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There’s a common belief that times of hardship inspire great art. Just as many people buy into the idea that personal suffering promotes creativity, some suggest that the incoming Donald Trump administration could inspire an artistic revolution.
So, will a Trump presidency really be good for art? Many aren’t so sure.
Artists and musicians are already striking out against this idea on social media. The concept of “inspirational” oppression and misery is disturbing in itself, and that’s before you consider the practical concerns. Namely, it’s hard to focus on a creative career when you’re worried about racist attacks, birth control restrictions, or a basic human necessity like access to healthcare.
And just FYI, artists and musicians don’t thrive on sadness, suffering and depression. It’s in SPITE of those things. Dispel that sick myth.
— Neko Case (@NekoCase) November 15, 2016
If President-elect Trump makes good on his promise to repeal Obamacare, hundreds of thousands of self-employed artists, writers, musicians and actors face losing their health insurance. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is pushing ahead with the GOP’s plans to privatize Medicare, saying (inaccurately) that “Medicare is going broke” due to the Affordable Care Act.
We reached out to a number of artists and authors to hear their thoughts on the possibility of an ACA repeal, and the most common reaction was a mood of fear and uncertainty. In the words of illustrator Theo Lorenz, “I’m terrified that a Trump presidency will cost me my health insurance.” Novelist Kitty Chandler told us she was considering marrying her longterm boyfriend for insurance purposes: “As a hetero couple, we can do that without worrying that our marriage will be invalidated.”
Even those with thriving careers are worried about the future. Bestselling author Tobias Buckell said the ACA allowed his wife to quit her job and focus on administrative work for her husband’s books. He believes that repealing the ACA could destroy the small business he and his wife built together.
“I have a genetic heart defect that we discovered in 2008. It’s fairly manageable, I take cheap beta-blockers. If the pre-existing conditions rule comes back, I couldn’t even buy health insurance here again, even if I wanted to pay whatever price there was. We’re not sure what we’ll do if or when that happens. I went from planning the future to uncertainty.
“It’s frustrating because I am the sort of small business that ostensibly everyone wants to support. But before ACA that wasn’t an option. I’ve created two jobs with my own hands. If that’s taken away we’re going to see a lot of job destruction ahead.”
Following his meeting with President Barack Obama last week, the president-elect expressed an interest in keeping two key provisions of the ACA. One was allowing people to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until the age of 26, and the other was requiring insurers to accept customers with preexisting conditions. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new administration’s attitude to the ACA. Trump spent months promising to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but withdrawing health insurance from 22 million people would be both unpopular and logistically impractical. And the administration hasn’t even hired its staff yet, never mind fleshed out its healthcare policy.
For some, the possibility of losing the ACA isn’t just a matter of career upheaval, but life and death. In an email to the Daily Dot, we heard this viewpoint from freelance fiction editor S.F., who asked we only use her initials due to past online harassment.
“Four years ago my kids and I ran from a domestic violence situation. It took this long to just finally get some real stability (both emotionally and financially) back. Now that can all be upended and we’ll be back to struggling to survive, I guess? Or no health care.”
She supports herself and her two children on “a few thousand dollars a month,” and said the ACA saved her when she couldn’t afford private insurance. “It let me see an endocrinologist for my thyroid disorder. It let me get a flu shot. It let me see a therapist when I was struggling.”
Not everyone had such positive experiences with the ACA, but since writers, artists, actors, and musicians are often self-employed freelancers, the ACA can be their only chance at health insurance. “Don’t get me wrong, the ACA is pretty terrible and my health insurance rarely covers anything,” wrote freelance writer Robert Guthrie. “But the alternative is nothing. Without it, I would never have gone to the doctor in my twenties.”
Some artists are undoubtedly feeling motivated to work harder in reaction to the Trump administration, but the same could be said of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s. While the AIDS epidemic inspired a wave of books, films, and visual art, it all came from a place of grief and pain, created by people who either died young, or were surrounded by friends who did. And this lost generation was directly impacted by government policy, as the Reagan administration silently (or in some cases, mockingly) ignored the crisis until 1987.
At the moment, the healthcare access situation is nowhere near as dire. Trump’s plans for Obamacare are still campaign promises rather than practical policies, and he has also spoken (albeit nonspecifically) about wanting to provide healthcare coverage for everyone. The worst effect right now is the sense of uncertainty, with people having no clear answers on what his campaign promises actually mean for the ACA.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor