Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Art installation, Black Rock Desert, 2012, artist unknown.
Art installation, Black Rock Desert, 2012, artist unknown.

The enigmatic children’s rhyme “Ring around the rosie” may be about smallpox in the 16th century, but then again, it could just as easily be about any other existential threat to society or humanity. For the American Empire, that ol’ end-of-the-world feeling is coming around. The fires are burning in the US House of Representatives today. 
What do I mean by the end of the world?  To me, it’s the end of the social ties that have characterized the human race ever since Neanderthals tenderly buried their dead in the fetal position; it’s the marvelous social developments of the past several hundred years–the public schools that make it possible for every child to get at least some education (17th-20th centuries; compulsory education came late to the South; only 4 Southern states had signed up for it by 1900); the public health services that make it possible for parents to get vaccinations for their children (20th century), the public libraries that open the world’s knowledge to anyone who wanders in off the streets (19th century). It’s the development of nursing as a profession (19th century) and of science-based medicine (19th century). It’s the staunch adherence to truth and research in universities (12th century right up to the Wisconsin Idea). It’s the setting aside of public lands so that we can luxuriate in wonder at our natural world (20th century). It’s the development of unions to protect workers from economic and physical exploitation (19th-20th centuries). It’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs). It’s firefighters. It’s a police force that grows out of and protects communities.

Social infrastructure, I guess you could call it.

The current crisis in the House of Representatives is just a symptom of a destructive impulse being felt across the United States.

First: What is this crisis?

Simply, a few dozen politicians associated with what is called the Freedom Caucus have brought the US House of Representatives to its knees. Somewhere between 30 and 50 anti-government politicians (a term which absolutely invites a definition of the term “oxymoron”) have chased a Speaker from his position, chased a would-be successor from his campaign, and now are offering candidates so far to the right that, in a sane world,  they would have no chance of being elected. The characters in question are John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, Daniel Webster, and Jason Chaffetz, respectively.

Their end game is audacious: They really intend to force one of their own into the Speakership, two places away from the presidency. If the House gets to be in their control, all legislation for the common good would be stymied and the disassembly of the Federal Government would begin either actively or passively through the Federal budget process. A Tea Party presidency that could not otherwise be achieved might be too tempting not to try for through assassination.

Who are these people and what do they want?

“Tea Party” here is shorthand for a coalition of angry, aggrieved people who believe a couple of mutually exclusive propositions: The first thing they believe is that big government (except the military) is an unequivocally bad thing. These are the people who would privatize public bathrooms if they could–privatize everything that is now enjoyed or used by the public–schools, parks, prisons, sewer systems for all I know.

Their impulse to do this is fueled first, by their contempt of government, which they view as being universally wasteful and inefficient, and secondly, by their worship of profit, which Ayn Rand has helped them to see as an unequivocal good. Drawing on one strain of puritanism, they see poverty as a just punishment for sin in which the state should not interfere. In that view, poverty is the result of defective character, not of bad luck, and the state should take no part in relieving it, even where children are involved.

The second thing they believe is 2) that abortion is such a bad thing that big government should stamp it out. Their reverence for unborn life is such that some states now make it possible to imprison pregnant women if, in the judgment of the state, those women are likely to use drugs. Down the road, this reverence for unborn life is likely to lead to more efforts to establish legal personhood from the moment of fertilization, meaning that an embryo of a few weeks’ gestation would have the same legal protections as you and me. There is no way to offer those protections without proactively controlling the “vessel” in which the embryo lives, i.e., the maternal unit, otherwise known as the “mother.” Maybe George Orwell got the date wrong. Maybe he should have called his novel 2016 instead of 1984.

How they can hold these two propositions in their heads at the same time is quite a wonderment to me. But the human mind is infinitely elastic, I guess.

What does all this have to do with an end to social ties?

On the first belief that the Tea Party holds in common, an important component is the loss of a sense of commonality with the rest of humanity. If you’re poor, that’s your problem, not mine. If you’re a refugee fleeing certain death and presenting yourself at the US embassy in hopes of finding a new life in the States, well, tough cookies. Your problem. If you enjoy public parks and would like to see some nature without trespassing on privately-owned land, too bad; we need the money, so we’re selling the parks. If you have children, educate them yourself. If you don’t have the education to be able to educate your children yourself, screw you and screw them. If you live in the inner city and have a dark complexion, double screw you. Public libraries? Kaput. Public universities? Starve them or control what they’re able to teach. Prisons? Privatize so at least someone gets something good out of them.

On the second belief, regarding abortion, the callousness is equally apparent and the aim is even more audacious, though never directly stated–to roll back the modern development of women-as-human-beings by withholding the ability of sexually active women to control their childbearing.

People who oppose abortion are becoming more and more extreme in their demands. While they’ve always been against abortion in general, they were once willing to admit that girls and women who had been raped, sometimes by a relative such as a father or brother, deserved the compassionate action of being allowed to terminate those pregnancies so they wouldn’t have to live through nine months of bearing a burden they didn’t ask for and didn’t want, and might not be able to nurture adequately.

That compassion has vanished. Now, the anti-abortion crowd has slid all the way down the slippery slope. Now, they really do want to prosecute women who suffer miscarriages. They really do want to declare legal personhood for embryos from the moment of fertilization. They are already locking up women who are suspected of drug use. The specter of a 9-year-old girl being forced to carry a pregnancy to term somewhere in Central America does not faze them as a model. Sure! There is always an alternative to abortion. Whatever the cost to the mother, up to and including death.

Even more weirdly, they also want to prevent women from getting birth control that is covered by insurance (our usual way of financing medical care). Restricting birth control means creating more unwanted pregnancies, which must then be brought to term so that…. more unwanted babies are born to be neglected. After all, if the Tea Party gets its way, there will be no governmental social services, no public education. And there the circle of destruction is completed.

Now, there is a lot to say for the proposition that society is better off when women are subjugated as a class. First, of course, it means that more men get more sex.  Always a good thing, right? Women who are economically dependent on their husbands can’t easily make such trouble for their “heads” (I’m referring here to the official line of the Southern Baptist Convention, which states that men are the “heads” of women and must always prevail because Eve screwed up) as refusing sex, working outside the home, asking for divorce, completing their education, or otherwise exercising their personhood.

But you know, is it really acceptable to make it so that one half of humanity’s happiness is dependent on the degradation of the other half? Really?

This is where the Tea Party shows its utter repudiation of the love and care for others that has characterized the human race (at its best) since the beginning. Their horror of big government on the one hand, and abortion on the other, are not accompanied by anything resembling policy proposals either to replace what big government provides us or to cure the ills that result in the need for abortion.

In fact, what the insurgents of the House of Representatives want to bring to us is what they’re experiencing right now (because so many of us elected them)–the deconstruction of all the carefully built common endeavors, the public endeavors, that made us the envy of the world, eased the suffering of common people, and made advancement possible for everyone.

What a party platform.


4 thoughts on “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

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