On Tuesday night, Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union that wasn’t actually a State of the Union because, blah blah, technicality, but it was functionally a State of the Union address. Tuesday also happened to be the last day of February, which is celebrated annually as Rare Disease Day. Our slimy president did not miss the opportunity to exploit this coincidence for his political needs. He mentioned a person with a rare disease in the audience and championed her as evidence that his policy towards the FDA is in the best interest of people with disabilities.
(Aside: “People with disabilities” and “people with rare diseases” aren’t synonymous terms. Not all disabilities are caused by rare diseases and not all rare diseases cause disability. However, for the rest of this post, I will group them both together under the term “people with disabilities” in the name of simpler sentence structure.)
Here’s a little excerpt from Tuesday:
True love for our people requires us to find common ground, to advance the common good and to cooperate on behalf of every American child who deserves a much brighter future. An incredible young woman is with us this evening, who should serve as an inspiration to us all. Today is Rare Disease Day, and joining us in the gallery is a rare disease survivor, Megan Crowley.
Megan was diagnosed with Pompe disease, a rare and serious illness, when she was 15 months old. She was not expected to live past five. On receiving this news, Megan’s dad, John, fought with everything he had to save the life of his precious child. He founded a company to look for a cure and helped develop the drug that saved Megan’s life. Today, she is 20 years-old and a sophomore at Notre Dame.
Megan’s story is about the unbounded power of a father’s love for a daughter. But our slow and burdensome approval process at the food and drug administration keeps too many advances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reaching those in need. If we slash the restraints, not just at the FDA, but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles just like Megan.
His faux concern for people with disabilities does not match anything that we know to be true about Donald Trump. Throughout his campaign, he showed a consistent disregard for the lives of people with disabilities. Watching this man point to a young woman in the audience in order to advance his backwards agenda was one of the most infuriating things I have seen him do.
Let’s get one thing straight about Donald Trump and disability right away: He is an unabashed eugenicist. He believes that certain people are born with superior DNA, and thus are more prone to success. He believes that due to his genetics, he is one of those innately superior individuals. The implication of this view is obvious. The President of the United States believes that I, a constituent of his who was born with a rare disease, have been inferior to him since birth due to two tiny mutations in one of my genes.
He also thinks that Megan Crowley, the woman in attendance Tuesday night, is inferior to him. No matter what he said this week, his eugenicist beliefs demand that of him. And he pointed to her anyway; he pointed to her as the first of many “miracles” that will happen once he deregulates the FDA. He insulted our collective intelligence and tried to position himself as the man that will lead people with disabilities into the golden age of scientific research.
His behavior, however, reflects that eugenicist worldview.
First off, it’s not clear what his healthcare policy is. He demands that Obamacare be repealed and replaced, but also wants coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and for nobody to lose insurance under his plan. These two desires directly contradict each other, which has already led to confusion in Congress and in the general population. His lack of specificity on this topic reveals his apathy towards people in need of health insurance, many of whom have disabilities or rare diseases. If Trump continues to spout platitudes without any substance, it will reinforce what we already know: He just doesn’t care about our lives, as long as his ideas are perceived as good.
Perhaps the most infamous single moment of Trump’s campaign was when he insulted Serge Kovaleski, a reporter for the New York Times who has a disability. He mimicked Kovaleski’s contractions and flailed about on stage. It was grotesque, rising far above the “mocking” that the media settled on as its description of choice. He tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, and many of his supporters claimed that he did those gestures all the time, to mock people without disabilities as well. But that is just as bad, because it means that Trump makes fun of able-bodied people by pretending that they have body movements similar to people with disabilities.
This pattern, mind you, is not limited to people with disabilities. Trump has consistently demeaned large swaths of the population, then attempted to curry favor with them through superficiality. It doesn’t always work in gaining support, but it almost always distracts from his inhumane policies.
For example, it’s well-established that Trump is a racist. The evidence is so overwhelming that if you don’t believe this by now, nothing I write will be able to convince you. And yet, at a campaign event over the summer, he tried to prove that this wasn’t the case by calling on the audience to “Look at my African-American over there!” He has not proposed one policy that will actually help people of color, but he had no qualms about using one as a political prop to further his message. We saw this again with his infamous “I love Hispanics!” taco bowl tweet that flew in the face of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Even during the speech on Tuesday, he did it again. He led a round of applause for the wife of the Navy SEAL who was killed during the raid in Yemen that Trump approved with negligent planning. His irresponsibility killed this man, and he had the gall to show remorse to his wife. Just to be clear, it’s not objectionable that she got a standing ovation. What is objectionable—sinister, even—is for him to claim solidarity with her even though his actions are the reason for her grief.
Donald Trump sees everybody in the world, except those within his inner circle, as pawns to be utilized for his personal gain. He sees himself as the genetically-crowned king, to be shielded from criticism at all costs. It doesn’t matter to him if the pawns die in a meaningless sacrifice, as long as the king’s power is preserved for one more turn.
Unfortunately, as Trump has risen to power, we can no longer rely on these cute metaphors to describe him. His bigotry has affected every underprivileged group in this country and seeped into the political discourse at unprecedented levels. And yes, it’s jarring whenever Trump sends off a surreal tweet or introduces a hate-filled executive order. It’s easy to focus on policy outcomes or the White House’s irresponsible organization, and let that dominate the day.
But don’t let that focus come at the expense of more basic gestures. Donald Trump—the most powerful man in the world—doesn’t give a shit about any of us, particularly those of us in marginalized communities. This is the most basic job requirement for any president, and he flaunts it with glee, no matter what he claims. In a fight that often devolves to grandstanding, we cannot lose sight of this. There are real lives at stake here, and we must make them the reason for our defiance.