Connecting the dots: Trump and disability

Look, people, I don’t want to be all ‘I told you so, disabled people warned you!’ But we need to have a talk about disability and the Trump Administration, and how viewing the actions of the administration through a disability-specific lens predicted many of the things that came to pass. As, in fact, disabled people warned you that they would, but you choose to ignore, because first they come for disabled people, and no one noticed. As usual.

No like literally, one of Trump’s first actions was to set the wheels in motion to undermine the Affordable Care Act, a direct shot across the bow at disabled Americans, and people talking about it managed to bring up everything but disability. It was mindboggling and galling to see people bringing up every imaginable permutation of health care user except for the most blatantly obvious, like disabled people shouldn’t even be part of health policy in America.

It was galling to see a long litany of Trump nominees who had terrible disability records — and we warned people, we said ‘these people are dangerous,’ and we were often dismissed. The intense mobilising around Betsy DeVos didn’t happen because of her disability record, but because her family is sinking substantial resources into trying to destroy public education. Don’t think we didn’t notice that anyone addressing disability issues and DeVos did so in a sort of flip ‘oh, and’ kind of way — or from the perspective of parents appealing to concerns about the welfare of disabled children.

It was extremely frustrating to see Gorsuch’s record on disability overlooked in favour of his other (substantial) civil rights violations because it was a reminder, yet again, of the fact that disability is always left off the list. This isn’t about being petulant and whiny that my ‘pet issue’ wasn’t discussed in much of the criticism of Gorsuch that made its way through the public commons. This is about the fact that stances on disability policy can generally indicate that someone’s overall civil rights policy is something that needs to be more closely evaluated and questioned. A man who doesn’t think children have a right to free appropriate public education probably doesn’t think much of children’s welfare, of education, of racial disparities, of parenting.

I seethed with fury when Tom Price and Seema Verma sailed through hearings without virtually no comment from members of the public despite the clear and present threat they posed to the disability community. Again, disabled people warned that this was dangerous for them, but also for the general public. These are the people who are going to be in charge of administering health care policy in America, and all those people who suddenly crept out of the woodwork to oppose the American Health Care Act didn’t seem to care several weeks before when the Trump Administration was putting the wheels in motion to tear health care apart whether or not the reconciliation bill passed. 

I could go on, but my point is this: Nearly every Trump nominee has had serious problems on disability, problems that indicated deeper underlying issues that made them fundamentally unfit for the positions they were nominated to fill. But no one seemed to care, even with the disability community saying ‘hey, this is bad for us, but also, it’s a civil rights disaster on a larger scale.’

We warned that the Trump Administration would go after our voting rights, and by extension those of other marginalised classes. It did. We warned that the Trump Administration would come for vital publicly-funded services that support the disability community, but also provide immeasurable good to low-income communities and other vulnerable groups across America. It did. We warned you. We warned you. We warned you.

The only thing that seems to come up in conversations about Trump and disability is the Kovaleski incident, in which Trump blatantly mocked an award-winning New York Times reporter who has a congenital impairment — and does not, incidentally, identify as disabled. At Bitch, I wrote about the pattern of behaviours surrounding that incident, in which Kovaleski’s name and humanity were erased by celebrities and commentators who wanted to leverage the incident to serve their political agenda, one in which disability is infantalised and disabled people need to be protected, advocated for.

People were all too eager to talk about ‘that time Trump mocked the disabled reporter’ but they refused to engage with the disability issues involved with his campaign, including the absence of disability rights in his platform and a number of campaign promises that boded ill for us. Apparently it was more important to rehash whether Donald Trump is mean to cripples than it is to talk about the policies he was promoting that would actually kill us. Again, this isn’t just about my pet issue — though we are 20 percent of the population so it’s not like we’re small potatoes, crisscrossing every marginalised social group in the United States, to boot. It’s about the fact that disability is, as I’ve said in a line that ended up being cut from a feature about these issues, the canary in the coal mine.

The thing about the canary in the coal mine is that you know something is wrong when it stops singing. But the voices of the disability community are so systematically ignored that you won’t notice when people stop singing, because you don’t pay any attention when we are singing. We are warning you, and you’re not listening. 

Image: Disability Rights = Civil Rights, The Leadership Conference, Flickr