Trumping Human Decency: Perspectives on Trump’s Disrespect for People with Disabilities

When New York businessman Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he directed profoundly negative comments at people with disabilities. He went beyond marginalizing their viewpoints and making them feel unimportant, like second-class citizens. He outright bullied them.
In New York Times article “Donald Trump Says His Mocking of a New York Times Reporter Was Misread”, reporter Maggie Haberman points out how childishly Trump will behave. Trump humiliated New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski through jerking his arms around and holding his right arm at an angle during a rally in South Carolina. Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints.
David Moscrop, in University of British Columbia post-graduate work, specializing in political behaviour and basic human rights says, “his (Trump’s) behaviour when he criticized a disabled New York Times journalist illustrates that — he plainly just doesn’t think about how he treats others.” He adds that his actions demonstrate all the kinds of awful messages people in power can get away with and that they tend to add more suffering to the disabled community…. who already face a myriad of real and structural barriers. Structural barriers could be something as simple as a curb, impassable by a wheelchair or a lack of elevators.
Amit Sharma, who lives with a spinal cord injury, explains that Trump doesn’t have the right viewpoint of people with disabilities. He seems incapable of compassion or understanding – he simply lacks empathy. “I think that he needs to apologize to the disabled community because of his code of conduct during his campaign” says the 36-year-old Vancouver resident.
The perception of society matters. Disadvantaged people feel that they have a solid case for believing that they are perceived as second class. That should be taken seriously and certainly not mocked.
Moscrop believes that society in general must take a closer look when it comes to discrimination and marginalization, pointing to the fact that the intent is what matters. He feels that ultimately it all comes down to whether someone is deliberately trying to discriminate or marginalize the handicapped. Trump’s actions and words champion the worst of such societal attitudes.
People with disabilities face structural obstacles daily and react rationally and fairly to a world that is often unwelcoming and unaccommodating. In many cases, human decency is enough to help mitigate the effects of structural discrimination and marginalization — though much more is required to address and eliminate their causes. “However, when it comes to Trump, decency isn’t a word that comes to mind,” Moscrop said.
Another instance of Trump’s lack of regard, specifically for disadvantaged humans, was when 12-year-old J.J. Holmes, who has cerebral palsy, was ejected from a Trump rally in Tampa Bay. He wanted to protest Trump’s treatment of people with disabilities. Holmes, who uses a vocalization device to communicate, twice said “I hate Donald Trump” before needlessly being removed by security.
Trump’s broad appeal to the American electorate demonstrates the pervasive acceptance of discrimination and marginalization of people with disabilities. Trump saw an opportunity for political advantage in appealing to the worst of America and being dismissive of a large segment of society. According to a 2015 study published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five adults lives with some form of a disability. This equates to 53 million Americans. In addition the report identified that the most common disability was a functional limitation. The researchers in the study pointed out that the Southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee tended to have chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes, which may contribute to disability.
Moscrop believes that there is hope for integration and inclusion for people with disabilities and emphasizes that society has to have respect and integrity when it comes to the rights of the disabled. He suggests we should all look to have open, honest and well-meaning dialogue. He feels that those measures will go a long way to benefit the community and should have been the route taken by Trump.
Trump’s behaviour towards people with disabilities is unconscionable. Eventually he will learn that things never end well for a bully.