What’s Behind Trump’s Position on the Special Olympics?

According to Rob Tornoe of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the federal government spent $18 million on the Special Olympics last year. That’s a very tiny line item in the context of the size of the entire federal budget. We could increase that spending ten-fold without anyone really noticing. Likewise, we could eliminate it entirely without it having any discernible impact on the nation’s financial health. We aren’t going to balance the budget or eliminate the national debt by tinkering with the funding for the Special Olympics.

That’s why it’s not easy to understand the rationale for the Trump administration’s proposal to reduce the funding by $17.6 million. That wouldn’t end the government’s support for the Special Olympics, but it would bring it down to the level of a rounding error. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was questioned about this during testimony before Congress on Tuesday, and she didn’t have many answers.

Among those grilling DeVos was Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), who left the education secretary dumbfounded when he asked if she knew how many kids would be impacted by the proposed cuts.

“I’ll answer it for you, that’s OK, no problem,” Pocan said. “It’s 272,000 kids that are affected.”

“I think that the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well,” DeVos responded.

Reading between the lines, Secretary DeVos seems to be saying that the Trump administration’s position is that the Special Olympics should be funded almost exclusively through philanthropy.

The fuller context here is a budget proposal that would cut $8.5 billion from the Department of Education. When you’re de-investing in the nation’s education, you have an incentive to start cutting far from the actual classroom, which may be one of the more defensible ways to defend their proposal on the Special Olympics, as well as their plan to eliminate after-school programs for children in impoverished communities. On the other hand, how do they defend doing away with grants for teacher development?

What gnaws at me here is the fear that this isn’t just a matter of having an ideological goal of vastly reducing federal education spending that results inevitably in some tough choices. When I see the president becoming obsessive about denying almost all aid to Puerto Rico, and consumed with a desire to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and called out as an anti-black racist by his own personal lawyer, and then I see him trying to almost completely do away with funding for the Special Olympics, which is after all a competition for people born with disabilities and deformities, I begin to wonder if this is true:

According to a 1990 Vanity Fair interview, Ivana Trump once told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that her husband, real-estate mogul Donald Trump, now a leading Republican presidential candidate, kept a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed.

“Last April, perhaps in a surge of Czech nationalism, Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed … Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist,” Marie Brenner wrote.

Here’s what the United States Holocaust Museum has to say about Nazi ideology and the disabled:

The Nazi persecution of persons with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily “unfit” Germans from the national community. These strategies began with forced sterilization and escalated toward mass murder. The most extreme measure, the Euthanasia Program, was in itself a rehearsal for Nazi Germany’s broader genocidal policies.

The ideological justification conceived by medical perpetrators for the destruction of the “unfit” was also applied to other categories of “biological enemies,” most notably to Jews and Roma (Gypsies). 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.

I don’t want my mind to wander in this direction. I know there’s a vast gulf between nearly zeroing out funding for the Special Olympics and forcibly sterilizing the athletes. But I can’t help but wonder if this president is behind this decision and if his well-known contempt for the disabled is part of a broader ideological viewpoint with clear antecedents. Rep. Steve King of Iowa asks, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” I thought it became offensive when Nazis started using compulsory sterilization and “euthanasia” to impose “a biomedical vision which imagined a racially and genetically pure and productive society.”

To put this another way, I think Trump wants to deny Puerto Rico any federal funding because he’s a racist. I think he wants a border wall because he’s a racist. So, it’s not hard for me to think he wants to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics because it’s consistent with an ideology based on genetic purity and fitness.

Over the years, Donald Trump has talked about his “good genes” over and over again, as can be seen in this Time magazine video:

Personally, I don’t view the Special Olympics through any kind of ideological lens, but I do recognize that they are a form of rebuke to those who put a lot of emphasis on the primacy of genetics. When people who were born with genetic abnormalities or deficiencies are able to nonetheless accomplish extraordinary things, that’s a high-profile demonstration against “a biomedical vision which imagines a racially and genetically pure and productive society.”

If all these threads from Trump didn’t come together like this so cleanly, I’d be more willing to look at the decision to turn Special Olympics’ funding over to philanthropy as a throw-away line item drawn up by ideological bean-counters far below the president’s level. And maybe that’s all this is.

It’s just that I have my suspicions.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com