of cardiovascular disease that caused his alcoholic father to die of a heart attack at age 55). Donald Trump, despite that letter from the live-action version of Dr. Nick from The Simpsons calling him the “healthiest individual ever to seek the Presidency,” has pre-existing conditions; I won’t speculate as to what specifically they might be.
The truth is, despite our various medical histories or genetic signatures, everyone in the world has the same pre-existing condition: We are alive. We are alive, which means that eventually, we will age and die, sicken and die, or suffer some kind of fatal or maiming accident that will cause us to die. Death and taxes are supposed to be the only two constants of life, and until we see the returns — which we won’t — I’m not even sure about the taxes.
But just as corporations are now people while women, increasingly, are not, countries also have pre-existing conditions. Our country has a very serious one, seemingly as pervasive and sinister as any of the scary acronyms — AIDS, SARS, MRSA — that have preceded it. It’s called GOP. It is the pre-existing condition of America, and it’s time to kill it once and for all, before it kills us all first.
I know, I know. The Republicans weren’t always bad! Party of Lincoln, remember? For the sake of all our sanity, can we just put that semantic bullshit in the grave already? Abraham Lincoln has about as much in common with the modern GOP as Harriet Tubman does with Ivanka Trump, and we all know it. There is no goodness left in the Republican party, no egalitarianism or generosity of spirit or love of freedom or humanity. It has, at least over the course of my lifetime (which began with the Reagan Revolution), morphed into nothing so much as a giant, fearsome mega-virus that has played the eager host to the most toxic and infectious strain in American life since the Pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock.
Think about it: What made the Puritans murder insubordinate women for witchcraft? What prompted rich Southern planters to enslave, rape, and torture millions of fellow human beings, justifying their right to do so by the both the Bible and the Constitution? Why did the robber barons drive their factory workers and coal miners to impoverished early graves — and why did the robber bankers of the 21st century clear their bonuses as their countless victims lost their jobs, their health, and their homes? Why drive Native Americans from their rightful lands, deny sanctuary to millions of desperate Jewish refugees fleeing genocide in their own, and now threaten to rip millions of law-abiding, tax-paying immigrants away from their families, condemning them to uncertain futures and in some cases, certain death in countries they barely know? These are some of the greatest shames of our country, all originating from the same dark place, the same murky lesion on our collective lizard brain? (And not for nothing did Condoleeza Rice solemnly note this week that "America was born with a birth defect: slavery.")
Throughout the centuries, wise people — people who believe in the essential perfectibility of our nation and that the moral arc of the universe really does bend toward justice — have tried (and often succeeded) to rise above this. But justice, we have learned, is not irreversible. And our pre-existing condition — which from time to time has gone by other names (the Know-Nothings, the "American" Party, and yes, sometimes even the Democrats), never quite seems to go away.
Sometimes, it seems like we’ve got it under control. Women get the right to vote. A New Deal ensures prosperity for all. The Civil Rights act guarantees equal protection under the law. The Supreme Court guarantees a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body, and grants same-sex couples the right to marry. We elect our first black President, and appear on the cusp of electing our first female one, and our collective, pre-existing case of what now calls itself the GOP, the host in which our worst nature seems to have currently taken root, regresses into something annoying but manageable: the rosacea that flares up right before your wedding; the migraine that ruins your anniversary trip to Palm Springs — the kind of things Alanis Morissette might have written a whole song about, if she wasn't Canadian and entitled from birth to universal health care. Then the election happens, and the House votes to take the health insurance away outright from at least 24 million fellow citizens, to curtail it for another 129 million, and possibly, just possibly, make every single man, woman and child in the country effectively unable to access meaningful care with the exception — of course! — of themselves, their staffs, and their families, and you realize that the pain you’re feeling in your side isn’t lingering discomfort from an old hernia operation, but in fact Stage IV pancreatic cancer that will kill you inside of three weeks if you can’t receive immediate treatment. Which you can’t, because you’re now uninsurable.