President Donald Trump infuriated marginalized groups — including LGBTQ and HIV/ AIDS advocates — during his State of the Union speech on February 4 when he lied repeatedly, shamed immigrants, honored racists, attacked healthcare reform movements, boasted about appointing far-right judges, and pandered to communities of color he has long attacked.
The speech marked Trump’s final State of the Union speech before he faces re-election — and he clearly sought to rally his base in the process. He awarded racist, sexist, and homophobic radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and spewed narratives about how the administration is “lifting our citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed.”
Trump angered advocates on multiple occasions during his speech, including when he dared to invoke HIV/ AIDS in the face of his own administration’s attempts to gut healthcare coverage and cut funding aimed at addressing the epidemic.
“We will eradicate the AIDS epidemic in America by the end of this decade,” Trump said.
ACT UP New York responded by posting a tweet saying Trump “murders HIV+ asylum seekers,” “strips medicaid expansions,” “introduces funding cuts to PEPFAR [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, an international funding initiative], HOPWA [the federal Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program], and the Global Fund, [another international AIDS initiative],” and “gives massive pharma company a tax deduction.”
Rachel Klein, who is deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, a national nonprofit, similarly said in a written statement that Trump’s vows to end the epidemic are complicated by his own administration’s actions on healthcare.
“The success of the initiative depends not only on the additional, HIV-focused resources dedication through the initiative, but on the continued ability of people to gain access to health care through programs including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act,” Klein stated. “Just last week, the administration released new proposals that would put Medicaid coverage for adults who have or are at risk of HIV in jeopardy, and would shift more of the tremendous burden of out-of-pocket health care costs to people with individual health insurance plans.”
The Human Rights Campaign also chimed in, tweeting, “Trump and Pence share a disturbing record on HIV and AIDS, including attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, failing to sufficiently fund HIV & AIDS programs, adopting regulations to undercut patient protections, and underfunding programs that provide access to PrEP.”
The president claimed during his speech to have made an “ironclad pledge” to protect individuals who have pre-existing conditions, despite the fact that it was President Barack Obama — not Trump — who implemented those protections under the Affordable Care Act. Trump is actively trying to gut those protections by supporting challenges to Obamacare in federal court.
Trump also went on to warn of a “socialist takeover of our health care system,” a politically risky statement in light of growing support for Medicare for All amid frustration over the steep costs of private health insurance and expensive Obamacare premiums. Entrance polls emerging out of Iowa 24 hours before his speech showed that six out of 10 Democratic caucus-goers in that state backed single-payer Medicare for All and many caucus-goers stated that healthcare was the most important issue on their minds when they chose a candidate.
Trump also bragged that prescription drug prices have decreased, even though Gilead last year raised the prices on multiple HIV-related medications, including HIV prevention medication Truvada, by 4.9 percent, according to Bio Pharma Dive.
Like others, Lambda Legal ripped Trump for divisive rhetoric, but also specifically zeroed in on the portion of his speech when the president thanked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican senators for approving his appointments of federal judges.
“As we expected, the president bragged about his Federalist Society-inspired packing of our courts, including the Supreme Court, with judges with long records of anti-LGTBQ bias,” Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal’s chief strategy officer and legal director, said in a written statement. “These judges are already wreaking havoc on sacred constitutional protections, and will undermine the legitimacy and integrity of our judicial system for generations to come.
There were numerous other instances in which Trump sought to satisfy deeply conservative voters. He blasted abortion rights — an issue that impacts not just women but transgender men and non-binary folks — and called himself “pro-family,” a term most often used by conservatives signaling opposition to reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights, among other issues.
Trump also patted himself on the back for taking on human trafficking, even though he signed into law SESTA/ FOSTA — a bill that was originally touted as a way to protect victims of trafficking by more strictly policing websites, but wound up having detrimental effects on sex workers who have said they’ve been forced offline and pushed into far more vulnerable environments in terms of their personal safety.
The president intended to use his speech to capitalize on the national spotlight just months before he takes on the future Democratic nominee. However, those hopes were dashed by the following morning when the Hollywood Reporter revealed that far fewer Americans tuned in to watch the speech — just 15.23 million viewers — a 25 percent dip from last year’s speech.