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What We Missed in Our Reaction to Trump's Recent Ableist Tweets

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The media is abuzz analyzing one of Donald Trump’s latest scandals: two tweets aimed at Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

In the first tweet, Trump discussed his relationship with the television program Morning Joe. In the second tweet, Trump recalled a falsified incident when Ms. Brzezinski tried to attend a Mar-a-Lago event while recovering from a facelift.

Trump began his tweetstorm by calling Mr. Scarborough “psycho” and Ms. Brzezinski “crazy” and “low-IQ,” provoking outrage from some commentators.

“Psycho” is a derogatory shorthand for a person experiencing psychosis, which is comprised of hallucinations and delusions. “Crazy” is an insulting way to refer to people living with mental illness. “Low-IQ” means a person scored below the average on an IQ test. According to National Alliance of Mental Illness, over 2o percent of the population fits into at least one of Trump’s categories. These are people who proudly live good lives. I could say we’re doctors and teachers, community leaders and community servants, but we don’t need to be defined by our successes. We need only be defined by the fact that we are people, too. Being one of us is not an insult.

Trump’s use of our identity as an insult is reprehensible. A few commentator’s responses have been equally saddening.

SE Cupp, a writer for CNN, called Trump’s statements “disappointing, embarrassing, even revolting.”

It is disappointing that these commentators accepted that portion of Trump’s tweets as insults. They could have capitalized on a teachable moment. While it is cruel to use “low-IQ” as derogatory, it is cruel only because it demeans people with low-IQ by suggesting they are worthy of insult. Possessing a low-IQ does not make someone worthy of insult. A few journalists missed this critical distinction. They decried Trump for accusing Mika of the indignity of having a low-IQ. By doing so, they perpetuate the negative misconception that having a low-IQ is an insult.

Instead of using the teachable moment, several members of the media stooped to Trump’s level. SE Cupp wrote that the President’s statements indicate that he needs “therapy or a good cry.” Seth Meyers, the host of “Late Night,” speculated that when Donald Trump stated he “said no” he meant he said no to his “f***ing meds.” Both Ms. Cupp and Mr. Meyers have turned critical components of many recovery plans into punchlines. Choosing to begin medication or therapy is one of the most impactful decisions a person can make. Doing so is challenging, and requires intense vulnerability. Treating this as a joke perpetuates the negative societal impression, which limits the number of people who seek support. Mr. Meyers further taps into society’s idea of somebody going “off their meds.” He extends the false belief that the prosocial behavior of people with mental health issues is dependent on medication regimens, and not on multi-pronged recovery plans that require intense personal commitment.

Joe and Mika wrote a response to Trump’s comments in the Washington Post, stating that he is not “mentally equipped” to watch “Morning Joe.” This seemingly innocuous statement plays into the disturbing implication that ability-based discrimination is reasonable. It implies that people living with mental health issues should be deprived of certain books, movies or games because they might negatively affect us and we might become a danger to society. Much like the statement by Mr. Meyers, it suggests that people living with mental health challenges lack the agency to make our own choices and must depend on others to decide our lives for us.

At the very core of these articles is the unspoken premise that Donald Trump has a mental health condition, and should be mocked for it. The media presents the idea that if somebody acts in a way that is negative or strange (as Trump certainly has), they must be living with a mental illness. For the last half century, the APA has had a policy — the Goldwater Rule — that mental health professionals do not speculate about the behavioral health of public personalities. We can all emulate them. Let’s discuss the problematic actions of Donald Trump, but let’s do so in a way that does not drag people living with mental illness down with him.

If you absolutely need to relate mental illness to current events, many Americans living with mental health conditions are about to lose their Medicaid if the Senate has its way. Call your Senators, and call Mitch McConnell.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Originally published: July 5, 2017
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