Donald Trump, mockery personified
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In characteristic fashion, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE responded to criticism by lashing out with a tweet. This time it responded to a Priorities USA ad titled “Grace” featuring parents of a disabled child dismayed by Trump mocking a disabled reporter. “The children at Grace’s school all know never to mock her,” says Grace’s mom. “And so for an adult to mock someone with a disability, is shocking.”

I would NEVER mock disabled,” tweeted Trump. While Trump’s lies are legion, Trump surprisingly admitted he lied in his tweet’s opening sentence.

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Every English-speaking child knows the meaning of “mock” without consulting a dictionary. For Trump’s sake, the Oxford English dictionary defines “mock” as: “mimic (someone or something) scornfully or contemptuously.” Other dictionaries vary, but “imitation” or “mimicking” in a “scornful” or “contemptuous” manner are common elements.

With this definition in mind, let’s revisit the original incident and Trump’s purported defense. Last fall Trump took issue with a reporter who criticized Trump’s (mis)statements about celebrations after 9/11. “Poor guy, you oughta see this guy,” Trump said of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, forecasting a visual impression. Trump raised his hands, wrists bent, and flailed his arms while (purportedly) quoting the reporter, “uh, I don’t know what I said, uh, I don’t remember.” The crowd laughed.

Trump tweeted in his defense: “Clinton made a false ad about me where I was imitating a reporter GROVELING after he changed his story.” By acknowledging he was “imitating” another person for an act (groveling) that Trump views with “scorn” and “contempt” (quite the opposite of toughness), Trump unwittingly characterized his response as text-book mockery—about a disabled person. In Trump’s parallel universe, contemptuously imitating a person’s physical impairment is neither mocking nor wrong. It’s both.

The Kovaleski incident shouldn’t distract from the insidious ways in which Donald Trump’s very being threatens to turn back the clock on disability rights. The United States has led the world in recognizing that people with disabilities should be empowered to participate fully in our economic and social fabric. But our international leadership is faltering due to a breakdown in bipartisan support at home. The U.S. Senate failed on party lines to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted by 160 countries. Meanwhile, the Great Recession and our nation’s crumbling infrastructure hit people with disabilities particularly hard.

We need to renew our commitment to increasing employment options for persons with disabilities and making our transportation systems and physical environments more accessible. Everyone wins when people with disabilities contribute to our economy rather than get trapped in cycles of dependence. All of us should support the kind of society we would want if we had disabilities, because virtually all of us—or our family members—will one day.

We need presidential leadership. RespectAbility submitted a disability policy questionnaire to all presidential candidates. Senator Clinton answered every question in detail. Trump didn’t bother to respond. His campaign website doesn’t so much as mention people with disabilities. This should come as no surprise.

Trump is notorious for noxious statements about Latinos (“criminals,” “rapists”), women (“ugly,” “pigs”), Muslims (“terrorists”), and others. Trump sows divisions between “us” and “them.” Trump divides people based on their bodies. Only “hot” women have value in Trump’s world. He presumes that all people with shared racial or ethnic backgrounds or religious beliefs can be defined as groups rather than their individual merits: the textbook definition of racism one might say.

This categorical thinking threatens disability rights even though Trump rarely speaks of disability. Trump speaks about a discredited claim that vaccines cause autism. He derides the “disability racket” in Time to Get Tough. “On and on, scam after scam it goes,” says the founder of Trump University about income support for people with disabilities. Trump apparently would simply prefer that disabled people weren’t around to take his money.

Trump’s attitudes about women and minorities remind us that, until recently, it was legal to prohibit a disabled person from eating in a restaurant simply because others didn’t like how she looked or to fire a person with a disability because he used a wheelchair. We cannot afford to unravel the arc that bends toward disability empowerment.

“Shame!” That’s how Trump concluded his tweet. Shame on Trump. His contempt for people that are different is so consuming that he personifies mockery and threatens to make a mockery of the United States. It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

Jonathan Young, JD, PhD, served as Chairman of the National Council on Disability from 2010-2013 and is the author of Equality of Opportunity: The Making of the Americans with Disabilities Act.