Post Election Thinking

Red icon illustration of a stick figure with a question mark over its head and read arrows pointing away in all directions

I need to document my present thinking about what Donald Trump's election means for disabled people, and to disability culture and activism. Don't expect a smooth, compact essay. It's more like a brain dump, roughly sorted into some broad categories. Here we go ...

Different Reactions

Some of us feel like our lives are in physical danger ... from a security state on steroids, from violent bigots who feel empowered and approved again, or by loss of health insurance and other supports we need to survive and live decently.

Some of us feel that our identities ... the core of who we are ... have been fundamentally rejected by our neighbors and fellow citizens. It feels like a huge percentage of Americans said, "We're done caring about you and your problems, if we ever really cared at all." Maybe we already knew a lot of people felt that way, but it now looks like a lot more people feel that way than most of us thought. This is somewhat true for disabled people, but even more so for black, LGBTQ, Latinx, women, undocumented people, etc. And, if you are a combination of these things, you've got to feel pretty comprehensively unwanted right now.

Some of us feel morally offended that such a morally offensive man was elected. This may be the least important impact. It's the pearl-clutching, "Oh dear me, that dreadful man" reaction. But, it's a reaction people have, and it's based on real things. It feels gross.

Some of us are worried that specific policy changes ... both predictable and unanticipated ... will shatter the fragile support structures of our lives. This is arguably the most important thing to worry about. It's the kind of thing I and many disability activists kept trying to discuss during the campaign. Instead, we got some valuable calling out of Trump's epic rudeness, and the beginnings of political recognition for disabled people, but not much substance. Well, we're going to get a shit ton of substance now.

Different Threats

As it was during the campaign, it will be during the Trump Administration. There are two different but related threats to disabled people:

1. The moral threat ... the damage that could be done to our self-esteem and to public perceptions of us by things that Trump says and the attitudes he validates in others. His mockery of NYT reporter Serge Kovaleski falls into this category.

2. The policy threat ... the actual things the Trump Administration could do that would materially harm disabled people. This includes possible repeal of the ACA, block granting Medicaid and Medicare, weakening the ADA, and ether passively or actively encouraging even more police violence than we already have.

One threatens our feelings. The other threatens our lives.

During the campaign, it felt like people understood the moral threat, but were a bit sketchy on the exact nature of the policy threat. That's going to have to change fast.

Different Tactics

What should we do now?

Do not:

"Reach out" as we normally would to a generic Republican administration, in hopes of finding some fabled, elusive "common ground" that will miraculously result in a good deal for disabled people. For one thing, these aren't generic Republicans. For another, it will be our everlasting shame if we celebrate protecting slivers of Social Security and Medicaid, (if we are very lucky,) while racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies get a green light. Finally, this "common ground" is mostly an illusion ... though in theory it really shouldn't be.

Do not:

Focus extra hard and narrowly on disability issues, while treating "other people’s” concerns as a distraction. Is it really necessary to explain why trying to cut favorable separate deals for disabled people would be a weasel move, and ineffective to boot? I don't mean we shouldn't fight our specific battles. Nobody is better qualified to defend disability policies than disabled people. But we must not shut out all the other battles on the premise that in the new environment, the only way to "get ours" is by currying favor at the expense or neglect of others.


Engage with the new administration, but aggressively, with clear markers of what we are not willing to tolerate in changes to disability policy. Resist the temptation to look virtuous by offering cooperation or common ground up front. We may need to compromise at some point, but that comes at the end, not the start. We may have to prioritize though ... something a lot of activists hate doing.


Double down on intersectional partnerships and solidarity with other marginalized people, while making sure disability is always part of the coalition and its priorities. I'm not that good at discussing intersectionality, so I'll leave that point there for the moment, along with a Wikipedia link. I don't fully understand it, but by instinct I am for it and open to learning. I would love to find a really good "plain language" explanation of intersectionality and why it is important. Again, I know some specifics, but I'm not able to put them into words at this point.


Make an extra effort to reach out to disabled people who aren’t activists, don’t like or don't trust politics, and don’t view disability as a political identity. It feels like there are millions of disabled Americans who know almost nothing about what disability activists do and think. Some of them probably voted for Trump. Many of them may not have voted. Most of them probably don't think disability is a "political" thing at all. Unless I am mistaken, it will soon be impossible to ignore how much of a political thing disability is. Those of us deeply at home in disability activism and culture owe it to our fellow disabled people to engage them wherever they are. If we are going to reach out to any sort of "opposition," or "other side," I think it should be to fellow disabled people at the grassroots.

Reading and Writing: A Good Start

#CripTheVote: Post Election Feelings & #WhatsNext

Disability Rights Advocates Are Terrified Of A Donald Trump White House
Daniel Marans, Huffington Post - November 10, 2016

ADAPT's Open Letter to President-Elect Trump
ADAPT - November 10, 2016

Statement from the National Disability Leadership Alliance on Solidarity and the 2016 Presidential Election
National Disability Leadership Alliance - November 10, 2016