Beyond Outrage: Civil Rights, Not Pity

Arlene Mayerson,
Directing Attorney, DREDF
I have been thinking a lot about how outraged people and the media are about Donald Trump’s mocking of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter. Polls show that this mockery is the most unpopular of all of Trump’s outrageous racist, sexist, xenophobic, bullying, insulting statements and portrayals. As a disability rights lawyer for the last almost 40 years, I have been pondering this reaction. I am wondering how this reaction relates to the aims of the disability rights movement to fight against discrimination, segregation and exclusion.

No doubt that Trump’s mocking arm movements and disgusted facial expression is a prime example of bullying. And no doubt that bullying is a major problem for people with disabilities. But I feel like everyone has jumped on this incident as a breach of decorum (don’t stare, don’t make fun), but no one is talking about it from a policy perspective. This type of mocking is not just a matter of manners, decorum and crossing lines, but has real and terrible policy implications.

Trump and KovaleskiDonald Trump mocks Serge Kovaleski

I don’t think people or the media are making the policy connections about this the way we do for racist and sexist comments. We care about Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants because it has real consequences for immigration reform and the civil rights of Mexican Americans. We know that the gross remarks about women are reflected in denying women the right to choose and unequal pay for equal work. But I don’t think that people and the media know that degrading images of people with disabilities affects public policies that the disability rights movement has fought decades to achieve.

One of the first briefs that I wrote to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 cited a study that found there was a direct correlation between the people that pity blind people and those that espoused segregation.[1] For this reason, a mere taboo against making fun of people with disabilities does not translate into inclusive public policies based on principles of equality.

Trump’s mocking is not just the breaking of a taboo but represents a very real threat to disability civil rights. De-institutionalization is at stake. Employment is at stake.

Trump’s mocking of Serge’s disability is not only about incivility and bullying, which are bad enough. These attitudes about disability, result in a backlash against the political struggle for equal rights and dignity of people with disability. Trump’s mockery not only shows a level of disregard and cluelessness, it threatens four decades of hard-won political gains in the struggle for the civil rights of people with disabilities.

This post first appeared on The Impact Fund’s Social Justice Blog.

[1]. Lukoff & Whiteman, Attitudes Towards Blindness, 55 The New Outlook for the Blind 39, 42 (1961)

6 thoughts on “Beyond Outrage: Civil Rights, Not Pity”

  1. It’s hard to connect those dots, maybe , out of guilt trump donates millions to employment of people w disabilities personal money. Maybe out of restitution he introduces huge gov jobs program? It might resemble the Jerry Lewis situation. Do we say, no thanks? We have never put forth a worthy effort to professionally train PWDS to be needed by employers!

  2. Trump, when manic, does this quite often. It means absolutely nothing other than demonstrating the absurdity of the situation he is describing. And, at this time he was describing the said Kovaleski’s backtracking on what he said soon after 9/11 and what he was asked to say or repeat, about it now. The man backtracked, obviously because what was said then, was OK, but not now. Someone, obviously, had his back against a wall and he was genuinely uncomfortable about being faced with the question. Personally, I remember reading about those who were observed celebrating while the towers were coming down, not only in NY, but all over the world. So, yes, it happened or did according the the news media at the time. If it was truth then, it’s truth now. If it was a lie then, it is a lie now. You can’t change one with the other. I know what I heard.

  3. Wow Catryna! You are really clueless, aren’t you? What Arlene wrote is so true! He doesn’t give a rat’s butt who he hurts or gives people who follow him the ok, you were told your whole life not to stare at disabled / handicapped people but I’m saying go ahead! Make them feel more ashamed they’re in public again! Imitate then and people around you will laugh and make fun, too.
    We have worked hard to get laws put in place to protect those that can’t help themselves. I’ve been stared at my whole life. Is it because I look different than everyone or is it because I lost 80 lbs and I’m beautiful?
    Get a grip and think about others for once in your pathetic life.

  4. Donald Trump doesn’t care about or respect anyone. His behavior is shameful and inexcusable. I had a handicapped brother and remember kids teasing. I have seen it in plenty of other situations. A grown man should not behave this way, much less someone who represents the American people. Thank you Arlene for your post here and for all your work. I am glad to have found a worthy organization to connect to and contribute to in my brother’s name. I would say ignore the ugly postings you see here and there. There are plenty of decent people rising up in the wake of this tragic election. I suspect that, if we are patient, many that have chosen to look the other way will eventually have a deeper understanding and kinder way of looking at the world.

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