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Who wrote the book on Trumpcare?

Jack Van Ens

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” President John F. Kennedy declared in an inspiring 1961 inaugural address. Many Americans stamped this challenge on their hearts. Patriotic citizens swore by it when they applied for the Peace Corps.

Others swore at this challenge to share our national prosperity, such as free-market advocate Ayn Rand. Siding with her, GOP economist Milton Friedman in the first sentence of his book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” slammed Kennedy. Rand and Friedman warned that such an ethic of benevolent lending and sharing pushed America towards socialism. Rand went so far as to write an essay in which she linked Kennedy’s and Hitler’s speeches, which she thought led citizens to sell their souls to state-sponsored Peace Corps types of service.

Many 1960s conservatives praised Rand. They treated her book, “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) as a secular Bible. Still widely read today, this best-seller pits free-market capitalism against Russian communism.

Rand hated communism and Christianity because both weakened self-reliance. Russian socialism practices political slavery in which each citizen’s self is sacrificed for what the government demands. Rand accused Jesus and Roman Catholic President John F. Kennedy of the same blunder. They sacrificed a firm reliance on self to serve the needs of others, she griped.

“I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion,” Rand asserted at the end of her first entry in a 1934 journal of philosophical musings.

Most GOP conservatives in the 1960s looked the other way when she attacked Christianity. Embracing her free-market capitalism, conservatives put up with Rand’s anti-religion diatribes.

“Like Nietzsche, Rand intended to challenge Christianity,” reports biographer Jennifer Burns. “She shared the philosopher’s belief that Christian ethics were destructive to self-hood, making life ‘flat, gray, empty, lacking all beauty, all fire, all enthusiasm, all meaning, all creative urge.’ She also had a more specific critique, writing that Christianity ‘is the best kindergarten of communism possible.’” Rand treated Christianity as the seedbed in which Communism grew.

Christianity teaches that devotion to God is derived from placing communal good before self. This is the duty Christians practice. Conservatives opted to follow Rand rather than Jesus.

“Christianity taught believers to put others before self, an ethical mandate that matched the collective emphasis of the group over the individual. Thus, a new system of individualist, non-Christian ethics was needed to prevent the triumph of Communism” (Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, pp. 42-43, 2009). Because Christianity replaced bloated self with humble service toward others, Rand rejected it.

Her fingerprints are all over the American Health Care Act Trump withdrew, along with its updated versions. Who are medical insurance winners? Citizens who work hard, benefit from free-market economics and earn enough to pay premiums. Why aren’t the wealthy asked to pay more, so those of less financial means are able to get health care?

Who are the losers? Older Americans who must pay higher premiums, others cut down by deteriorating health and still more poor citizens whose Medicaid benefits are slashed.

Who idolizes Ayn Rand? Her philosophy shaped House Speaker Paul Ryan in his youth. He ignores the fact that his Roman Catholic faith contradicts Rand’s brand of philosophy she called Objectivism.

Because the self is most important for Rand, citizens must take care of themselves through individual effort that brings financial rewards. House Speaker Ryan promotes Trumpcare health policies, sounding like the title of Rand’s second non-fiction book, “The Virtue of Selfishness.” She warns against “the draining, exploitation and destruction of those who are able to pay the costs of maintaining a civilized society, in favor of those who are unable or unwilling to pay the cost of maintaining their own existence.” Let the little guy go without health care if the state provides it, is Rand’s bias.

Let’s unpack this selfish view. Hangers-on stay on the government’s dole, but self-made citizens who utilize free-enterprise pay their own way. Health care goes to those who help themselves.

Paul Ryan and born-again GOP colleagues need to read the Bible as if for the first time. The Gospel challenges Christians to help vulnerable people. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet prior to his crucifixion. He instructed them to help the weak, the disabled, the elderly and the needy. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash another’s feet,” taught Jesus (John 13:14).

As they re-design Trumpcare, House Speaker Ryan and his Christian friends would benefit from a “come to Jesus” conversion. Health care is more than a privilege the wealthy afford.

“Health care may not be a human right,” concludes George W. Bush’s speech writer David Frum in the March 24, 2017 issue of Atlantic magazine, “but the lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unjustifiable and unnecessary human wrong.”

Retreat from Rand and Ryan. Rivet your sight on Jesus. Ask what you can do for others.

The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, (http://www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.


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