Living in Weimar 7: Persecution of the “Unfit”


Laurie and Debbie say:

When the Nazi Party ran Germany before and during World War II, one of their openly stated goals was to remove the “unfit” or “useless” — people we would call “disabled — from society, first by sterilization and later by mass murder. “Compulsory sterilization and “euthanasia,” like the ‘Final Solution,’ were components of a biomedical vision which imagined a racially and genetically pure and productive society, and embraced unthinkable strategies to eliminate those who did not fit within that vision.” In fact, the killing of the ‘unfit” was their trial run toward the genocide they are most remembered for today.

As we have throughout this series, we need to stress that the contemporary Republicans, despicable as they are, are not Nazis, and that Trump is not Hitler. The attacks on the disabled in our time use different rhetoric and different tactics … and are terrifying in their intent and scope. We also need to remember that the Nazis and the Germans neither invented nor owned the ideas of eugenics and genetic purity: the movement has a long, ugly history in many places, and was very strong in the United States starting about 120 years ago, continuing well into the 20th century.

s.e. smith, a writer we’ve been following almost as long as we’ve been blogging together, wrote brilliantly about this for Rewire, shortly after the Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville last August:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that white supremacists and their allies also embrace eugenics rhetoric. Their narrative of whiteness as superiority does not include disabled people, regardless of race, though they often cloak their bigotry in arguments about “human biodiversity,” an ideology that asserts genetics determine intelligence, athleticism, and behavior. Meanwhile, white nationalists and the right more broadly revel in disablist rhetoric like the use of “libtards” (a portmanteau of “liberal” and “retard”) and accuse disabled people of “faking it” and sucking government resources. Take, for instance, Steve Bannon asserting “genetic superiority” or Jeff Sessions praising an outdated immigration law that restricted entry on the basis of disability. Disabled people, it is implied, are very much not welcome in these movements.

Here, as everywhere, we see the entanglement of the neo-Nazi movement, who could once be considered small and somewhat marginalized, with the people in the hall of power. No one who works in Trump’s White House or sits in the U.S. Congress was marching in Charlottesville last summer (as far as we know). But it’s clear where the sympathies of far too many of them lie.

For the disability community, there’s a lot at stake in resistance to white supremacy, starting with the fact that many disabled people are targets for white supremacist movements because of their race or faith. And the government’s failure to act on, and sometimes its complicity with, a movement with eliminationist tendencies is worrisome to those concerned about their survival in Trump’s United States. Notably, people of color are statistically more likely to be disabled in the first place. A variety of factors contribute to this differential diagnosis of disability, including the interactions of disability and poverty, occupational injuries, and health-care discrimination.

White disabled people have an inherent moral imperative to work in solidarity with their disabled siblings of color, and to be the first to put their bodies and lives on the line. That’s something disabled protesters of all races are well accustomed to—they’ve been doing it for months to resist Republican attacks on health care—but in racialized attacks, white people can and must use their privilege for good. Failure to do so enables and perpetuates white supremacy.

As we know, the disability community was crucially important in stopping the health care bill … and crucially important in the failed attempt to stop the new tax law. Existing U.S. health care policy is being attacked from other directions since the legislative attempt failed, and the tax law — disastrous and draconian for almost everyone who doesn’t already have a gold-plated swimming pool — is particularly punitive to disabled people, among other groups. Jordan Davidson provides some details in The Mighty:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill will cut Medicare by $25 billion in 2018. The bill also removes the individual mandate required by Obamacare, which forces those without insurance to pay a “penalty.” These penalties have led more people, including healthy people, to sign up for health care. Without the mandate — which ends as of 2019 — analysts are concerned that healthy people will leave the marketplace and, by forgoing penalty, will leave Obamacare without adequate funding, further increasing premiums and deductibles.

“By reducing revenue by at least $1.5 trillion, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increases the pressure to cut Medicaid and other programs that are critical to the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, said in a statement. “Each vote in favor of this bill was a vote against constituents with disabilities and sets the wheels in motion to quite possibly go back in time to an era when people with disabilities had little opportunity to live a life of their choosing, in the community.”

Mass sterilization and mass murder are not the 21st century Republican order of the day. Instead, their actions lead toward the goal of making sure that disabled people — and their families — have no options, nowhere to turn, and no quality of life. We personally know of two suicides since Trump’s election that were directly related to lack of access to health care — two of hundreds, if not thousands.

Protests like the ones pictured at the top of the article represent the readiness of the disabled community to fight back, the readiness of the people in power to stop them, and the readiness of the police to follow inhumane orders. Just as s.e. smith lays out the moral imperative for white disabled people to work in solidarity with their disabled siblings of color, able-bodied folks like the two of us have a moral imperative to work in solidarity with our disabled siblings. Period.