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The Main Mental Health Issue in This Country Is in the Republican Party

Now Republicans swear they’re going to address mental health. How dumb do they think the American people are?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference about the mass shooting at Uvalde High School.
Yazin Ozturk/Getty Images
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference about the mass shooting at Uvalde High School.

So the new con job is mental health. Suddenly, Republicans are raising a hue and cry about getting serious about mental health. Really? How dumb do they think people are?

Here is a list of how each state allocates funding on mental health care. Before you click, just hazard a guess: Of the top 10 states, how many are red? Likewise, how many of the bottom 10 are red? And where do you imagine Texas ranks?

If you don’t feel like floating down that rabbit hole, I’ll save you the trouble. The top 10 states are: Maine, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Montana, Vermont, California, Maryland. One red state in the bunch (yes, Arizona is borderline, but it went Democratic in 2020). The bottom 10, from forty-first to fiftieth, are: Florida, Wyoming, North Dakota, Delaware, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Idaho, West Virginia, Arkansas. One blue state.

And Texas—where that lying death cultist of a governor vows to attack the scourge of mental illness with a zeal unmatched since Wayne LaPierre took his last trip to Zegna—just misses the bottom 10, in fortieth place. I doubt I even need to point out (although for the record I will) that Greg Abbott and the state’s Republicans have been cutting mental health funding, by more than $200 million over the last two years.

Surely no one in America is stupid enough to fall for this. Donald Trump talking about mental health at his NRA speech? I can’t imagine that when he was president, Trump spent literally one minute thinking about mental illness (even as he spent every minute embodying it). He also cut mental health funding. He did issue a pandemic-related mental health executive order—one month before the election.

And please do not forget this most salient fact of all: There has been one major expansion of mental health spending and coverage in recent American history. It was called the Affordable Care Act. The ACA’s impact on the country’s mental health has been salutary, according to this Commonwealth Fund report. The change has been particularly striking in states that accepted the new Medicaid funding.

I know I need hardly remind you, but again, for the record: Only one Republican in the House or Senate voted for it—Representative Anh “Joseph” Cao, who served for one term in a bluish Louisiana district (actually, he voted for it in November 2009 when the House passed its version, but by the time of the final passage vote the next March, Cao voted no). The GOP then spent years trying to repeal and “replace” it. Trump also wanted it repealed. So the sole major expansion of mental health coverage in this century was contained in a bill whose passage every Republican in Washington opposed and on which most Republican governors have refused to participate in the state-level implementation. Come to think of it, probably the sole reason the red state of Montana ranks in the top 10 on mental health spending is that the state took the Medicaid expansion money under former Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

Republicans are not going to expand mental health funding. Mental health care is for sissies and liberals. The only thing they’re going to expand is access to guns. We know this because recent history tells us so. Last week in Vox, Zack Beauchamp posted a shocking but not surprising report on academic studies of legislative responses at the state level to mass shootings. The finding? The norm in this country has been that mass shootings have been used by state legislatures and governors as an excuse to loosen gun laws, not tighten them. This is our country.

Right now, laws in many states allow for the arming of teachers. They don’t mandate it. I would expect that’s where we’re headed, at least in some states, even as literally 95 percent of teachers in one poll said they oppose being armed. It’s total madness.

In addition, there are two Clinton-era federal laws declaring schools gun-free zones. If the Republicans take over the House, they’re not going to have much of a legislative “agenda” beyond impeaching Joe Biden and getting to the bottom of the national crisis swirling around the question of why Hunter Biden’s canvases fetch such handsome prices, but I would expect that maybe they’ll repeal those federal laws and pass something getting us closer to their “Bushmaster in every classroom” fever dreams.

This is a sickness. And remember, Republicans and the NRA are not content with the status quo. Not by a long shot. The NRA has an endless list of “gun freedom” laws it wants to see passed in the states and in Washington. It wants no rules, period. I was talking with an old friend from West Virginia Sunday night. He knows a couple serious gun people, and he was telling me that they were comparing for him a typical gun show in West Virginia versus one in Kentucky. In West Virginia, the sellers at least demand to see your driver’s license and ask a couple questions. In Kentucky, my friend said these guys told him, the only question you get at a gun show is: How much cash do you have?

That’s Mitch McConnell’s state. The Washington Post reported over the weekend how McConnell has blocked vote after vote on gun safety. If he’s back in charge of the Senate next year, he’ll keep that grim, blood-soaked record intact. And he and his party will do nothing on mental health. How many children will have to die before a handful of Republicans will join Democrats to pass a sensible law or two? Whatever the answer is, it’s a ghastly and indefensible number. But I fear the real answer is that we’ll never know, because they never will.