In this hyper-charged political environment, we’ve heard that criticism of the President is treason, opposition is partisan posturing, election campaigns never end, and the news media are biased and they can’t be trusted. It’s no wonder that many Americans have just given up in disgust about the news out of Washington – even up here in Midcoast Maine, where it all can seem so far away.

But unfortunately, we can’t afford to turn a blind eye. The stakes are too high and we’ll all pay the price for our elected leaders’ incompetence and venality. Our former governor, Paul LePage, likes to brag that he was “Trump before Trump,” but he left a legacy of underfunded schools, faltering social service programs, and crumbling infrastructure. He also left us with high property taxes to pay for education and heavy government debt, because now we must borrow money for basic services. The worst of his legacy is another generation of Mainers who face a bleak future.

I’ve read claims in this newspaper that “median household income is up, unemployment is at an all-time low, and the economy, by any measure, is booming. Times are good, and the conservative platform of support for traditional Medicare, private health insurance, and Medicaid for the neediest presents a workable way forward.”

I don’t know what planet that writer lives on, but it doesn’t orbit close to Midcoast Maine. Median household income here has not kept pace with inflation for years. So many children in Rockland schools are eligible for free and reduced lunches that the school district is considering starting an after-school meal program for entire families. Apparently, our moderate current governor and legislators were moved to pass a law last June accepting federal funds for the additional meals.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need government money to help families feed their children. Jobs would pay enough so that working parents could cover their rent or mortgage, put food on their table, and still afford decent health care. But our system rewards the rich, not middle or lower-income people. The 2017 Republican tax cuts are a great example.

Seasonal unemployment may be low, but so are wages. The median income in Rockland is $41,000, which is not enough to support a family of four. Young people often leave our underfunded school system unprepared for high-wage jobs. Many of those who could fill those jobs move south, where wages are higher. The result is that about 20 per cent of the children in Knox County live in poverty, which means they’re food insecure, their health is likely to be compromised, and their housing is unstable.

Medicaid contractors like United Health Care know that a small percentage of their clients use a disproportionate share of emergency health services. Private insurers lose money on them. UHC noticed that many of these people were homeless or had insecure housing, so they decided to experiment: maybe if the company paid for housing and case management, poor people would stay healthier.

UHC has been running pilot programs in Camden, New Jersey and Phoenix, Arizona, and so far, the results are good. Maybe even a win-win: people in stable housing, with some supports, are healthier and more successful. And the company will soon make money on them again.

Still, it’s hard to swallow the thought that private insurers are charging us to provide services that government could provide for less! Our political system has found a way for them to make money off of homelessness and its consequences.

For the last 40 years, we’ve been tricked into believing that “government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.” It’s a lot easier to get re-elected when you tell your voters that you’ll lower their taxes, or at least you won’t raise them. We’ve forgotten Abraham Lincoln (that famous socialist) who said, “Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves.”

Privatizing basic government responsibilities like health care and affordable housing hasn’t worked in Maine or anyplace else. Until all children receive high quality public education, all families live in decent housing and can put food on the table, and can use efficient public transportation to get to their jobs, we haven’t done things better for ourselves. I challenge anyone who believes that capitalism has been a success for all Americans to volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter. Talk to people who aren’t rich enough to get tax breaks or hold stock portfolios. They’ll tell you.

This column is a project of the Midcoast Branch of the Southern Maine Chapter of the Democratic Socialist of America. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors.