Leadership, Strength, and Stigma in Trump’s America

Blog post by Gillian Card, Durham, North Carolina, 2017.

Image result for trump mocking disabled reporter

Image description: Donald Trump, wearing a red tie and standing at a microphone with a large group of people behind him holding Trump campaign posters, impersonates a reporter with a disability. His arms gesticulate in stiff, jerky motions; his head and shoulders are drawn back; his eyes pop as though in surprise; and his mouth is open with lips thrust forward.

On November 8th, 2016 (if they hadn’t done so before), America solidified the stigma surrounding disability by electing a man to be President of the United States who had (on a multitude of instances) put disabled people in a negative light, making them seem worthless. The win also revealed the attitudes of the country that elected him. The win revealed that in Trump’s America, disabled people shouldn’t be seen as human, they should be mocked, called weak, even dehumanized.

I look at my NFL Patriots t-shirt and I spot the slogan “WE ARE ALL PATRIOTS” printed at the bottom. I used to trust in this statement because I had hope and trusted in our country that we would make progress. But now as I read that slogan it feels more like an insult, because I hate that on that day, we took a huge step back in history, erasing all the progress that we had made. I had such strong hope that we would finally break the glass ceiling, and then all of that hope dropped to the floor. I never thought I would actually live and experience the world that I learned about in U.S. History class, the world that my parents told me about.

“Trump’s America exists on values of competition and strength.”

“Retarded” has reemerged as the word to describe the disabled. That is Trump’s America. America elected a man who’s favorite three words (in order) are: “you are fired” or “you lose.” Themes of hate are ingrained within him, and now, themes of hated are ingrained in the soil of America, even deeper than before. Trump’s America exists on values of competition and strength. We strive to be “better” than others. This system harms everyone involved.

Trump publicly (on national television with all of America watching) mocked a disabled reporter/journalist and while some people shook their head in disbelief for such respect, millions laughed. “Wrong.” “I did not mock him.” … Trump may have denied the implications of his actions, but that does not account for the pain that disabled people feel in Trump’s America. In Trump’s America, disability = weakness. Like a math equation, with no other possible alternative.

Trump is the strong bully from grade school that called you a “loser” and pushed you down into the ground, making you feel weak. The only difference now, is that the group of guys watching and laughing as he beat you up has grown from ten people to half of America. He is reemerging in a much more powerful position. He has the power to control America and misrepresent you, implement laws that work against you and people will pay attention to him and follow his lead. He calls people weak, puts them down.

1 in every 5 people in America has a disability. 20% of the population, then, is considered “weak” in Trump’s America, and this does not account for all the other people he has put down and called weak on the basis of their gender, race or ethnicity.

In Trump’s America, you are defined by your disorder, by your wheelchair or your bottle of pills. It is hard to stand up, when everyone wants to push you down. The word “disability” presents doubt in itself. It assumes that the inability to do anything, but this is not true. People with disabilities are still very able. They may be unable to walk or unable to communicate in the normal way but that does not mean they cannot live a happy life or achieve success in their goals. Do not put people down and assume that they are incapable of all things.

“1 in every 5 people in America has a disability.”

A disorder is like a barrier that makes doing certain things slightly harder, but that does not mean that you cannot find ways to get around the barrier and grow stronger. Some of the most successful people in the world have had disabilities. Stephen Hawking has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and still has had major success. Stevie Wonder cannot see, but that did not prevent him from reaching immense fame and success as a musician. These are only two examples of the countless number of times that disabled people have been successful. Having a disorder does not automatically mean you cannot be successful. And it certainly does NOT make you a lesser human. Disabilities do not have to make you weak, you can build resistance and find ways to get around the barrier.

The stigma is everywhere; join the fight to break it. Tell disabled people that they are loved, because by Trump’s America, they are forced to believe the opposite. Love thy neighbor, but also don’t make them feel like they are “different.”

It is a long, hard, painful fight as will not be over until everyone understands the implications of their actions and how it puts disabled people in a corner. This is not just a fight that will improve the lives of disabled people, it will improve the lives of everyone. In Trump’s America, we value competition and strength. We strive to be superior to others, to rise to the top of the social hierarchy. Conceptions of normalcy and social hierarchies create harm to everyone involved. Love thy neighbor, do not devalue others. If we view everyone as equals, the world will become a much happier place.

“Calling Trump ‘insane’ for his actions simply perpetuates the stigma surrounding disability.”

While raising awareness to fight the stigma, it is important that we steer away from the use of direct criticism. For instance, calling Trump “insane” for his actions simply perpetuates the stereotypes and stigma surrounding disability. As we try to fight against his actions and stand up for the people who suffer from his actions, it is easy to create other negative associations; however, this will not create any progress in the fight. Responding to his actions by calling him “insane” (a word that is associated with disability) simply extends the negative associations with disability in society. It wont be over when everyone pities disabled people and treats them in a “special” way, because disabled people do not want to be “special,” they want to be treated as equals. The fight will not be over until disabilities are normalized and until every person with a disability is given a chance to succeed without being given doubt along the way.