The Trump administration banning the CDC from using certain words while preparing for next year’s budget puts politics before public health.
Medicine and public health should be directed by need, not by political whims. It is a realm that should absolutely be free from political meddling and yet this is not possible. Budgets are decided by politicians. So often, even subtly, health priorities are at the mercy of appealing to politicians. It’s why so little was done during the early years of the AIDS crisis; there wasn’t the political desire to tackle the situation and so action was slow and money was granted in trickles.
The dangers of political interference are clear: people get left behind, population groups ignored when action is required and medical practitioners are left frustrated that they cannot do more. The Washing Post recently broke the story that the Centre for Disease Control has been banned from using seven words in documents for next year’s budget. While this has subsequently been denied since the news broke, there is huge confusion about what is allowed and what is really going on behind the scenes. Any ban is a crass political act by an administration that has shown it’s unconcerned with people’s lives and that politics and fear-mongering comes first. The seven words which are banned have huge implications. They are: “entitlement”, “vulnerable”, “fetus”, “transgender”, “diversity”, “evidence-based” and “science-based”.
“This is a crass political act by an administration that has shown its unconcerned with people’s lives and that politics and fear-mongering comes first”
That these words specifically were banned shows that the administration has an incredibly dangerous attitude towards public health, and this is likely just the start of further meddling. Health isn’t about ideology or what people feel. It’s about what people need. Furthermore, that need is being eroded. By banning the mentioning of evidence and science-based suggestions and conclusions, the Trump administration is paving a way to make the CDC’s priorities political and not about health if evidence about who needs help can be dismissed. By eliminating scientific arguments, Trump can smear the CDC as political (even though that’s exactly what he wants it to be).
The words “entitlement” and “vulnerable” also have chilling implications of their own. It’s common practice to examine vulnerable populations (and much of the time, this includes disabled people). It’s how when fighting an outbreak of infection, vulnerable populations will be targeted first with support to try to contain the spread of the infection but also ensure that those who need support the most get it. The fixation of “entitlement” is reflective of an administration of snowflake (specifically pale, male and completely stale) men who are wounded and want to laugh at anyone who says they have privilege. It is the most bizarre fixation but the fact that it extends to public health right now shows just how deep Trump’s toxic masculinity goes.
Perhaps the least surprising words banned are “fetus” and “transgender” although they have their own harrowing implications. Transgender people are at increased risk of mental health conditions, living in poverty and of becoming HIV+. Due to the lack of support trans people get, their health is at risk of being compromised in the same way other vulnerable groups are. Banning the mentioning of an at risk population then risks impacting how the CDC would focus their actions, and also how much money is diverted into supporting that population.
As for “fetus”, having an anti-abortion stance is right in tune with a Trump-Pence administration but again, while predictable, it suggests this is just the start of politicising medicine.
This isn’t particularly a surprising move. Almost as soon as he took office, Trump banned the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture from giving updates on social media. Trump’s tactic has been to suppress freedom of speech within certain agencies and bodies. While people focus on Trump’s legislative agenda, there’s a risk of missing the chilling and not insignificant steps he’s taken at a ground level which is interfering with democracy, but also about how scientists and officials are able to go about their work. Public health should be no place for politics, but Trump is already starting to make it his propaganda tool.