Donald Trump says a lot of extreme, ridiculous and offensive things. When I heard he was running for President of the United States, I laughed. And then I started hearing snippets of campaign speeches and while I continued to marvel at the ludicrousness of Trump in office, I also started to get nervous. I’m not nervous because I actually think he’ll be elected; I’m nervous that someone with his extreme and offensive views has so much power and influence already and he only wants more.
I try to turn a blind eye to the things that come out of Donald Trump’s mouth. It’s been working very well for me. And then he mocked a reporter with a disability. One could take issue with his entire speech, in which he discusses seeing people in America celebrating the 9/11 attacks –but I don’t want to get too far into that.
The reporter in question is Serge Kovaleski of The New York Times; he has arthrogryposis, a chronic condition that limits movement. In referencing Kovaleski, Trump flailed his arms around, keeping his elbows locked and his wrists slack, saying “You gotta see this guy, going ‘Oh, I don’t remember what I said. Ah!’”
When he caught flack for it, Trump clumsily backpedaled. I read a headline that said he didn’t mock Kovaleski, he merely ‘mimicked’ him. Because that’s so much better? If Trump has issues with the content of an article and has an opposing view that he’d like to challenge a reporter on, that is his perfectly legitimate prerogative. But don’t mock a man’s disability. For all the obvious reasons, just don’t do it.
To point out the most obvious of all the obvious reasons, his disability has no bearing on his merit as a journalist. If you’re going to take issue with his reporting, then take issue with his reporting.
People like Donald Trump are the perfect example of the barriers that exist in the minds of the able-bodied members of a society. By bringing his disability into the conversation, Trump crossed a line that is entirely different from the countless issues one could find in his personal views regarding the economy, religion, war or a litany of other things. Trump took away Kovaleski’s worth as a human being by reducing him to a joke.
I have no doubt that while angry, Kovaleski is able to recognize that Trump’s opinion of him is not anything he should lose sleep over and I applaud him for that. But just because he may be able to recognize that he shouldn’t allow himself to be totally devalued by the likes of Donald Trump doesn’t mean that it’s actually easy to do that. Having a thick skin is exhausting. People with disabilities have to put up with discrimination and insensitivity on a daily basis. No matter how strong you are, it gets tiring.
I’ve been living with my disability for my entire life. This is the only reality I know. I’ve always needed help transferring in and out of the shower; I’ve always needed help cooking and cutting my food; I’ve always needed to know that I can rely on my friends to help me in the bathroom if they need to. It doesn’t mean I like the fact that people need to see me naked every day; it doesn’t mean that I like having to ask my friends to cut my food into bite size pieces; it doesn’t mean I like needing help in public bathrooms or in the bathrooms of my friends’ houses; it doesn’t mean I like the fact that when I get sick, someone has to literally clean me up.
I know I need all of these things. I’ve never not needed these things. I am an extremely independent person and there is a lot that I can do for myself. I know people whose disabilities are equally as severe as mine – sometimes less so – who need much more help, with much more personal things. In spite of the fact that this is my reality and I am in fact very lucky to not require much more complicated assistance, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, I just get really bitter and find myself wishing I could be left alone to shower, pee, or cut my own food in peace.
The disabled community does not need to be mocked or ‘mimicked’ by Donald Trump. Our lives are enough of a challenge, thank you very much, Mr. Trump. If you could just see past the physical limitations we have and recognize us as people that would be greatly appreciated. Our disabilities do not define us, so there’s no need to mock us – or sorry, ‘mimic’ us – to get your point across.
Layla Guse Salah