The Trump Cabinet: Resisting its Wealthy Rightwing Racist Misogynistic Homophobic Drift

The Trump Cabinet: Resisting its Wealthy Rightwing Racist Misogynistic Homophobic Drift
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Pic from Common Dreams

As bad as things seemed the morning after election day, they have become much more dire over the ensuing weeks. Still, some held out hope that Donald Trump, the President-elect, would be very different from Donald Trump, the candidate, who attracted support from white supremacist groups like the KKK. We now know better. Despite losing the popular vote by a substantial margin and with increasing evidence that Russia helped to swing US voters away from Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, aided by his Republican allies in the House and Senate, is acting as if he has a mandate to drastically reshape America; transforming it into a society where the rich get richer. A society where corporations control regulation and government and the poor get a smaller piece of the economic pie and fewer supports. Unions will be demonized, and overt and implicit racism, sexism and homophobia accelerate and will become normative. And should anyone dare to criticize our authoritarian Tzar elect - such as Chuck Jones, an union official at Carrier Corporation who challenged the veracity of Trump’s crowing about saving jobs, or a press corp trying to ask questions about facts- they are subjected to disparaging tweets and cyber-bullying.

Trump has amplified his divisive, cruel and self-serving agenda through his choice of cabinet appointments, some of whom are far more right-wing and troublesome than even Trump. And let’s be clear--these nominees are directly tied to significant financial contributions to the campaign. Most are hostile to the agencies that they will lead and many will try to try to undermine their mandates. If there was a right-wing coup of the US government that strove to dismantle federal legal protections, dismantle every civil rights gain since reconstruction, was determined to create barriers to women’s rights, reproductive justice, and gender equity, further tilt the playing field towards heterosexual privilege, and acted to manipulate, intimidate and engender mistrust of the media and facts in general, this is what it would look like. Judging by Trump’s cabinet appointments, we are facing an era where corporations romp in fields of unregulated bliss, the gap between rich and poor (already at historic highs) will continue to rise, and white supremacy will become further institutionalized. How can concerned citizens and professions such as social work resist these assaults? In this column we will offer an overview of some key cabinet appointments for domestic agencies that will have a strong impact on US citizens, particularly those served by social work. In subsequent columns we will take a closer look at Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing, the Department of Education, and the Department of Labor--all agencies that produce policies that social workers are expected to enforce, but have an obligation to resist if they do not align with social work values or professional code of ethics.

During the first week of a Trump presidency, we can expect to see the House and Senate to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act which will mean that 16.4 million people are at risk of losing their health insurance, and others with pre existing conditions will face catastrophic cost increases once Trump signs the bill. Administration of the Affordable Care Act and its imminent dismantling falls under the Department of Health and Human Services, which ironically is responsible for improving the well-being and health of Americans. Obamacare foe Tom Price, a specialty physician, Tea Party member, and Republican Congressman from Georgia, will take over the helm of this agency. Price is also known for his anti-choice, anti-women views and he has been a leader in the movement to defund Planned Parenthood. He was against the Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for all Americans, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. He favors eliminating Medicare and replacing it with inadequate vouchers to purchase private health insurance. The agency is also responsible for a range of health services, such as HIV, substance abuse, mental health, Medicare and Medicaid and child welfare. It regulates food and drugs and funding biomedical and social science research. The secretary of health and human services will have the most significant impact on social work, across service provision and design, to the future of social work research. Our professional future has been placed in the hands of someone who explicitly denounces social work values.

The Department of Justice will be headed by the soon-to-be-appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, Senator from Alabama. This department has an anti-trust division, civil rights division, criminal division, and tax division among other divisions. It oversees immigration law and policy. Sessions was denied an appointment as a federal judge in the 1980’s, by Republicans as well as Democrats, for his having voiced racist views about Black organizations and implied alliance with the KKK, as well as having had a track record as the State’s attorney general where he opposed voting rights. He has supported all of Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim positions even before Trump began his campaign for President! He has tried to justify Trump’s misogynist remarks and behavior during the campaign. Whether it is failing to prosecute civil rights violations, supporting racially-based voter suppression laws, treating immigrants with disdain, or allowing corporations to engorge themselves and fleece their customers, Sessions has a long and consistent track record; we know what he believes and what he does and can reasonably expect the worst.

The department of labor will be led by a fast food executive Andy Puzder, the current chief executive officer of CWE foods, who has been repeatedly hostile towards the rights of workers. The department of labor is charged with protecting workers by ensuring access to living wages and adequate retirement benefits and protecting the health of workers by regulating their work environments. Social security and unemployment insurance are under the purview of the department of labor. Social security will be particularly vulnerable in this administration as Paul Ryan has also expressed a desire to “reform” this important social safety net. While Mr. Puzder champions himself an enemy of job stifling regulation, the regulations he opposes are consistently those designed to protect workers: raising the minimum wage above $9 hour, requiring businesses to provide health insurance or overtime pay to certain classes of workers, and the rights of collective bargaining. Workers at CWE restaurant group are regularly paid minimum wage and work split or part time shifts, while their CEO, Mr Puzder, made a reported 4.48 million dollars in 2014. He, like other Trump nominees has supported overt misogyny, including overtly defending a controversial advertising campaign that featured swimsuit models eating hamburgers from his restaurant chain and allegations from a former wife of physical, financial and emotional abuse.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which oversees affordable housing programs and enforces fair housing legislation, among other things, will be under the leadership of Dr. Ben Carson. After running against Trump for the Republican nomination for president, Dr. Carson attempted to squash any rumors that he had any aspirations to be appointed to Trump’s cabinet, saying that he did not feel qualified to run a federal agency when he had no experience actually leading one. Carson was right. Despite being a neurosurgeon, Carson doesn’t have any professional experience running a federal agency, but somehow that no longer matters. He’s had a change of heart and now believes that his sole “life-experience,” growing up in subsidized housing, makes him qualified to run a major federal agency. However, what makes Carson such a deeply troubling pick to run HUD isn’t just his gross lack of professional experience but the fact that he’s ideologically at odds with the very policies that he would be constitutionally mandated to uphold. HUD is a 48 billion dollar agency that was created by Congress in 1965 during a time of major sweeping civil rights gains. As part of this era, HUD was created to help end poverty, housing discrimination, and racial injustice in the United States. It’s primary function is to ensure that low-income families have access to safe neighborhoods and affordable housing. The Implications of having Ben Carson as HUD Secretary when he: (1) opposes the Fair Housing Act; (2) refers to public housing as a communist program; and (3) believes poverty is a choice not the result of institutional racist policies and practices does not bode well for the agency with the explicit mission to end poverty and racial inequality. To say that Carson’s appointment to HUD is alarming when he describes the fair housing rule, which requires local communities to assess patterns of racial discrimination in housing, as a “mandated social engineering scheme” would be a gross understatement.

Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, believes “ we must revolutionize our education delivery system in America”. The problem is that her revolution includes the dismantling of public education in favor of voucher programs that would allow a child to “choose” their school from a menu of options, including private religious schools, expensive parochial schools, online schools and what she terms “new approaches to learning that have yet to be imagined”. So instead of reinvesting in our existing public infrastructure, she wants to dismantle it, in favor of something we have yet to design or understand. And in the meantime, our public dollars will go to expensive private schools, which will continue to accessed only by those that can afford it, except this time they’ll have our tax dollars to help them foot the bill. So choice it will be, but only for those with the wealth to realize it. In the meantime, those without financial resources will be left to choose from failing public schools with less resources than before or unregulated charter or parochial schools, and whose outcomes are disparate at best. All of the language and pomp and circumstance around choice is designed to hide the racialized segregation such a system will create, where white suburban and/or wealthy students will have increased opportunities while students of color will see their options go from bad to worse.

Of course there are other cabinet officials who will interact with the people who we have profiled but we would like to mention one person in particular: Steve Bannon, who will be Trump’s senior adviser. Bannon has been confronted on many occasions with his racism, white supremacist views, sexism and homophobia. He will be in the room with the people we have profiled in this article and in many ways represents the thread that ties together the various strands of a Trump presidency. His skill at and willingness to create and promote propaganda is particularly concerning.

All of these ominous trends have major implications for social workers and the social work profession. And yet, it is at times of profound greed and oppression that the sparks of social justice ignite social movements that will resist tyranny, unite people who share a different vision of America and can imagine a future society based on fairness, equity and equality, and a role for positive government interventions, much like the social movements that fueled the Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society. So what can social workers and the social work profession do?

1. Tell Stories-Amplify Voices

Whether living in blue or red states, the Trump administration and cabinet will ignore or abrogate human rights and shred the safety nets protecting our most vulnerable citizens. We can help those directly affected by these policies to tell their stories and to ensure that they are heard - through the mainstream media, social media and by sharing them with politicians - local, state and federal. Numbers and statistics have less of an impact than stories- stories based on facts and the realities of people’s lives that offset the Orwellian right-wing Republican propaganda that frames their attempts to disunite and disempower as social progress. What will the reality be for a family insured under the Affordable Care Act when they lose their health insurance? What is it like for a grieving relative who has lost a cherished family member to a police shooting because they are Black?

2. Form coalitions that unite rather than divide people

One of the most effective strategies employed by Trump and his allies has been to create the illusion that “hardworking, decent people” like “us,” who happen to be white, want to “uphold our values” against “them,” who happen to be immigrants, people of color and poor people of all races. This divides people and also leads to the irony of poor white people voting against their economic and class interests by voting for people who will exploit them for their own gain and further disadvantage them socio-economically. Trump also wins when we divide ourselves along lines of identity or issues. We encourage people to form interracial, intergenerational, socio-economically diverse coalitions across issue areas. Everyone wants good schools and safe neighborhoods, all people should have access to health care, every person should be able to walk and drive without fear of being arrested or fall victim to gun violence - these are but a few examples of issues that can unite people. To be sure there are often challenges - like the negative reaction to important social movements like Black Lives Matter among some white people and communities and the posing of what seem like competing social movements such as Blue Lives Matter. There is a role for sustained, structured and engaged dialogue between people who hold different views or mistrust or fear one another. Social workers, with strong group facilitation skills, can contribute to dialogue, public conversations and coalition building.

Social workers will need to make choices about when to support existing organizations and when to challenge them or hold them accountable. All social movements are imperfect. It can be tempting to critique the work of others engaged in resistance and movement leaders for having the wrong analysis or not employing the most effective tactics . However it is usually more effective to join them and work to improve their organizing. Ultimately, our critique and resistance must be focused on those who are creating and implementing oppressive structures, not those resisting. There is no “right way” to resist. White people, especially, must support in word and action the important leadership of communities of color. For example, the policy platform of Black Lives Matter is one that social workers can unite behind, and we would do well to support both their direction and their leadership.

3. Support and strengthen structures and organizations that stand for our values

Progress in society does not come from the good will and wishes of those in power, who strive to maintain their individual and collective privileged positions. Even when there are well-meaning attempts by people with resources to help people in need, this can have a patronizing tone and serve to disempower both an individual and collective sense of respect, power and efficacy. Many social and economic changes came through the efforts of trade unions to ensure the members had safe working conditions and a living wage; part of the right wing populism that exacerbates economic inequality is due to the weakening of trade unions and the lack of a countervailing force to large corporations and their civic allies, such as Chambers of Commerce. The Civil Rights Movement was essential to many of the gains encoded in the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Acts. The National Association of Social Workers has the potential to mobilize its membership across the country to stand for the people served by social workers. Whenever possible, NASW should not only take public stands on critical issues but work to strengthen organizations that can serve as a firewall against the destruction promised by Trump and his allies. Now is a critical moment to strengthen as well as hold accountable existing social work coalitions like NASW and CSWE. They need our time, money, and voices.

4. Work with and against politicians

Centrist and reasonable Republicans need to be watched, supported and held accountable as they are a critical stopping place for Trump’s policies and agendas. For those who live in blue areas or are represented by the few remaining centrist Republicans or Democrats, hold them accountable. Support their efforts to resist and work to strengthen their backbones when they are leaning towards compromising with policies that undermine what social workers stand for. Call national leaders in the Republican party. Tell them what you are concerned about, and do it often. For those who live in right-wing red states or neighborhoods, confront politicians through petitions, demonstrations and exposing the hypocrisy of their rhetoric and actions through sharing the stories of those directly affected. Enter the political process at all levels - school committees, local city government boards, civilian review commissions - all shape local social policy and serve as feeders for people running for local, state and even national office. Whenever possible, pass legislation that affirms and protects human rights, even as the federal government seeks to slash and burn these rights.

5. Disruption

Social work is a non-violent profession and we are non-violent people. But non-violent disruption has been a successful strategy to prevent authoritarian regimes (which is what we are facing) and societies from trampling on human rights. The non-violent civil disobedience strategies of the civil rights movements are a dramatic example of disruptive strategies that led to major shifts in U.S. institutions and policies; there will be many issues raised by the impending assault on human rights which will call for engagement in this tactic. Social work schools can offer training in nonviolent strategies. Boycotts against companies that fund or align themselves with the Trump regime’s incursion on people’s rights can also be effective, as they were when weakening the apartheid government in South Africa. During the 1960’s, when poor people were not receiving the benefits to which they were entitled, the benefits were inadequate, and the funding for benefits were insufficient, social workers helped clients to register for public assistance, flooding the rolls and exposing the corruption and weaknesses of the system. If Trump and his allies follow through with some of their statements - such as registering all Muslims in the U.S. - organize people to register as Muslims - render this racist, xenophobic and frankly fascist attempt to oppress a group of people meaningless.

6. Support a free and objective press

As Trump and his cronies attempt to control information and narrative, independent, factual news sources will become increasingly important. Buy a newspaper or subscription to an objective news source, write for one, check your sources and facts before you share them. Take the time to flag and report fake news on social media sites. Teach your children, your students, your clients and co-workers to do the same. Offer newspapers, magazines, and open and accessible news in your clinics and office waiting rooms.

As the clouds of injustice, suffering and brutality darken on the horizon, it will be a time where the majority of Americans who did not support Trump can stand up and not only weather the storm but try to kindle the light of social justice, which has flickered at times in our society. We hope that the social work profession will bring its brightest beam to this process.

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