Khanna: A Plague of Inequality

COVID-19 highlights the inequity cultivated by the Trump administration.

by Maya Khanna | 4/16/20 2:00am

The eruption of COVID-19 has led to more than 22,000 deaths nationwide, with devastating social and economic ramifications. In a time of crisis, an increasingly desperate America has looked to the federal government for guidance and support as the lives and livelihoods of millions are put on hold. But the country as a whole has been let down by President Trump, whose actions have only deepened the systemic inequalities previously cultivated under his administration.

It is no surprise that the Trump administration’s social and economic policies have had dire consequences. Since the early days of Trump’s tenure in the White House, the president has advocated for the reduction of accessible health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the curtailment of affordable housing programs and the tightening of restrictions on food stamp eligibility. These policies stand in sharp contrast to the expansion of social programs — including Obamacare, free meal programs for school children and development funding to increase access to basic necessities for millions of Americans — under the Obama administration. By comparing the federal framework for addressing inequality before and after Trump took office and analyzing the impact that they have had on marginalized Americans, it is clear that the Trump administration’s policies have directly contributed to the extreme inequality which pervades the U.S. today.

COVID-19 has brought the Trump administration’s unequal policies to the forefront. Among the hardest hit have been African American communities across the country, in which people have contracted and died of COVID-19 at rates up to seven times higher than in the general population. This disparity is almost certainly attributable to the numerous structural disadvantages facing many majority-black communities, such as a lack of access to safe living conditions, nutrition and health care. 

It is not chance that renders African Americans more vulnerable to COVID-19, but a pattern of long-standing systemic disadvantages exacerbated by policies instituted under the Trump administration. In each of the three years since Trump took office, White House budget proposals have slashed Housing and Urban Development funding by up to $6 billion, a reversal of the expanded affordable housing programs instituted under Obama. The results of these policies can be devastating for African American communities, given that over 20 percent of black households nationwide are low-income renters. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s previous budget cuts put the very survival of these individuals on the line. Unaffordable rent often forces families to “double and triple up,” which makes social distancing — one of the primary preventative measures recommended for the containment of the virus — nearly impossible. 

To worsen matters, the Trump administration’s cuts to Obamacare mean that many African Americans lack health insurance and are less able to access proper healthcare should they contract the virus. A 2017 study by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revealed that the rate of African Americans without insurance dropped by more than a third following the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. Unfortunately, that expansion is one of the policies that Trump has worked to dismantle over the last three years. For a population already at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, lack of access to health care will undoubtedly contribute to an increase in both sickness and death.

African Americans are not the only population that has been unduly impacted by Trump-era policies. In cities across the country, Latinx communities have also seen some of the highest mortality rates of any demographic in the country. In addition to suffering from many of the aforementioned cuts to welfare programs, many Latinx individuals also face looming hard-line immigration policies and rhetoric invoked by Trump since he took office.

Particularly damaging has been the president’s 2019 proclamation that all prospective immigrants must show proof of their health insurance or monetary equivalent within 90 days of arrival or risk the revocation of their visa status. For those who live as undocumented immigrants in the U.S., the situation is even more precarious — the president has repeatedly denounced Democratic proposals that would extend medical coverage to those who lack legal immigration status. 

As the pandemic escalates, the impact of these policies on the lives of Latinx Americans has grown deadly. Emerging reports from New York City — the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. — reveal that Latinx communities have been hit hardest by the virus. The city’s mayor Bill de Blasio has stated that he believes the vulnerability of New York City’s Latinx residents and other people of color is due to their inability to access “the treatment they deserve.” De Blasio, along with the New York City’s health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, point to the lack of Spanish-language resources and hostile rhetoric from the White House as contributing causes to this health care inequity. Other cities across the country are now seeing similar trends, suggesting a nationwide tendency towards disproportionate suffering of Latinx communities as a result of Trump’s policies. 

The disproportionate suffering of African American and Latinx communities is just one example of a broader framework of inequality against marginalized communities in America — a framework heightened under Trump and highlighted by COVID-19. It is imperative, even after our nation recovers from COVID-19’s consequences, that we do not forget that communities hit hardest by the pandemic were not those who suffered by chance, but those who bore the brunt of the Trump administration’s favoring of the privileged over the vulnerable.