Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
“There’s a whole generation of dead queer men and dead poor women of color who didn’t survive Reagan. There’s over a million dead Iraqis who didn’t survive Bush. There’s millions upon millions whose lives were destroyed by the muscular policing policies of Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher and Obama. Stop saying ‘we’ survived them. Stop ignoring all those dead, incarcerated and disenfranchised people.” — Dr. Shanté Paradigm Smalls
“We will survive Trump,” I keep hearing people say, often followed by a reference to how “we” survived Bush, or Reagan, or Nixon, or so many other historic calamities.
At worst, I’ve seen this sentiment expressed by people whose safety and well-being are all but guaranteed, mostly to dismiss or silence outpourings of fear, anger and grief from the vulnerable and justifiably petrified. At best, I’ve heard it from folks who stand to lose the most in the coming years — whose erasure, exclusion or expulsion were voted for by people eager to make this country exclusively theirs again — in an effort to turn resignation into reassurance, to transform a history of needless suffering into a warped kind of relief that what we’re facing is just more of the awful same.
But there’s little consolation and even less truth in this trifling phrase. The same hindsight it urges is proof of the very real danger that looms, evidence we’re likely facing an era far too dark to be illuminated by historically revisionist optimism. If our calamitous past has taught us anything it should be that mere survival is not enough. And assurances that “we will survive” refer to a privileged and limited “we.”
That “we” excludes more than 650,000 Americans — overwhelmingly LGBTQ men and poor people of color — who ultimately didn’t survive Reagan’s indifference to the AIDS crisis, an epidemic the president didn’t dedicate a speech to until the American death toll hit 21,000. As many as 200,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilians and thousands of American soldiers didn’t survive Bush and Obama’s wars. The Obama administration’s deportation of more than 2.4 million immigrants—a total that nearly rivals the previous two administrations combined—has left countless families broken and barely surviving. The misguided war on drugs launched by President Nixon and exponentially expanded by President Clinton has wasted $1 trillion, led to mass incarceration of black and brown citizens, devastated countless communities and families, and exacerbated police violence and abuse in communities that have long suffered state-sanctioned terror.
“We” didn’t all survive Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed and displaced thousands of poor black lives while President Bush continued his vacation at his Texas ranch. Millions are still doing their best to survive the myth of Reagan’s “welfare queen,” which led to Clinton’s devastating welfare reform, a policy that increased poverty around the country, particularly for poor children. Reagan offered a model for how to blame the poor for poverty (he did little to address the exploding homeless population and then falsely derided people living on the street “by choice”) and launched the current anti-union climate that has helped erode the middle class, further enrich the .1 percent and widen the wage gap by miles. Thirty years later, Reagan’s policies are tied to the diminished survival of the white working class, which still fares better on every count than working-class people of color.
With the most recent election, we now have a vice president-elect who has repeatedly voted in favor of LGBT discrimination, pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, blocked efforts to stop the spread of AIDS while praying about it, and presided over the worst AIDS outbreak in Indiana’s history. Pence is joined by Tom Price, the pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, anti-Medicare, anti-LGBT newly appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general pick, lost out on a federal judgeship in the 1980s for being too racist but may soon be in charge of a criminal justice system that has notoriously failed black and brown people. Trump’s new national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is friendly with white supremacists on social media and propagates the idea that fearing Muslims is rational. All of these people will get to spend the next few years working alongside Steve Bannon, white nationalist sympathizer and propagandist, and now chief strategist to President-elect Trump.
While it’s impossible to fully predict how the next four years will look, it’s a good bet to plan for the worst. Let’s be real: Trump’s predecessors have all made decisions that have led to death, injury and isolation. But never in recent history has a candidate made his dangerous and destructive goals, his incompetence, his disregard for the U.S. Constitution and international law, and his tendency toward violence and bigotry so nakedly clear.
Trump’s cabinet selections are an unmistakable sign that this administration has zero interest in assuaging the fears of African Americans and other people of color, Muslims, women, and the many marginalized groups who were alienated and terrified by his campaign. The thoroughly anti-gay character of Trump’s cabinet will influence both legislation and American culture, inflaming hostilities toward queer and other LGBT people. Having a man who has bragged about criminal sexual acts heading up the executive branch, advised by reproductive rights opponents, bodes ill for women. For people with intersecting marginalized identities, the consequences are likely to be doubly bad.
Republicans are already giddy at the prospect of defunding Planned Parenthood next year, and will likely make disastrous changes to Medicaid. There is good reason to believe that this administration will immediately get down to work eliminating Obamacare and, in cahoots with Paul Ryan, Medicare, leaving millions of Americans without health insurance or even basic care in the near future. It also means expensive and life-saving anti-retroviral drugs for people living with HIV could soon be out of reach.
We’re likely to see a worsening of the opioid epidemic, most notably in the rural counties and industrial towns that overwhelmingly went for Trump. We should probably expect an abrupt end to the recent modest efforts to end mass incarceration, and a likelihood the justice system will rededicate itself to the criminalization of black and brown folks and the destruction of their families. Even more women in even more parts of the country will be further denied access to family planning and legal reproductive justice, though history has shown they will continue to get abortions, even if it imperils their own health. We can be sure that there will be an escalation in the militarization of law enforcement and a more overt disregard for police abuses in communities of color.
Survivability will drop off for numerous communities in the next four years. It’s foolish to trust that Trump won’t carry out his promises because of his record as a flip-flopping liar, which should actually be a reason for even less confidence. Even among politicians and reality television stars, Trump stands out as a person who says whatever he needs to in any given moment, without shame or fear of consequences. This president-elect and his cabinet will make terrible decisions for this country, decisions that will be catastrophic for those he targeted during his campaign. His base won’t emerge unscathed, but at least they can feel good about getting the president they voted for.
This is the truth of this election. Yes, some of us will survive the next few years, and the horrible outcomes of this presidency. But “we” as a whole, will not. Because the reality is, “we” never have.