Apologize? Why would anybody want Rep. John Shimkus to apologize for scoffing, during last week’s debate over the GOP gutting of the Affordable Care Act, at the idea that men should be required to pay for prenatal care? The issue is, he said the next day, “simple.”

He’s right. It is simple. We should all thank him and I will, right now: Thank you Congressman Shimkus.

Because in this swirling political era where the chaos at the top of government sends out echoes of confusion, where today’s baseless charge or policy enormity can barely be grasped before it is replaced by tomorrow’s, Shimkus’ question provides a simple moment of clarity, a line you can be either on this side of or that.

Why should a man be made to buy insurance that includes prenatal care when a man obviously cannot have children? Why is it his business?

You can see the thinking behind the question. It shows through like a tadpole’s guts. Are we not free people, each caring for his own private affairs? Isn’t suggesting otherwise just squishy liberal it-takes-a-village-collectivism?

It’s a trick question, because it involves women, whose rights are so automatically trampled by society that we hardly notice. Bearing and raising children is women’s work. Thank you Rep. Shimkus, Republican of Illinois. If we flipped that question around, and asked what business it is of any man whether a woman gets pregnant or not, or ends her pregnancy or doesn’t, Shimkus’ party would have a very different answer. Of course it’s his business. It’s everybody’s business except, perhaps, the woman herself, who can’t be trusted to make that moral choice.

OPINION

If we were not talking about prenatal care – checkups, tests and medical guidance designed to promote safe pregnancies and healthy babies – but about, oh, roads, the answer might be different. Why should I be forced to pay for a highway if I don’t drive? Or a library if I don’t read books? Or an army if I’m a pacificist?

My answer: because we live in a society, an interconnected nation. We rise or fall together. To me, that’s just a fact, like climate change, like the global economy. A health plan that doesn’t include prenatal care is like an economy that closes off foreign trade. A supposed practical step that actually hurts what it’s supposedly helping.

That’s why Donald Trump has to attack the very idea of facts, and the press that reports them. Because what he’s doing is not only against the basic principles of our country, but against the basic operation of any country. Insurance is, by definition, a pool. Everybody participates, men and women, old and young, and the risk and cost of illness is spread out. An insurance system that consists only of sick people couldn’t function, and the new one won’t. It’s just another scam. Paul Ryan keeps using the word “access.” You’ll have access to health insurance, assuming you have the money to buy it. If you don’t, well, tough luck buddy. You should have thought of that before you decided not to be rich.

The beauty of Shimkus’ question — all together now, loudly, so he can hear us, “Thank you Congressman Shimkus” — is that it reminds us that Trump is not the problem. He is a symptom, not a cause. Twenty years of Republican railing against government, the operative form of our collective interests, of healthy babies and safe roads and clean air, conjured him up, the result of a nation wanting to be great by proclamation but not by acting greatly.

Why should the United States be a country that encourages healthy babies? Babies that aren’t yours? Well, you could say because they are all American babies, and just as we wouldn’t want to live in a country that didn’t give its soldiers food, we wouldn’t be proud of a nation that neglected its citizens in the womb. Thank you Rep. Shimkus. As you said, it is indeed “simple” . . . so simple even “an average Midwesterner would understand.” I’m a Midwesterner, born and raised. I believe I understand completely. Do you?