There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken in the flood, Leads to the Presidency of the United States.
Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar” (bewilderised)
“Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry.
I like making deals, preferably big deals. That is how I get my kicks.”
Donald Trump, “The Art of the Deal”
Obamacare (the nickname for The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,) was signed into law by President Barack Obama, on March 23, 2010, in the midst of bitter denunciations by the opposing Republican Party. Though it was Obama’s signal achievement, Obamacare was an anathema to the Republicans, its animosity repeatedly expressed in the period 2010-2015. They twice questioned the legal validity of Obamacare with the Supreme Court, and attempted to overturn it 45 times in the legislature, but failed on all occasions. The election of 2016 was a turning point. Obama was debarred from contesting, because of term limits. The Democratic Party lost to the Republican nominee - Donald Trump. The Republican Party, now, controlled both legislatures and the White House, for the first time since 2003-2007. The abolition of Obamacare was priority No. 1 in the Republican manifesto, re-stated by Trump at his inauguration. For all intents and purposes Obamacare was dead under the Republicans: only a requiem awaited it.
The Republican Party got onto the demolition job fast. A Bill to repeal and replace Obamacare was presented to the House on March 23, 2016, spitefully, on the very day in 2010 that Obamacare first saw the light of day. (Ironically, it was also the 60th day of Trump assuming duties as President of the US) Then, a miracle occurred. A miracle is where natural laws are suspended and a non-natural law prevails.
The, so far implacable and determined anti-Obamacare Republicans, split on ideological grounds. One significant segment of this split, the extreme Right, considered repeal and replacement proposals not sufficient enough, the other, considered them too radical. Some may even attribute divine providence for this split. The Republicans were now placed in the position of the seducer, who had courted a married woman without success. Suddenly, he inexplicably found himself welcome. At the much awaited tryst, though all ardent, he could not rise to the occasion! For the seducer, it was all talk and no action.
Trump, lacking a majority in the House, withdrew the amending Bill, his proposals being trumped by ideology. The date for the prospective assassination of Obamacare- fixed on its birthday- became the date of its resurrection. Trump was petulant: he blamed parental Democrats for not supporting the infanticide and everyone else answerable except himself. He did not appear much of a deal maker nor a manager either: a manager takes responsibility for failure, not blame and abuse all and sundry for it. Trump writes that he gets his kicks from making deals. As he had failed, he should deliver himself a kingsized kick.
An article, under the title “Trumperary”, appeared 50 days after Trump took oaths, as the 45th President of the United States (US). Trump was nominated the candidate of the Republican Party for the Presidency, after a hectic winnowing battle, in which he saw off seventeen contending candidates from his party. He was an outlier of the Republican Party, one who was in it but not of it, a Premadasa, not a Dudley Senanayake. In the final contest against the nominee of the Democratic Party, he prevailed. But his victory exposed a fatal flaw, his relationships with different parts of the Republican Party - never the warmest,- started getting questioned, first covertly then overtly. With the withdrawal of the Bill, the knives are out. It would be wise for him to get his hulu attha ready (lighted torch). In what turned out to be, in effect, a binna marriage, there was a good possibility of him getting binned.
Trump parlayed a parental endowment of US$ One million, to become a billionaire. He is an alumnus of the prestigious Wharton School which has the same reputation for business studies as that of Harvard. Trump built a conglomerate of business ventures with a wide portfolio of activities. In an interesting comparison with Tamil Nadu, he was also a TV star - having portrayed a CEO in a 10-year hit, “The Apprentice”. He had never held elected political office, the Presidency of the US being his first. He may be a good businessman, though he had declared bankruptcy five times, but, would he be a good politician? Signs are not propitious. The job description of a businessman is different from that of a politician.
The Republican and Democratic Parties represent opposite philosophies on public governance. Broadly speaking, the Democratic Party is centre and marginally left of centre. The Republican Party is extreme right with a sliver of centre - right softening. The Democratic Party is socially oriented while the Republican Party is individually oriented. The litmus test of their affiliations is Obamacare, those against it were Republican, those for it were Democrat. In Sri Lanka, health care is free, anyone needing health attention could have recourse to State health providing institutions. In the US, health care has to be paid for.
This payment is through insurance. Obamacare, subsidises the insurance premia of means-tested deserving cases. The Republicans, seeing no reason for society to provide it, argue that health is a private burden, which should be borne by those who are afflicted. The consumers of health services need to meet their own costs. The centre point of Republican policy is that Obamacare, which provides for social financing of health care, should be abolished.
The Republican policy is based on ideology. Ideology is a mental construct, a system of ideas which explains and lends legitimacy to actions and beliefs of a social, religious, political or corporate entity. Ideology has been a motor force in Sri Lankan history since independence. The ideology of the LSSP, the first political Party in Sri Lanka created in 1935 (the mother LSSP), was decisively influenced by Marxist-Leninism. The founding manifesto had 17 demands. Splittism, is the bane of ideologically based political parties. This mother party later split to a variety of parties with a bewildering alphabet of initials, CP, NLSSP, VLSSP, JVP, LSSP (R) etc. But all shared the core beliefs of the mother party, a society should be humane and not be sacrificed on the cross of the GDP. This ideology is so pervasive that the two governing parties- the SLFP and the UNP- subscribe to it. Though the mother LSSP is no longer a presence in Sri Lanka, all its founding demands had got implemented. Though the replacement of Obamacare was trumped by ideology, Sri Lanka triumphed through ideology. The Republican Party in the US is now faced with the same malady of splittism, which led to the defeat of the replacement law.
Trump took over the Presidency with four policies to be implemented. These were, deal with Obamacare, tax reform, massive infrastructure development (including the Mexican wall,) trade policy. Of these, abolishing Obamacare took precedence, since it was felt that its success would lever success in others too. In politics, nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. With Trump’s inability to get the replacement of Obamacare passed, the future of the other three policies is at risk. Prediction is a hazardous business, never more so than when it attempts to foretell the future.
Jolly Somasundram, a former member of the Ceylon Civil services, was an ex - Director of the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA).