Kate Harveston is a political writer from Pennsylvania. Her favorite topics are feminist-focused, but she writes on a wide variety of social and cultural issues. If you enjoy her work, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.
The Trump Administration continues to prove that there is no amount of dignity they’re unwilling to strip from somebody if it means lessening someone else’s tax burden. But why we’d ever expect different from a man who’s unafraid to mock the disabled in broad daylight is a mystery.
There is a glimmer of compassion in one recent move from the Trump Administration. In August 2019, the president instructed the U.S. Department of Education to make it easier for disabled veterans to have their federal loans forgiven. The move puts Trump at odds with his own Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. And that’s bound to please the portion of his base that doesn’t look any deeper than his strongman persona.
But it’s a paltry drop in an ocean compared to the ways this administration has made life more difficult for the disabled community, as well as the advocacy work they’re choosing to leave undone, despite being handed a most extraordinary amount of power and influence.
What’s Trump Doing for Disabled Veterans?
President Trump has signaled that he will be “taking executive action to ensure that our wounded warriors are not saddled with mountains of student debt” and to “eliminate every penny of federal student loan debt owed by American veterans who are completely and permanently disabled.”
The target of this sudden burst of charity from Trump’s government is the “hundreds of millions” in unresolved student loan debt carried by some 25,000 veterans who returned from the field disabled or who since became disabled. According to the White House, the average loan forgiveness amount is around $30,000. Eligible veterans will be identified “automatically.”
This is welcome news for several reasons. First, it’s effectively a “commutation of sentence” for severely disabled veterans, who before this had to fill out rafts of paperwork: a chore even for the healthiest among us. Second, no matter your stance on America’s ongoing wars, it’s clear that service members deserve every attempt to create a new and better life for themselves. Everybody knows that’s not possible with mountains of unresolved debt holding you back.
One of the most common ripostes to the “free college for all” movement is that you should have to serve your country in some capacity before you’re given a gift of such value. This move by Trump’s Education Department is perhaps a sneak-peak at what that kind of military-first meritocracy would look like. It says a lot about national priorities under Trump. And it assumes America will always have enemies.
We can and should applaud Trump for making a move here that stands a chance at shifting the Overton Window on student debt forgiveness. He may help those ideas reach some of the communities which most need to hear the message. Importantly, Trump also emphasized that veterans whose loans are discharged won’t face a tax bill.
In manifold other ways, however, Trump and the rest of his government has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to advocating for the disabled and less privileged.
Trump Will Leave Mountains of Advocacy Work Undone
Trump began using the bully pulpit to advocate for the mistreatment of several “types” of persons from his very first moments atop that beautiful golden escalator. And a gross impersonation of a disabled journalist at a campaign stop would have been enough to end the political career of almost anybody else. The man is white privilege incarnate.
Not surprisingly, the Trump Administration managed to weave together xenophobia and a phobia of the disabled in one swift, deft stroke. The Administration’s so-called “public charge” rule weaponizes health care and immigration alike by forcing immigrants in the U.S. to choose between staying in the country and receiving health care services.
The public charge rule literally empowers immigration officers to identify individuals who are “more likely than not” to require additional public assistance should they achieve permanent resident status. If you look like you’re gonna need counseling and medication for PTSD after your ship capsizes, you’re not welcome on the lifeboat.
When somebody asserts that the Republican approach to economic planning and immigration is veering dangerously close to eugenics territory, this is part of what they’re talking about. It’s an unnecessarily cruel and pointless move, and it comes at a time when borders themselves are already weapons.
The budget proposals generated by the Trump Administration have been riddled with cruel intentions as well.
For the 2020 budget, the Administration is proposing cutting funding to the Office of Disability Employment Policy by $11 million, cutting $19 million from rehab research, cutting $5 million from the American Printing House for the Blind, and cutting $2 million from research into special education.
Further cuts would impact traumatic brain injury research, voting access programs for disabled persons, family caregiver support programs and assistive technology programs.
When a Nation Turns Its Back
Over the next decade, the U.S. government, under the 2020 budget proposal, would collapse Medicaid funding by $1.5 trillion. This is what it looks like when a nation — a proudly pious nation, no less — collectively turns its back on the poor and less privileged. This is less a budget proposal and more a blueprint for the biggest treasury heist in living memory.
It’s not as though the funding being stolen away and hoarded wasn’t doing good, either. Research tells us that when we invest in programs that help the blind and those suffering from other disabilities achieve bachelor’s degrees and other professional milestones, we vastly improve that person’s likelihood of being employed, contributing to society, and participating in the economy.
There are countless other research and rehabilitation programs with strong track records that the government could help fund as well which would get disabled persons of all backgrounds — not just veterans — back into the workforce.
When we do that, those people become employees and consumers. And isn’t that the dream for every one of us?