They came by the thousands (1100 on the first of three days), out of the dark mountain hollows where they live, the sick and the lame and the hurting, the half-blind and half-deaf, drawn by a once-a-year chance to be given something they could never afford to buy for themselves: relief from their afflictions. They came in derelict, rattletrap, rusted cars and trucks, they came one or two days early and slept in their vehicles or in the fields to assure a place in line for a slightly better life. Then they stood in lines hundreds and hundreds of people long, waiting like so many beasts of burden to be allotted a few minutes on a folding cot in a cattle barn to have teeth pulled, lesions sliced off, blood drawn, tests administered.
These are not Haitians, or Yemenis, or Venezuelans, not denizens of some failed state in some poverty-ravaged, storm-lashed, drought-stricken country. These are citizens of the United States of America, which claims to be the richest (on average) country in the world (actually, the US is number 13, well behind Ireland, for example) and to have the world’s finest health care system (No again, that would be Denmark).
As they congregated in Wise, Virginia (tucked into the farthest southwest corner of the state) last weekend, the United States Senate and the Trump Administration was laboring mightily to drop them from Medicaid, the only coverage any of them has, which in any case does not provide dental care, eyeglasses or hearing aids. (With one notable exception: US Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was working as a volunteer in the registration tent, something he has done every year this clinic has been held.)
The charity behind this annual free clinic (and many others around the world), Remote Area Medical, was founded by Stan Brock. He’s British. “This organisation was designed to parachute into the most God-awful places, he said. “I expected to see stuff like this in South Sudan and Haiti, but it’s right here in the United States of America.” What further “drives me up the wall,” he told The Telegraph, is that most of these people blame former President Obama for their troubles and believe President Trump is coming to save them. Obama, who got tens of millions of them covered by Medicaid, and Trump, who seeks to expel them.
If you want to read details or see pictures of this horrid event, you will find them in British or Australian publications, or in the hyper-local press. There were no CNN cameras present, no world weary anchor babes to pretend empathy.
I have been a professional writer my whole life, and I have no idea what words to use to describe a country that has deliberately turned over the misery and illness and diseases and injuries of its people to be profit centers for voracious and amoral industrialists. To say such a country has descended to Third World status would be to offer a mortal insult to the entire Third World.