You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed—what the hell do you have to lose? —Donald J. Trump on the presidential campaign trail, August 2016
As of January 2017 it appears that, we, indeed, have everything to lose. Donald J. Trump’s rhetorical exhortation to urban—ie, Black—voters during the 2016 presidential campaign seems all too real now that he has ascended to the US presidency. Much has been made of the looming threats Trump poses to the safety net, including the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s flawed but remarkable piece of legislation that has expanded health insurance to 22 million Americans, protected people with preexisting conditions, and allowed young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Although the dismantling of the ACA is a horrifying prospect, particularly for people who have benefited from the Medicaid expansion, Trump’s deadliest actions may be felt by our fellow Americans living in poverty.
The most vulnerable Americans depend on the United States’ rather meager social safety net, which Trump seems hell bent on dismantling. Although Trump has been described as non-ideological, his unholy alliance with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan must certainly be characterized as deeply dogmatic. Ryan, a devout Roman Catholic, is almost without peer in his open hostility to the poor, and Trump has no better angels to call upon to resist him. Ryan has previously outlined plans to gut school lunches, food stamps, and Medicaid. Not even children, once held harmless like motherhood and apple pie, are off limits for the Ryan (and now Trump-Ryan) juggernaut. Given that we spend less than 10 percent of the federal budget on all safety net programs combined, it seems unlikely that insisting that millions of poor kids forego a turkey sandwich at lunchtime will really balance the budget. Instead, it seems Ryan is determined to shame, control, and penalize the poor, and he seems to have found a new ally in Trump, a man who extolls the virtues of being rich as evidence of superior moral character.