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Giving birth to a daughter in Trump’s America has shattered my belief in social progress

My daughter was one of four million babies born last year in the US, the most dangerous country in the developed world to give birth.

It fills me with bitter sadness that my daughter, my first child, was born under a president who is an open misogynist, who brags about sexual assault, who responds to criticism with sexist slurs and whose policies will harm large numbers of women. I had not believed that Donald Trump could be elected, in part because I had long harboured an optimism that with each new generation the world was becoming a more progressive and tolerant place. How naive and complacent I was.

My daughter was born last March and I marvelled at the determination with which she rooted for milk and gripped my finger, and then learned to hold her head up, to propel herself forward, to stand tall. And I found myself worrying: when would someone first make her feel smaller because she is a girl? When will someone first make her feel vulnerable, first make her scared? How can I prepare her for the demeaning remarks and furtive gropes that women have learned to laugh off and shake off, and the incidents we just can’t? How can I teach her when to be fearless, and when to trust her fear?

My daughter was one of four million babies born last year in Trump’s America, the most dangerous country in the developed world to give birth. The US maternal mortality rate is the highest in the OECD – and rising. Childbirth kills between 700 and 800 women a year here. The US spends more on healthcare per capita than any other country, but funds are unevenly distributed. In a medical system that regularly overlooks maternal health, women of all classes and ethnic backgrounds die from preventable complications, but the inequalities are stark: black mothers are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers.

Almost half of births in the US are paid for by Medicaid, the state-funded healthcare system for people with low incomes and no private health insurance. During Trump’s first year in office the Republicans have fought unsuccessfully to shrink Medicaid and roll back Obama-era reforms that protect women and newborns, such as regulation to stop insurers refusing to cover pregnant women, or selling healthcare plans that do not cover prenatal care and childbirth. Without health insurance, mothers can expect medical bills of $30,000 to $50,000 to have a baby.

Just under half of pregnancies in the US are “unintended”: where the woman became pregnant earlier than planned or had not wanted to have a child. The Trump administration has launched multiple attacks on women’s reproductive choices. Only swift legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union thwarted attempts by officials to block four teenagers in immigration detention from obtaining abortions. One of them had been raped. And last year, Republicans threatened to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, an organisation that provides millions of women with access to contraception, cancer screening, STI tests and abortions. This is more than an assault on individual freedom. When women have children before they are ready, they are more likely to suffer from medical problems. Their babies are more likely to be born underweight and less likely to receive adequate prenatal care. Unintended pregnancies can be deadly.

Tens of thousands of babies were born suffering from opioid withdrawal this past year, because of their mothers’ addictions to prescription painkillers, heroin or fentanyl. Thanks to the opioid epidemic, life expectancy in the US has fallen for two consecutive years. It is America’s greatest public health crisis in decades and one that disproportionately affects Trump’s white working-class base – and yet the president has not allocated any new funds to the issue. He has failed to deliver on his promised “really tough, really big, really great” drugs awareness campaign and major public health posts remain unfilled. According to the most recent government figures, which are six years old and probably too low, one baby is born suffering opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes in the US. They are delivered in agonising pain, their bodies stiff and feverish, their cries unnaturally high-pitched. 

What future is there for the children whose parents do not fit into Trump’s vision for a restored America? Those whose parents are undocumented, and who now face a heightened risk of deportation? Those born to Salvadorans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who have been stripped of their protected status and may now be sent home? Or for Americans born to those known as Dreamers, who were brought to the US illegally as children but who may soon lose their work rights and protection from deportation.

There were also other babies born this past year who deserve America’s protection but have not received it. A few weeks ago, I got in touch with a Yazidi man with whom I had worked in Iraq. His older brothers had resettled in America under a visa programme for Iraqis who worked as translators for the US military. My friend could have applied under the same scheme, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his homeland. Then, in 2014, Islamic State rampaged through his village, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women and girls. When we met in 2016, he was living near a refugee camp and waiting for his visa to be processed.

 We had lost contact for many months, and I wanted to know if he had managed to make it to the US before Trump came to power, with his travel bans and slashing of refugee resettlement quotas. He hadn’t. He emailed me photographs of his first child, a daughter the same age as mine. I think of them often, the sad, kind family whose lives are in limbo, and the girl born into a community almost destroyed by murderous religious zealots, and I can’t believe I was stupid and lazy enough to believe in the steady march of social progress. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in New York. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Churchill and the hinge of history

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.