It’s now been 25 years, 3 months, and 3 days since Ronald Reagan left office. Unfortunately for us, society is still feeling the effects of his reign of terror. The gradual erosion of Glass-Steagall effected by those following his brand of fiscal conservatism has cost this country untold trillions, and the impact of the republican war on the people (what they like to refer to as “strict social order”) has resulted in the incarceration of an ever growing and unprecedentedly large portion of the population. And all you need to do to see it is walk down the street. That is particularly easy to do where I currently live. The worst hit by the disaster that is conservatism are of course the areas deluded enough to vote for it.
I was walking in town one day when I met - well, I should say observed - the pauper to which my title refers. He was sitting in an over-sized planter and pointed at people while muttering to himself. Apparently, I was the only human being walking around that found this odd at all. So, I went to say hello. He didn’t seem to be cognizant enough to realize that I was trying to speak with him. I still wanted to know what was going on and decided the next best way to understand would be to take a seat at a nearby bench and see if I could glean any information while “checking my phone.” His muttering was the story of each person he had pointed at. One had stolen his identity in 1986, one was a rapist, and another was simply a “smartass.” The situation may sound entertaining, but ultimately I was here observing a human being who obviously needed mental help but that was totally unaware of his surroundings, other than of course the stories of those passing by. I didn’t quite know what to do. I’d never removed a homeless person from a planter before, and probably wasn’t qualified to deal with the situation. So I went into the store right behind him to see if anyone had offered to help him contact the local shelter. They had to no avail. He was a regular of that flower pot.
So how does this all tie into Reagan and the misinformed approach to economics known as “fiscal conservatism?” Yes, the destruction of banking regulations has cost the economy. That most certainly plays a part. And of course, the incarceration of our citizens for non-violent crimes contributes to the problem. We know that. Republican policies cost the economy. But the link is more direct than that. The United States once had a fairly expansive and public mental health system. But it was a flawed system. Abuse was rampant, and those in the industry generally agreed that far too many people were not only being abused but being institutionalized against their will. The mental health profession and the general population alike knew that the system was deeply flawed. So reform started. At first, the focus was moved from state institutions to local community centers (all federally and locally funded) that treated people. It was a promising new beginning for those suffering mental illness. But then, the fiscal conservatives caught on and eventually they took away the funding. Reagan lead the charge and destroyed the mental health system as it was. Thousands of mentally ill people were released from institutions and denied care. At the same time, he made it much easier to imprison someone. Homelessness skyrocketed and the social contract was rewritten. After all, in a conservative’s mind, there is no place for responsibility. Most mental health professionals will tell you that these policy decisions were a mistake and they are correct. This man would be receiving professional, compassionate care instead of sitting in a flower pot had the country gone blue in 1980. But it didn’t. It went red. Because of that, there’s not much we can do to help this man or the thousands of others like him. That unfortunate truth is something that this country should be ashamed of.
But, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope. The ACA has dramatically improved access to mental health professionals and smart, blue policies are being proposed every day to address the issue. Every time you vote blue, you bring us one step closer to a more perfect union. Just remember that your vote counts.