Opinion

Opinion

Editorials of The Times

Posted June 11, 2018 9:15 p.m. EDT

America Isolated

When Vladimir Putin ordered his hackers to surreptitiously help Donald Trump in the presidential race, he could hardly have anticipated that once in office, Trump would so outrageously, destructively and thoroughly alienate America’s closest neighbors and allies as he did at the Group of 7 meeting in Canada. The lame explanation from Trump’s courtiers, that he needed to look tough for his meeting with Kim Jong Un, made matters worse by implying that he felt he needed to publicly kick friends aside to impress a murderous dictator.

Nations represented at the meeting — and especially Canada, whose prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was personally insulted in a way defying basic social norms — reacted with horror and dismay. International diplomacy cannot be conducted by “fits of anger,” said President Emmanuel Macron of France, who Trump only recently embraced in Washington. “In a matter of seconds, you can destroy trust with 280 Twitter characters," said the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas. Editorials were less restrained: “When roused, we don’t roll over at the request of an insulting bully, no matter how big,” hissed Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Indeed, the Group of 7 was just the kind of forum a bully like Trump cannot abide, not out of geopolitical considerations, but because he cannot dominate and preen. He knew he would be on the defensive — over backing out of the Paris environment accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and now over the tariffs he slapped on European and Canadian steel and aluminum — so he made a point of being late, acting petulant, leaving early and lashing out at Trudeau.

That behavior, at a meeting intended to project a unified front on the major economic issues of the day, seemed to summarize all the damage and insults Trump has thrown at the community of democratic nations. The allies had been wary of Trump from the outset, given his aversion to international organizations and multilateral trade agreements, his conviction that the United States is being ripped off by its military allies and trade partners, and his impatience for the details of foreign affairs. But there was a lingering hope, most recently demonstrated by Macron’s chummy state visit to Washington, that he would respond to old allies and grow into his office.

But no. Instead, as photographs from the Quebec resort showed, Trump faced the other leaders with arms defiantly crossed and face locked in a pout. It was a confirmation that so long as Trump is in the White House, and maybe beyond that, something fundamental in the community of Western democracies will be missing. America, the leader of the free world and the architect of so much of the modern world order, had decided to go its own way.

For the six other Group of 7 nations, this must be a time of resolve and unity. For Americans, it’s past time to recognize that this president has transformed “America First” into “America Alone,” and that this is the last place a great and powerful nation wants to be.

The Health Care Stalkers

Democrats hoping to make health care a centerpiece of midterm election campaigns just got a gift from the Trump administration. Not only has the Justice Department declined to defend the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican-led states, but it’s also arguing for the repeal of enormously popular consumer protections, including coverage of pre-existing conditions.

These benighted moves come at a time when voters everywhere rank health care as their chief concern, and a majority say they favor fixing the current law over repealing it, after years of futile Republican efforts to do the latter.

The lawsuit, filed in February, hinges on the statute’s “individual mandate,” which requires everyone — the healthy and the less so — to buy insurance as a way to help keep prices down. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that Congress couldn’t order people to buy coverage but could impose a tax penalty on those who didn’t. Then, in last year’s tax bill, Congress eliminated the financial penalty. Without the penalty, the plaintiffs argue, the mandate is no longer constitutional. And without the mandate, they say, the rest of the law can no longer legally stand.

The Justice Department last week stopped short of fully agreeing with that rationale, saying that some of the law’s provisions, like the Medicaid expansion that brought coverage to nearly 12 million low-income Americans, could stand without the penalty, but that the court should strike down key consumer protections at the law’s core.

Such protections prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions or from charging such people more for coverage. The rules, which protect some 52 million Americans, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, are far and away the law’s most popular features; a 2016 poll by the same organization found that 75 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans support them. But, in a letter to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his department could think of no rational argument with which to defend them.

They’re not thinking hard enough. Sessions would do well to read the legal filings of 16 Democratic state attorneys general who have stepped in to do his job for him. Led by Xavier Becerra of California, they make a persuasive case, echoing sentiments expressed by legal observers on both sides, that the suit is absurd.

Sessions’ supporters have compared his stance to the Obama administration’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011. But the two aren’t equivalent. Challenges to the marriage law raised fundamental questions about who we are as a people, and what we want the Constitution to stand for. The Justice Department made the case, later accepted by the Supreme Court, that American society had evolved to the point where denying federally protected marriage rights to same-sex couples was discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.

The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, has withstood numerous legal challenges in the eight years since it became law, including two at the Supreme Court. The current lawsuit against it hinges not on big questions of equality and justice, but on a technicality.

If that technicality were to carry the day, insurance companies could once again deny coverage, or charge much more for it, to people who have battled cancer, or are pregnant, or who have diabetes, or a heart condition, or arthritis. There’s no clear-cut definition of “pre-existing condition,” so this list goes on and on, affecting Americans of all political stripes. And even if the current law prevails in court, at least some damage will already have been done; uncertainty created by the Justice Department’s stance will almost certainly lead to higher premiums for Americans.

Add this latest move to a growing list of similar efforts — eliminating the mandate tax penalty to begin with, allowing more short-term plans on the market — and it becomes clear where the administration’s priorities lie: not in helping more Americans get good health care, not even in supporting the will of the people, but in dismantling what some political opponents built, just for the sake of doing so.

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