“Hurt people hurt people.” That’s true of youth violence. It’s true in politics, too

Sunday’s Washington Post included a front-page story, “Fear, hope, and deportations,” which merits a careful and sympathetic read from liberals, conservatives, and journalists trying to understand what is happening in America  today.

Reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan profile a 59-year-old Texas woman named Tamara Estes. She was born into some affluence, raised in “a grand home with a built-in pool.” But her mom died when she was four. Her dad died when she was nineteen. She married young, and by age 26 she was divorced with two kids. She has since traveled a sad path of downward economic mobility, never going to college, taking a succession of dead-end jobs. She now works as a school bus driver in Valley View, Texas, with an annual income of $24,000. “With four days left to payday, she has $118.72 in her checking account.”

She is a die-hard Trump supporter. She seethes at undocumented immigrants and their children in her own community. It’s pitiful to hear her. President Trump brings out the worst in his own neediest supporters before he betrays them.

Ms. Estes is also uninsured. Yet she supports a president and a party that specifically propose to put coverage out of reach for low-income near-retirees like herself. She so perfectly fits a certain political-demographic story that her biographic details might have been perfected at the MIT Media Lab or Huffington Post. As with most things, though, it’s a bit more complicated. I looked up what’s available to her under ACA, and it’s hardly surprising that she doesn’t feel particularly grateful for it.

I wrote about her story at healthinsurance.org. There’s a little snippet below.

Tamara Estes is not the world’s most appealing or most perfect person. She should take fewer puffs on bigoted and deceptive right-wing radio. She shouldn’t blame immigrants for her life’s disappointments and problems. Harming immigrants will do nothing to help her. As a friend noted on email, it wouldn’t hurt her to learn a little Spanish, too. If nothing else, she might learn a few kinds words for the kids she transports. She might be less lonely and isolated if she got to know her immigrant neighbors, who seem like lovely people.

But I can’t hate her. In violence prevention, we like to say: “Hurt people hurt people.” That’s true in politics, too. Tamara Estes is hurting, and she’s lashing out at her own neighbors. That’s ugly to see.

But she still needs help. She didn’t get enough from the ACA. She’ll get a lot less from President Trump, but we supporters of expanded coverage have given her too little reason to really know that. Whatever happens in the current knife-fight over health reform. We face a daunting moral and political challenge to fix that, to go in precisely the opposite direction Republicans are determined to go.

More here.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

14 thoughts on ““Hurt people hurt people.” That’s true of youth violence. It’s true in politics, too”

  1. I think one reason Trump supporters feel so disrespected by liberals is not just that they see themselves as decent people, unfairly under attack, but also because they are fundamentally decent people. It's the people they vote for who are indecent. This comes through in the George Saunders article in the New Yorker and in stories like the one about the beloved Hispanic restaurant owner in Iowa who was being deported, to the consternation of townsfolk who knew him as a generous pillar of the community. More evidence is that most opinion polls show majority support for "liberal" policies, that Trump felt compelled to say everybody should have insurance, and the fact that Paul Ryan lies and implies his plan does cover everyone. If he thought there was wide support for Objectivist Social Darwinism, he'd have a much easier time writing his speeches (and more fun delivering them!).

    "No, we just want the bad guys out." "I have no problem with Muslims, etc. who assimilate, it's the ones who don't learn the language and don't adopt our customs I object to." "BLM has a point about some officers, but unfairly tarnishes all of them, and the protests are too violent." I agree with all these things to a degree. Where I disagree, it's partly because of what I think are empirical facts – too many police depts treat POCs very badly, most immigrants and religious minorities do assimilate, and most immigrants aren't bad guys who need to be deported – and partly on a desire to think the best of people I don't know. I'm not sure Ms. Estes and I could find common ground, but I'm certain that I could with a fairly large number of Trumpies.

    I wish my third paragraph had a solution to this. It might just be that making the world more humane is hard, unending work – the "slow boring of hard boards" to "bend the moral arc of the universe."

    1. I think there are a significant number of them who really are not decent people; they're the ones barking about the sanctity of the white race and cleansing the US of "mongrels". I think Hillary Clinton's unspeakable fraction was about right: about 50% deplorables. But they are unreachable, and even mentioning this fact probably drives away the rest of them.

      1. I agree that many are unreachable. I'm not going to go to Mississippi to try to persuade folks to be decent. (Heck, I'd be happy to try to persuade them to at least to pretend to be decent, but that would be fruitless too.) And it probably is at least half the people who normally vote Republican. This half also shows in polls showing support for this or that Dem policy is well over 50% – they're the ones in 20-30% range who really dislike the policy in question.

  2. I'm in the "immigrants contribute to our nation" camp, but I'm still waiting for the immigrant-defending groups to make any sort of convincing argument as to why immigrants who break the law to come or stay here should escape punishment when they or their neighbors have gone to prison for breaking the law. I think there are convincing arguments to be made, but all I hear is that it's inhumane to make people leave once they are here.

    1. Don't know what others like me think, but I don't offer a blanket condemnation of "inhumanity" to deport those who are here illegally.
      However, when due process and constitutionally guaranteed rights are abandoned, violated, and mocked — then I get angry at those in charge. When "getting" people who overstay their visas, or got arrested once 25 years ago, or were brought here as children, is more important than providing necessary help and protection to tens of millions of citizens — then I get angry at those in charge.
      Why don't you?

      1. Absolutely agree. Due process is being ignored, and many of the moves to enforce immigration law are pure posturing, since they are intended to make Trump look tough, not to deal effectively with immigration issues. But my point was different: why can't supporters of immigrant rights face reality and say something like, "we concede that some people are here illegally, but many came because employers encouraged them to come, and we can't just turn back the clock." Instead, we get high-sounding rhetoric about how no human is illegal, implying that open borders are an agreed-upon principle, when in reality all nations manage immigration through legislation and law enforcement.

        1. OK. Here is what I think.

          First, from a totally nationally selfish point of view I think trying to deport most who are here illegally is foolish. There are direct enforcement expenses, and, AFAICT, most illegal immigrants are hard-working individuals who are making a net contribution. There are better uses for our money than rounding up farm workers, detaining them, and sending them to Mexico.

          Second, vigorous enforcement is problematic. How exactly do you identify a possible violator? Guess what. There are lots and lots of Hispanics living in the US perfectly legally. How do you distinguish legal Juan Gama from illegal Juan Gama without pestering a lot of people?

          Finally, from a moral point of view, once someone is here for a while, and not making trouble, it seems wrong to me to deport them, all the more so if the case involves families or children. We have, after all, statutes of limitations on lots of things. Why not on crossing the border illegally? Is that really a crime on a par with murder? And deportation is definitely punishment.

          Fundamentally, whatever this problem is, if it even is a problem, which I regard as dubious, I think we have lots of more important stuff to worry about. I consider the very prominence of the illegal immigration issue in our politics embarrassing.

          (Full disclosure: I am an immigrant and a naturalized citizen.)

          1. That's the other thing: the whole debate is based on unreality. The undocumented immigrants in this country are mostly people who came here over a decade ago and are still here. There is no giant flood of immigrants still coming in from Mexico, which is the motivating reason for Trump's wall. And enforcement and deportations actually hit an all-time high under Obama, contrary to the myth of him somehow opening the borders. Many of the fears seem sparked by the Syrian refugee crisis mostly playing out in Europe.

          2. So true. And these facts are what is missing from the public rhetoric that's being used to oppose Trump's insane anti-immigrant actions.

        2. Some of it is "Overton window" strategy: in modern American politics, when you try to sound reasonable and concede some points to the opposition, they will run with it and take the most extreme position possible, and you will lose ground. There is no possibility of meeting in the middle.

  3. Hunh. Seems like,, everything I've read, both here and elsewhere, supports

    Hurt (white) people hurt (mostly brown/black) people.

    B/c hurt brown/black pepole don't hurt people anywhere near as much, it seems. At least not politically (and that is the focus of this post).

  4. I may have missed it in the piece, but not only would the Republican plan be worse for Estes, she was worse off *before* the ACA! If she thinks her deductible is bad on the Silver plan, deductibles on affordable catastrophic plans are far worse.

    I'm fascinated by articles like these. But I always want to know more. Not only would it be interesting to hear her reason for not signing up for Obamacare. What would she like instead?

    She was listening to conservative radio, which explains a lot. What is her news diet? What do her friends listen to and read?

  5. This is what happens when you have a bunch of people systematically spending billions of dollars over the course of multiple decades with the explicit intention of causing americans to believe things that aren't so. With no well-coordinated countervailing propaganda effort, or even efforts to maintain the notion of critical thinking. (The number is probably in the low tens of billions — the washington times, a minor cog in the machine, was somewhere between $2 and $3 billion in direct subsidies, for example.)

    I'm also not at all sure what to do about it, but I fear in another few decades it will be moot.

  6. I wrote this last week but figured I'd plant it here as well since it's relevant:

    I worked tonight with an undocumented mother of two young boys, one of whom has a severe disability and is getting life-changing treatment from us. She was nervous, worried. Her older son doesn't know if she will be home for him when he returns from school each day. Her younger son is mercifully unaware.

    But he is now talking, learning, playing – all things that he would never have been able to do without the intensive medical treatment he receives. If his mother were to be deported, his treatment would end, and their lives would forever be altered.

    These people are not "illegals". They are some of my favorite clients. Wonderful, kind, and incredibly committed to being the best they can be. Borders are complex, and ought not be drawn in black and white. Who among us would not do everything for our children? Remember this next time people talk about "self-deportation", or "getting in line", or "securing our borders". I for one, see things profoundly differently.

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