Donald Trump has had the urge to crush many things, including the last election. So I must admit I found it eerily amusing that, when the FBI entered his estate at Mar-a-Lago recently, they did so under a warrant authorized by the Espionage Act of 1917. History certainly has a strange way of returning in our world and also of crushing alternatives. Whatever Trump did, that act has a sorry track record in both its own time and ours when it has been used, including by his administration, to silence the leakers of government information. And because my latest book, American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and America’s Forgotten Crisis, is about the crushing of alternatives a century ago in this country, in the midst of all this, I couldn’t help thinking about a part of our history that The Donald would undoubtedly have been the first to crush, if he had the chance.
But let me start with a personal event closer to the present. While visiting Denmark recently, I developed an infection in my hand and wanted to see a doctor. The hotel in the provincial city where I was staying directed me to a local hospital. I was quickly shown into a consulting room, where a nurse questioned me and told me to wait. Only a few minutes passed before a physician entered the room, examined me, and said in excellent English, yes, indeed, I did need an antibiotic. He promptly swiveled in his chair, opened a cabinet behind him, took out a bottle of pills, handed it to me, and told me to take two a day for 10 days. When I thanked him and asked where I should go to pay for the consultation and the medicine, he responded simply, “We have no facilities for that.”
No facilities for that.
It’s a phrase that comes back to me every time I’m reminded how, in the world’s richest nation, we still don’t have full national health insurance. And that’s far from the only thing we’re missing. In a multitude of ways, we’re known for having a far weaker social safety net than many other wealthy countries and behind that lies a history in which the Espionage Act played a crucial role….