As President Trump takes the oath of office, we look ahead to the unknowns of the next four years and dig deep for the tenacity to sustain the advances we’ve made in health and equity, and the audacity to say that – even in challenging times – we can and must do better.
First and foremost, nothing matters more than making it possible for all people to live safe and healthy lives. Every person in every community deserves an equal opportunity to be healthy and safe. We know that the systems and structures that govern our society determine whether all communities will be safe and healthy, or not. And since the resources that people and communities need to be healthy and safe are not evenly distributed across society, we must commit ourselves to addressing health inequities—to fixing the systems and policies that drive inequities, produce illness and injury, and keep people from reaching their full potential.
Initial statements from proposed Cabinet officials are deeply worrisome.
From Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency to Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice, Trump’s appointees expressly threaten the missions of the agencies they've been tapped to lead. The stated missions of these agencies all advance health:
Appointees who want to overturn environmental protections and ignore the threats of climate change; dismiss the role of racial discrimination in our criminal justice system and ignore barriers to democratic participation; vote repeatedly to defund vital public health programs and funding streams; undermine quality public education; and oppose policies to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and harassment will take us in the wrong direction.
Tom Price, nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services, has voted against expanding health insurance to cover low-income children and has authored an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that would repeal the Medicaid expansion and 'replace' that coverage with fixed-rate premiums that would leave affordable health insurance out of reach for millions of Americans. During confirmation hearings this week, he failed to identify smoking and tobacco-related disease as the leading cause of preventable death in the US and was not transparent about his continued profits from tobacco industry holdings. The head of Health and Human Services should represent and rally others, including other agency leaders, to support health and equity, instead of defending his own interests.
These Cabinet picks shed a light on our President-elect, his values and priorities. Since Trump announced his run for the presidency in June 2015, many of our country’s ugliest and most entrenched cultural reflexes have been activated: xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and misogyny. In the 10 weeks since the election, hate crimes targeting Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, and women have spiked.
Now more than ever, we need to choose our words carefully—and to speak truth to those in power. We will work tirelessly and vigilantly with you to realize a vision of the future that everyone can share, an American story that leaves no one out. We must reject the false premises offered to us: the idea that any culture or subculture can subsist on a diet of hate and fear; the idea that nations, corporations, and peoples can long thrive at the expense of the planet; the idea that justice is being served when human rights and civil rights are denied to those who live within our borders; the idea that a country can move ahead while leaving any of its people behind. We will speak with clarity and passion to assert our most closely held values: health, fairness, opportunity, community, unity in diversity.
While the political landscape has shifted, we know that the values of equity and justice go beyond politics, deeper than politics. Now it is our charge to speak up for those values – everyone who longs for a more just future has a role to play to bring that future into being. We are proud to work with you, our partners in public health and social justice, in the years ahead, on the unsung and audacious work of progress, equity, and peace.
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