Every day seems to bring a new terrifying development in the Orange PEOTUS’ Cabinet of Horrors. Between white supremacists being appointed to important positions by a man calling for the registration of minority religions, climate change deniers being appointed to oversee the environment, and anti-vaxxers being put in positions to determine the safety and implementation of vaccine regiments it can be overwhelming in trying to decide which problem to address first.
Meanwhile different factions are calling for the Cheeto-in-chief’s detractors to tone down their opposition in the interest of cooperation.
I’m scared, and I’m not the only one. Even as I do my best to draw attention to the terrifying rhetoric and the distressing similarities between the events leading up to the holocaust and the current events, I hope that I’m wrong. I spend much of my time wishing for me to turn out wrong. But even as I desperately hold on to the idea that maybe it won’t be as bad as we fear, there is one area in which I am already being proven right.
The next four years are already showing themselves to be potentially fatal for one specific vulnerable population: the disabled.
While memes proliferate about the horror abled America feels over the fact that Trump’s mocking of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Serge Kovaleski’s disability did not disqualify him in the eyes of voters as a Presidential candidate, few are actually paying attention to the very real peril faced by disabled people in the coming years. They ignore the institutional ableism that has existed for centuries and which continues to thrive even now. The surprise expressed in the meme just shows how few bothered to listen to the many disabled people trying to draw attention to existing problems. We can’t even convince most other social justice activists that certain words are slurs against us. Some even deny the existence of, or need for, disability justice.
Already the republican senate and congress is gearing up to repeal the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare. This act was a revolutionary one for many people, who found themselves for the first time able to get insurance coverage despite pre-existing conditions. For the first time people, who had previously been denied insurance in a country where no insurance often means no treatment, could access the services needed to get medical care.
Before this act came into effect, people were dying because they couldn’t afford to get the help or the tests they needed. Sometimes this was the result of not being able to get tests in time to catch cancer or some other progressive condition. Sometimes it was simply the result of not being able to pay for the treatment that could have otherwise spared them pain or death.
Before this act, many of those struggling with different conditions couldn’t get access to treatments that would improve quality of life or manage their conditions.
Once this act is repealed, those same struggles will come back.
The ACA is just the start. Republicans have been threatening other services as well: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Disability Support Payments, etc. Without these countless more will die. Countless more will end up homeless, too poor to support themselves.
The legislative pogrom against the sick and disabled is not the only one I fear.
The President-Elect is calling for a council on Autism (led by Autism Speaks I’m sure), and autistics across the US feel the chill of terror at that suggestion. Already many of us are killed – by parents, by caregivers, by institutions, by sanctioned abuse masquerading as treatment, by authority figures like police. Our existence is used as horror stories warning people away from scientifically approved life saving measures like vaccines.
The history of disabled people in the Holocaust is often ignored, as is the many ways in which the same atrocities continue and are even sanctioned in this day and age.
In 1933, the Nazi government instituted laws that led to the forceful sterilization of anyone with a disability deemed hereditary. Eliminating the disabled was part of the plan to purify the blood of the Aryan race. We were considered a taint. Today, the forced sterilization of disabled women is presented as being for our own benefit. Keep the woman with Down’s syndrome from having periods so she won’t be confused. Force women with Cerebral Palsy to stop growing and force them to have a hysterectomy without their consent but give them a creepy nickname – Pillow Angels – to make it seem ok. Forced sterilization, especially of female presenting disabled people, ultimately ends up serving to make them even more vulnerable to molestation and rape.
In 1939, the Nazi government began a program of “mercy deaths” where thousands of disabled people were gassed – a precursor to the gas chambers later used at Death Camps. The specter of so-called mercy continues to be invoked even now when disabled people are murdered, regardless of whether death was desired by the victim. Others call for Eugenics programs that target disability under the guise of “reducing suffering”. Disability is treated as a valid, even encouraged reason for pregnancy termination, with many doctors automatically giving information about termination options along with the test results.
Already disabled people are dying unnecessarily and the next four years promise to make that situation worse. Although immigration and becoming a refugee is never easy, the situation becomes even more difficult for people who are disabled. Ignoring the relevant factors that disabled people are often living in poverty which makes moving difficult if not impossible, the fact that moving means having to find new specialists and ways to manage conditions, many disabled people are actively barred from the immigration process. In Canada, as in many countries, there are lists of disabilities that automatically disqualify you from receiving immigration status as you are deemed to be a drain on society. The list isn’t widely made available, meaning that you may be forced to pay the exorbitant application fees with no hope of a positive answer.
In some cases, the restrictions can be waived: compassionate approval can be granted for spouses for example, or in the case of refugees. However, risk to life resulting from policies that make it impossible for you to access medical treatment is not recognized as a valid reason for refugee status. A government can kill you even target you for medical neglect, and other states will not recognize you as a victim.
We can scream our death knells and still society will call it a mercy. Our misery will be blamed on our bodies while our torturers are congratulated on their courage and our suffering called an inspiration.