The new year brings the new Congress. But I have no idea right now if that means that some, or all, or none of this plan will be repealed. I have no idea if ten years from now my current doctor will be allowed to keep the patients he’s now got (even if he wants to), or if I will be able to choose which doctor I see (which I do want to), or who will decide who will or must pay what to whom, whether for insurance, or for actual medical services, or for professional advice or bureaucratic diktats on how to navigate the two. I have no idea if the good, attentive care that bought my father four precious years of life in his fight with terminal cancer will still be available, or if we will be living in the world of British health care — where my husband’s mother thought she had cancer, but was left to wait so many months for a scan that she died of that cancer before her appointment came due. I simply have no idea.
Nor do I know what to expect on taxes — except that someone is going to have to pay off the titanic debts run up in our name by Washington. Like other Americans who work for a living, I was left guessing until well into December what my income tax rate would be when the new year dawned. I have no idea if we are heading for a system in which it will become financially pointless to put in the extra effort to earn a bit more income. I have no idea whether I will ever get back any of the money that over the years the government has required me to pay into Social Security and Medicare — though once upon a time the rationale for all that was that the government would do a better job than I could of keeping that money safe for my old age. Nor do I know if the government will refrain from a grab for private retirement savings accounts, which not so long ago seemed a safe fallback if Social Security went bust. With our government’s insatiable appetite for money, and the Fed’s apparent willingness to keep creating it, I don’t know whether the dollar is still a safe currency. I can learn a lot on the internet, but with government regulators closing in on that, I no longer have even a ballpark sense of how much that internet access might ultimately cost, or how open and easy a medium it will remain. For that matter, I don’t know if some years down the road there will be a de facto “carbon” tax on the air I breathe, or a United Nations-spawned U.S.-adopted gag on what was once my American right to free speech. Nor – lest we forget — do I have any idea whether to expect that my next trip to the airport will be a perfectly reasonable experience, or a humiliating grope from which I may not legally retreat once it has begun.
In sum, if my uncertainties are in any way typical — and I think many of them are — then in one area after another that has an enormous effect on how we live, work, communicate and plan our futures, a lot of working Americans are living with a staggering degree of uncertainty right now. This is not the exhilarating uncertainty of entrepreneurship, of exploring new frontiers, or taking calculated risks in hope of rewards. It is uncertainty of a very unpleasant and debilitating kind — in which you’re never quite sure what might be taken from you next. This is not due solely to the vagaries of the individual human condition, or the ructions of a restless world. Larded on top of that right now are the uncertainties created by our own government — which increasingly demands that we, the people, trust that the ever more labyrinthine and severe strictures and demands imposed on us from above are all for our collective good, and if we just have faith, it will all sort itself out to salubrious effect in the end.
All this ignores or denigrates the real leap of faith that made America great: Faith in the idea that Americans, left individually free to choose and held responsible for their choices, will work wonders both for themselves and — thanks to the marketplace — for others, in ways that no amount of government planning ever could. In Washington, even the most freedom-loving members of the new Congress will soon be hearing siren calls to abandon that trust. My own act of faith right now is to believe it is among those who manage to resist that Americans will be looking for their next true leader.