Self, Heartbreak

I Don't Believe Trump OR Obama Meant To Mock Disabled People, But...

Photo: YouTube
Did Trump And Obama Mocked Disabled People?

I do live on this planet known as Earth, so yes, I have been aware that during Donald Trump's presidential campaign he related a story about New York Times journalist Serge Kovaleski while gesticulating in a way that may or may not have been intended to mock the reporter's disability.

To be crystal clear before I go any further, while I do not ascribe to any one particular political party, I do consider myself a Liberal on the whole. I believe in equal rights, equal opportunity, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, separation of church and state, etc.

Throughout the 2016 Presidential election, I found myself bewildered by Trump's behavior. Frankly, I just didn't believe that he would win — or that he even wanted to. From my own, admittedly minor, personal knowledge of him, I believed him to be a good person on the whole and hoped to maintain my optimistic perception that he was putting on one hell of a show.

I made a choice not to watch the clip of that fateful speech in which he allegedly mocked Kovaleski —  because I assumed he actually did so.

I believed that in Trump's grand performance for the most heartless of those on the Right, he behaved like the nastiest boy in the entire 4th grade, making fun of someone less fortunate than himself.

I finally decided to watch, however, when someone recently shared another video, this time showing President Barack Obama — also mocking those with disabilities.

When President Obama appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in March of 2009, he shared a story about his bowling practice at the White House.

President Obama: "I bowled a 129."

Leno (sarcastically): "Oh, no! That's very good. Yah ... No, that's very good, Mr. President."

President Obama (chuckling): "It was like, it was like Special Olympics or something..."


Not. Cool.

At all.

Watch below to see it for yourself.

Seeing this, I had to see for myself as well what really went down with Trump. So back to YouTube I went.

Yes, he certainly did appear to be making fun of the reporter in question.

And then, I watched this video compiling several outtakes from more of Trump's campaign speeches. 

Indeed, it appears that Trump uses similar gestures, facial expressions, and vocal intonations consistently when relaying something said by one of his opponents and that he, therefore, was not singling out Kovelski for being disabled. 

In my mind, this does make a HUGE difference, but not in that it excuses Trump's actions as not being derogatory toward those who are disabled. In fact, what I believe underlies the extremely poor behavior of both Trump AND Obama is far more insidious.

It is a sense of "ableism" so deeply ingrained in ALL of our cultural bias that neither Obama nor Trump was likely aware it exists within them.

I am a good decade-plus younger than President Obama and a few generations younger than Donald Trump, yet I clearly remember that when I was a kid no one batted an eyelash if you repeated a "dumb" thing someone said or answered someone's "dumb" question while speaking as though they were what we ignorantly called "retarded."

Today we know so much better, and in some ways, that has also made us so much worse.

We have become hyper-defensive and politically correct.

Following Obama's appearance on Leno, he made a phone call to Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics board, well aware of his error.

Shriver told Good Morning America:

"He was very sincere, expressed an interest and an openness in being more engaged in the movement, and said he was a fan of the movement and I think, importantly, he said he was ready to have some of our athletes over to the White House to bowl or play basketball or help him improve his score ...

I think it's important to see that words hurt, and words do matter — and these words can, in some way, be seen as humiliating or [a] put-down to people with special needs ... [They] do cause pain, and they do result in stereotypes, and they do result in behavior that's neglectful and almost [an] oppressive moment of people with special needs ..."

Of course, I thought to myself, I am sure this was different, in that I'm sure Obama MUST have apologized publicly for his words.

Welp ... turns out the statement issued by the White House didn't even come from Obama himself but from deputy press secretary Bill Burton, who said:

"The president made an off-hand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks the Special Olympics is a wonderful program that gives an opportunity for people with disabilities from around the world."

Ohhhhh ... I see ... He didn't mean it that way. And he's really a good guy. So no harm, no foul.

Small digression.

Jay Leno began the conversation that led to that "off-hand remark" by President Obama with the following:

"Are they gonna put in a basketball ... I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down, right?"

This is what you ask the first black president of the United States two months after his inauguration? If he has "burned and closed down" the bowling alley that has been in the White House since 1947 in order to make room for a basketball court?

So everything I am saying in relation to our internalized but self-denied ableism is just as true as our internalized but self-denied racism.

OK, back to our regular programming.

Obama never apologized to the special needs community and Trump has not apologized to Kovalevski.

Instead, he and his supporters wave the video compiling shots of him making the same gestures shown above and cry, "See! He wasn't making fun of THAT guy! That's how he makes fun of EVERYONE!"

I do see what they are saying, in that, again, it does not appear that Trump was singling out the one reporter. BUT ... that doesn't make it OK to make fun of your opponents by mocking their manner of speech at all. Call them out on false statements. Call them out on poor judgment or faulty logic. Point out the errors in their reasoning.

Basically, be an adult involved in a mature level of debate.

Our need to defend each of ourselves (as well as the people we like) as unbiased only makes things worse as we sweep things we should be talking about openly under the rug because we like the person who said them — and that goes for people on both sides of the party lines.

I recently wrote about Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech for this same reason. 

Upon reading that article, people rushed to either bash me as an "orange buffoon supporter" or to laud me for taking down "liberal pansy snowflake[s]," when my point was the exact opposite of such responses.

I whole-heartedly believe that Meryl Streep had the right to use her time in whatever way and for whatever purpose she wanted. I also understand her grave concerns about Trump's upcoming presidency. I certainly have concerns and reservations about him aplenty. There is no denying that he has said and done highly problematic things.

At the heart of my thoughts and words, however, was essentially a plea to all of us to state our cases based on verifiable facts rather than on assumptions, moral judgments or personal outrage.

As I as said above, I can understand why it seems as though Trump was specifically mocking Kovaleski, but I don't believe he was, and even if I did, there is no way to verify that position as a fact.

Enough troubling facts about Donald Trump exist in order to state the Liberal case for concern — there is NO need to throw in dramatic and biased examples that can never be proven true or false.

To say that any one of us is without biases based upon our own particular cultural, social, religious, educational, moral, familial and national backgrounds is to retard, quite literally, our progress as humanity.

President Barack Obama mocked the Special Olympics, and that is not acceptable.

President-elect Donald Trump has regularly mocked others by using mannerisms associated with people who have physical and mental disabilities, and that is not acceptable.

Comedian and former talk show host Jay Leno mocked President Obama by asking a question based on stereotypes of African-Americans, and that is not acceptable.

And all three of them are human beings, and I don't know a single human being who hasn't done or said something unacceptable at some point in their life.

I am not saying that we should accept the unacceptable. I am saying that we CANNOT fix it until we acknowledge it, apologize for it, and learn from it.

Tim Shriver closed his statement on Good Morning America by saying:

"This kind of language needs to be a teachable moment for our country, I think ... I would hope every parent that's at home this morning watching this show could turn to their children and say, 'This is a chance for us to recognize that when we talk about Special Olympics, when we talk about people with special needs. Let's make sure we talk about it in an affirming way."

There can't be teachable moments if we try to deny that the people we like did anything wrong.

And there can't be teachable moments if we get so caught up in punishing the person who was in error that we forget to turn to the people who were hurt to ask, "How can we help you through this?"

My sincere hope for the next four years — and hopefully well beyond — is that we can all do far less turning to attack each other and far more turning to see who we can support in the ways they need us most.