By RANDY SOUDERS

During the years I served as Chairman of the Board for Jean Kennedy Smith’s Arts and Disability program, Very Special Arts (VSA at the Kennedy Center), I had there opportunity to meet a wide range of remarkable and courageous disabled Americans. Among the lasting friendships is a painter and visual artist, Randy Souders, who was rendered quadriplegic at the age of 17 in a 1972 accident. His concerns of late have been heightened by Trump and MAGA Republicans. I share his communication with his permission here in the hope that tech designers and others will be alert to the fact that great care is required at this point, lest history repeat. — Mike Magee MD

When I was injured at the age of 17 the world was still quite closed for people like me. That was a year before passage of HR 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. As I recall that law was the first to mandate access to public places that received federal funds. A year later Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA (Very Special Arts) which has provided important arts opportunities to literally millions of people with disabilities around the globe. It was a very different world back then and artistic achievement was an important way people such as myself could prove their worth to a society that still saw little evidence of it.

It’s unbelievable to think there are serious threats to roll back many of those hard won gains in the name of deregulation and profitability. Disability is costly and people with disabilities are still woefully underemployed. So when a billionaire presidential candidate repeatedly mocks people with disabilities, how long till the “useless/ unworthy” excuses rise again? The old term describing a person with a disability as an “invalid” has another meaning. The adjective use is defined as “Not valid; not true, correct, acceptable or appropriate.”

Few today are aware that the first victims of the Holocaust were the mentally, physically and neurologically disabled people. They were systematically murdered by several Nazi programs specifically targeting them. The Nazi regime was aided in their crimes by perverted “medical doctors and other experts” who were often seen wearing white lab coats in order to visually reinforce their propaganda.

Branded as “useless eaters” and existing as “lives not worthy of life,” people with disabilities were declared an unbearable burden both to German society and the state. As Holocaust historians have documented, “From 1939 to 1941 the Nazis carried out a campaign of euthanasia known as the T4 program (an abbreviation of Tiergartenstrasse 4 which itself was a shortened version of Zentral Dienststelle-T4: Central Office T4) the address from which the program was coordinated.”

These most vulnerable of humans were reportedly the first victims of mass extermination by poison gas and cheaper CO2 from automobile exhaust fumes. But first “a panel of medical experts were required to give their approval for the euthanasia/ ‘mercy-killing’ of each person.”

In the end an estimated quarter million people with disabilities were killed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms. This model for killing disabled people was later applied to the industrialized murder within Nazi concentration and death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

Much has been written on this topic but few seem to know the chronology and diabolical history of how these “beneficial cleansings” of undesirables often start. The Nazi’s enlisted medical doctors to provide them with a veneer of moral justification for their atrocities.

Throughout history, authoritarian political despots have also worked diligently to silence dissent and co-opt religion in order to assist in their mutual quests for total control and dominance of others.

And theocrats are convinced their particular splinter of a schism is the ultimate authority on earth as well as the entire universe. Stoning, beheadings and the hanging of transgressors and non-believers are arbitrarily justified by interpretations of their particular holy book.

There is much to fear when politicians exploit the religious beliefs of medical professionals in order to pass laws denying the rights of others to control their own bodies. This blatant pandering for votes by promising to deliver on religious wedge issues creates a positive feedback loop resulting in politicians being deified by their religious influencers. This is aided by a campaign of rationalization absolving them of their obvious failings. Such a campaign of apologetics by religious leaders is active and widespread in America as I type.

Examples include “God doesn’t call the qualified…He qualifies the called” (Exodus Chapter 4) and “God calls imperfect men to do His perfect will.” Is there even a red line where such “imperfect men” becomes an existential threat? Apparently not. I’m sure most citizens of the Third Reich didn’t think so until everything imploded.

The current Republican candidate for President is on the record as being a believer in the “racehorse theory” – the idea that selective breeding can improve a country’s performance, which American eugenicists and German Nazis used in the last century to buttress their goals of racial purity. On September 18, 2020 he told a mostly white crowd of supporters in Bemidji, Minn. “You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it? Don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”

This is one of many such statements he has made regarding genetics that has resulted in his personal superiority and that of his family. The New York Times reports “Mr. Trump was talking publicly about his belief that genetics determined a person’s success in life as early as 1988, when he told Oprah Winfrey that a person had ‘to have the right genes’ in order to achieve great fortune.”

These statements combined with those “about undocumented immigrants poisoning the blood” of America should equate to a 100 alarm fire.

Randy Souders is a Professional Artist, an Arts & Disability Advocate and has been Quadriplegic since 1972

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