What is the most offensive thing that Donald Trump has said or done since declaring his candidacy on June 16, 2015?
Well, to mention a few, he stereotyped Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals and rapists. A few days later, he disrespected a military veteran. This summer, he disparaged parents who had lost their son in the war in Iraq. He has made other racist, sexist and Islamophobic remarks.
However, a Bloomberg poll of likely voters showed that the Trump action that bothered the most people was when he flailed his arms, mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski’s disability.
We all look at things differently. One person might be get more offended by one thing, while the next would find something else far more offensive. I see troubling evidence of a cultural stigma in the results of the poll.
I think almost everybody would feel extremely uncomfortable if Donald Trump publicly mocked, disrespected or attacked a young child. We would see that as inappropriate and unfair because young children are perceived as being more helpless and defenseless than adults.
I am afraid that this same sentiment toward people with disabilities, despite being well-intentioned, is the main reason the Bloomberg poll showed that people were most bothered by Trump’s mocking of Kovaleski.
John McCain is a grown man and a war veteran; he can handle attacks. Megyn Kelly is a grown woman and a talk-show host; she can live with being affronted. We are bothered by Trump’s comments about them, but personal attacks are not unheard of when it comes to a political campaign.
But mocking a person’s disability? Now that crosses the line! That is the kind of affront that we can’t dismiss. It is clearly inappropriate. That kind of personal attack is just plain wrong.
Priorities USA, a super PAC that supports Hillary Clinton, released an ad featuring Chris and Lauren Glaros, the parents of a child with spina bifida. The ad plays on voters’ emotions, essentially conveying the point that Trump is a horrible person because he mocked someone with a disability.
“For an adult to mock somebody with a disability is shocking,” the mother says. The father adds: “When I saw Donald Trump mock somebody with a disability, it showed me his soul, his heart.”
There are three still photos of their daughter Grace, one when she was an infant and the other two presumably current. The ad isn’t about Grace, and she is only mentioned in reference to her disability. It is repeatedly implied how shocking and repulsive what Trump did was.
I have used a wheelchair since 2005, and, while part of that time I was a child, I have found even recently that some people treat me as helpless and defenseless, despite my being 22 and a college graduate.
And I have witnessed the same reaction toward other people with disabilities.
People think they are being kind and supportive; they think they are doing the right thing, being righteous and noble. Frankly, though, I see this attitude and these actions as patronizing, and I believe this patronizing attitude can be seen in the results of the poll.
Of course, Trump mocking Kovaleski was inappropriate, but to regard it as much more inappropriate than his other attacks certainly feels patronizing.
The purpose of the poll was not to get at people’s impressions of individuals with disabilities. But the patronizing attitude the poll has revealed must be confronted.
Elliott Lapin was an intern at The Bee in 2015, and now is an intern at the Miami Herald. elapin@alumni.Stanford.edu