Tough table topics

Dear President Trump,

I’m guessing you and yours aren’t exactly looking forward to the big day tomorrow with all its focus on what one is thankful for. I bet most people at the table will drink too much and will laugh too loudly in their efforts to offset grumpy you (or really, freaked out you). Sadly though, you can still thank your lucky stars for the 250 stalwart Republican members of the House (197) and the Senate (53) who will do anything, absolutely anything, to shield you from removal. If they thought it would help, they’d probably be willing to build a booger wall around you and be filmed mining the building materials. It’s that bad. They are that craven.

But you aren’t the only one around who’s likely to have a stressful Thanksgiving and most of us don’t have 250 pals willing to throw themselves and their integrity into the breech to protect us. Many of us are going to hold our breath too long as we sit stiffly waiting to see if Aunt Heloise or Uncle Burt will add to the Trump-250 Wall by mouthing what they’ve heard on Fox & Friends. And then when they do, we’ll have internal battles and a lot of cross-table glares and headshakes over whether to say something in a righteous attempt to defend the truth or to stay silent in the interest of superficial peace. Either option will be fraught since most mere mortals don’t have the will or the skill to navigate these political and existential landmines with grace. Yes, there are still wise ones among us who can use a well-timed joke to ease the tension, but most of us are so raw and fed up (on both sides), that we either want to tune out completely or we want a good brawl.

I bet movie box offices will be doing a booming business tomorrow as families opt for the tune out path. And sadly, I also think ER’s will be doing a booming business patching up those who go the brawl route and those who go too far on the tune out path (e.g., overdoses, alcohol poisoning).

Which brings me to the JAMA mortality paper that was released yesterday (Woolf & Schoomaker, 2019; you can download a copy on the JAMA website). Did you see it? Do you give a rat’s ass about US mortality rates? Do you have anyone in your administration to boil it down for you if you do pretend to care? If so, you’ll probably seize on the finding that the downward trend in life expectancy started in 2011 during President Obama’s first term in office and claim that he is to blame.

You’ll miss that these trends have been decades in the making. You’ll miss that they are tied in with tax structures that have historically aided and abetted the oil and gas industry, big tobacco, the pharmaceutical industry, big agriculture, and the alcohol industry. You’ll miss that the mortality trends have very similar time courses as the growth in income inequality (also tied to our messed up tax structures). You’ll miss that the largest jump in excess mortality was among those ages 25 to 34, where the increase from 2010 to 2017 was 29%. You’ll miss the fact that ‘there is something terribly wrong,’ as the study’s lead author was quoted in the WP article.

The JAMA paper cites a sobering analysis suggesting that even if we turn around the mortality trends, at the rate we were going before the downturn, it will take us over a century to catch up with where other high-income countries were in 2016 with regards to longevity.

In other words the system is not working for the vast majority of us. I don’t know whether we’ll wake up and throw off our dopey malaise to insist on a Government that we can be thankful for, but I’m going to keep sounding the alarm and attempting to connect the dots since sitting still and being quiet is not my strong suit.

May we get serious about everyone’s safety.
May we get serious about everyone’s happiness.
May we get serious about everyone’s health.
May we not make peace with the current messed up system.

Tracy Simpson

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