Reality television star-turned-president Donald Trump has just fired all the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, or PACHA.
If history is any guide, the positions will remain unfilled in the new year. Trump has never appointed a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. Six PACHA members resigned in June to protest that inaction, among other things. Trump never filled their positions before dismissing the remaining ten council members.
While it is not unusual for presidents to replace the entire council Trump has waited almost his entire first year, and just reauthorized PACHA in September. This sudden purge is motivated by dangerous disinterest, not sincere policy goals.
The Washington Blade spoke to Gabriel Maldonado, an HIV/AIDS policy activist who served on PACHA until now. He pointed to the administration’s war on science-based policy — and total disregard for any American who is not a white evangelical.
“I was co-chair of the disparities committee, so much of my advocacy and policy references surrounded vulnerable populations, addressing issuing of diverse communities, specifically looking at the impacts of the LGBT community, namely, the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS to people of color, gay men, transgender women,” Maldonado said. “And a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration.”
In his few public statements about HIV/AIDS as president, Trump has never mentioned LGBT people at all, even though they are the primary victims of the disease in the United States.
Maldonado said he represented a younger demographic on PACHA as the only member under the age of 30, which he said is where the majority of new HIV infections are occurring, and as a young, black gay man.
“I just am coming to the acknowledgment that the traditional tactics of politicking and policy and strategy and negotiation, the kind of standard tools that we’re trying to use, that the status quo is no longer acceptable,” Maldonado said. “The tactics that we had are kind of obsolete, and now we need to craft new strategy to address the troubling and unsettling revelations, particularly around the silence and inaction that have taken place around HIV and AIDS.”
But “silence and inaction” are key goals of the evangelical right as represented in the White House by Mike Pence. When he was governor of Indiana, Pence managed to create the biggest statewide HIV outbreak in years by shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics and resisting needle exchange programs on “moral” grounds.
So even if Trump appoints a new PACHA council in a timely fashion — and there is no such guarantee — it is sure to be staffed by the kind of people who reject “evidence-based” policies and promote biblical ones in their place.
Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed. #WeObject #PACHA6 #Resist
— Scott A. Schoettes (@PozAdvocate) December 28, 2017
Much has been said about the Donald Trump presidency and its effect on all levels of federal governance. Until now, however, there has been little attention to the promise of ballooning epidemics under his watch.
Throwing millions off their insurance promotes disease outbreaks. Telling teenagers to abstain from sex without providing them safety information promotes disease outbreaks. Cuts to prevention programs — like the ones Trump has proposed for national and global HIV/AIDS funding — promote disease outbreaks.
Ronald Reagan made the AIDS epidemic possible through silence and inaction. Donald Trump and Mike Pence, both admirers of Reagan, can make a whole new epidemic possible in our time.