Donald Trump and Disability Mocking at Its Worst
On November 28, 2015, Donald Trump tweeted: “Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me. Will discuss today at my speech in Sarasota.” This statement almost made me want to watch Trump talk. The key word here is almost.
I loathe Trump. I believe he is the personification of the unethical power hungry narcissistic American business man. Add in a giant ego, a wealthy background, multiple business bankruptcy and the need to be in the spotlight at all times, and we have the makings of an epic run for the presidency. I believe Trump is exploiting the very worst of humanity. He appeals to masses of people who are understandably angry. Solutions for economic woes seem impossible. People are ground down, some lack any hope. It seems the political machinery is not for the people but for the wealthy. Wealth disparity today is extreme. Trump is appealing because he caters to popular desires, scapegoating and taps into our collective prejudices.
Trump’s latest attack that has gained national attention was on a reporter with a disability and more generally people with a disability. I need not detail the story. It is in all the national newspapers, as is Trump’s reply. Suffice it to say Trump openly mocked a news reporter. When he was criticized, Trump lied. I did not mock the man (a lie). Trump claimed he did not know the man (another lie). Worse, he repeatedly referred to the “poor, poor guy.” Obviously the man in question is suffering because it is assumed all people with a disability suffer (not true). Trump has also accused the man of exploiting his disability to get attention.
As one would expect, national newspapers attacked Trump. The New York Times, for example, called the incident in question outrageous! How dare Trump mock and ridicule the appearance of disabled reporter. Condemnation flooded in. Like all criticism levied at Trump, this was mere water under the bridge. He tweeted “I have tremendous respect for people who are physically challenged and have spent tens of millions of dollars throughout buildings all over the world on making them handicapped accessible and ADA compliant.” When I read this I burst out laughing. It is not every day a person lauds themselves for meeting the letter of the law. I will give it to Trump — he can twist reality.
What I find most interesting is the outrage expressed by the mass media. How dare Trump mock a person with a disability. Spare me the false piety. Our constructed environment is designed for bipedal people. Providing physical access for people with a disability is perceived as an onerous burden. Wheelchair access is an unfunded federal mandate! Why do we need a ramp at a hockey rink? Why are we forced to put a wheelchair lift on a bus when there is not a single student in the district that uses a wheelchair? The list of unacceptable violations is endless. The outrage is not limited to the prototypical wheelchair logo and people such as myself, a deputized member of the chrome police. People who are deaf and hard of hearing continually encounter problems with businesses and institutions that refuse to provide interpreters. Blind people who are part of a guide dog team often encounter problems when they travel. I have been told by my professorial peers that the campus is inundated with students with a so called learning disability who are not seeking a reasonable accommodation but rather scamming the system to get an advantage.
The point here is Trump is far from alone in mocking people with a disability. I have been mocked more times than I care to remember. I have been the brunt of many so-called jokes and derisive discussions that were wildly inappropriate.
When social media found cause to object, I was curious about how common is it to mock people with a disability. A quick Google search led me to hundreds of stories. Below is a random sampling that touched me.
“Saturday Night Live” mocked David Paterson, who was the governor of New York who also happened to be blind. The SNL skits were offensive.
A video by Nicole Arbor entitled “Dear Fat People” that has been viewed over 34 million times mocked the clinically obese. It was fat shaming in a deeply hurtful style.
Pick a host of films that mock people with a disability. Most recent I recall was the “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Tropic Thunder.” But the history of films that disparage disabled people dates back to the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” circa 1939.
Trump’s book, “Crippled America.” I cringed and immediately thought of FDR.
Nicki Minaj mocked a wheelchair user in a hallway at one of her performances.
Shaquille O’Neal mocked a disabled fan’s selfie.
The television program “Glee.” It hired a non-disabled actor to play the part of a wheelchair user. The message is not exactly subtle — there was no qualified disabled actor in the nation to play the part.
Earlier this year an anesthesiologist was sued for mocking a man during a colonoscopy. He inadvertently recorded the procedure on his phone and was shocked by the running commentary. Once sedated, the anesthesiologist stated “after five minutes of talking to you in pre-op I wanted to punch you in the face.” The staff also discussed “misleading the patient once he was awake.”
Spare me the outrage over Trump. I believe he is merely emblematic of the rampant ableism that exists today. He is stating what others think — providing access for people with a disability is a costly waste of time. We people with a disability are an expensive drain on the economy. We are not worthy. We are not equal. We are not wanted. That is what I have learned reading disability history. To a degree I find this ironic. As a young graduate student at Columbia University, I found ethnographic research among Native Americans too depressing to devote my life to studying. Oh, how I wept reading about one Native American group after another subject to genocidal policies and in some cases germ warfare (small pox infected blankets for example). This history broke my heart. Fast forward 20 years and I have a detailed knowledge of just how grim disability history is.
This history tells me that we are on the cusp of significant progress in terms of disability rights. The outrage expressed by people regarding Trump is heartening. Maybe, just maybe, we people with a disability can make inroads with the masses of non-disabled people that surround us. Perhaps it is time to mock Trump and other bigots who cater to the lowest common denominator. It is a time of reason, I hope.
Follow this journey on Bad Cripple.
Lead photo source: YouTube video screenshot