The media was outraged.
In the finest — make that the worst — traditions of political correctness, there was outrage over Donald Trump’s alleged mimicking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski. Kovaleski suffers from arthrogryposis, a disease that affects arm movements. The controversy arose over a fourteen-year-old story in the Washington Post when then-Post reporter Kovaleski wrote a piece saying there were allegations of people* in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11. Trump cited the piece as proof of his claim that were “thousands” of Muslims celebrating the attacks in New Jersey, and Kovaleski — over a decade later — then stepped in to disavow his own article, an article that was never questioned in the day. Trump, as is his wont, zeroed in Kovaleski, mocking him. Trump denied he was making fun of Kovaleski’s disability, others insisted he was. A huge debate spun off the original issue of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey, with the question turning now to Trump’s conduct.
I sat in a studio for a CNN debate on the issue on Anderson Cooper’s show, paired with the liberal New York Times journalist Charles Blow. The question was raised about simple decency in dealing with the disabled. Suffice to say, I was pounded — fairly, I must emphasize. No complaints from me.
But I should say that as I sat there responding I had a thought I concluded would be wise not to blurt out on national television. While I discussed political correctness and a media double standard — this kind of fuss was not raised in the media when the Obama campaign ran a 2008 commercial mocking Senator John McCain’s disability (his war injuries render him unable to type and send e-mail) — I held back something.
My mother — 96 — is disabled. As happens to seniors, she has lost the ability to stand or walk. She lives with me, making me, as they say in the trade, the “caregiver,” a not unusual role for Baby Boomer children. For her to move anywhere I must lift her into her transport chair and wheel her from point A to point B, then lift her out of the chair onto her destination. She cannot dress herself. And, again in a fashion suffered by many seniors, while she does not have Alzheimer’s she does have periods every day where she has no idea where she is or who I am — and therefore no idea that she can’t stand or walk. The latter meaning that if I am in my office scribbling away and she suddenly gets it into her head to get up and walk somewhere she will fall instantly, a serious problem for seniors. Family and friends and bosses are all aware of my situation and have been wonderful as I move along with Mom. As a matter of fact, Donald Trump himself takes the time to inquire of her, hardly the mark of a man callously indifferent to the disabled.
After my appearance debating this issue the other night, I took the time to Google my question. And sure enough, as I suspected, there was the answer I had assumed to be correct.
Every group out there serving as disability activists prominently features the word “equality.”
Take the American Association of People with Disabilities. The AAPD says its mission is to “promote equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation for people with disabilities.” Or Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York: “We are a civil rights organization committed to ending discrimination against people with disabilities — all disabilities. We fight to eliminate the barriers that prevent us from enjoying full equality in American society.” And then there’s Human Rights Watch, which has this section on “Disability Rights” and says: “Globally, many of the world’s one billion individuals with disabilities struggle for access to education and employment, for the right to live in the community instead of being locked up in institutions, to express their sexuality and have children, and to participate in political and social life.”
Let’s repeat. These groups — picked at random from a long list of similar groups — all emphasize some version of the same point. They demand “equality.” One says specifically that they want “political participation for people with disabilities.” Another demands “full equality in American society.” Human Rights Watch demands the right “to participate in political and social life.”
OK. Fair enough. But here’s the question. What is “equality”? Answer? Equality is not just a question of being able to roll a wheel chair up a ramp for access to a building. Equality in the real world includes not just the good but the bad and the ugly. People without disabilities are mocked, made fun of, laughed at, argued with. Their foibles are held up for examination. Their personal characteristics are ridiculed — their hair (hello Donald Trump), their weight (hello Chris Christie), every notable physical characteristic that is to be had (Barack Obama’s ears) is fair game. That, in the real world, is “equality.” And most particularly does that real equality come in to play when one engages in what the groups above quaintly describe as “political participation.”
There is not a soul out there in the world of “political participation” who does not get mocked. Not a one. To demand “political participation” as an act of equality is to open the door to being mocked at a minimum.
So. Donald Trump says he wasn’t mocking reporter Kovaleski. His critics insist that he was. My question? The one I didn’t want to blurt out on CNN? What if he was? What if Trump was doing exactly what his critics insist? Is that not treating Serge Kovaleski as a real political equal? It is Kovaleski who insists on jumping into the fray of equals known as journalism. He is “disabled.” So is my mother. So… what? I treat my mother as I always did. Yes, there are concessions to her reality. But the absolute last thing I will do is let her think she is being condescended to, that she can’t do as much of her normal activities as she is still able to do.
Listening to all these people who have rushed to take umbrage over Kovaleski it strikes that they are being unbelievably condescending to Kovaleski. Treating an obviously smart guy as some sort of delicate flower who is not capable of dishing and talking like everybody else who does not have his particular disability.
Truth be told, this is typical of liberalism. America elected — twice — Barack Obama. A professional politician in every sense of the word, just like every one of his white predecessors. Yet when the inevitable tidal wave of criticism arrived, criticism that comes with being a public figure not to mention being president, up went the cry of racism. As if Obama were some poor defenseless African-American guy back in 1963 Birmingham as police dogs and the Klan lynch mobs closed in on him. When Trump dished to Fox’s Megyn Kelly, in a heartbeat there were those who quickly dismissed the thought that she was a professional journalist who could give and take with her male equals. Instead, very much like their condescending treatment of Serge Kovaleski, they instantly re-classified Kelly from journalist to poor, defenseless little woman. It was a disgraceful way to treat Kelly.
What disturbs in the rush to defend Kovaleski is the realization yet again that these howls of outrage are as phony as a three-dollar bill. When the Obama campaign of 2008 ran a campaign ad — which is to say a deliberately planned attack — mocking John McCain’s disabilities there was zero outrage. Zero. These supposed “outraged” Trump critics like the New York Times could have cared less about the attacks on McCain’s disabilities — because he was the Republican nominee for president, and as such a threat to the liberal agenda. This is exactly the same pattern that showed with the savaging of Clarence Thomas or Sarah Palin and a long list of others who happen to be black, women, Latinos — and conservative. Liberals are all for African-Americans or women — unless they turn out to be conservative. In which case they turn on a dime and trash them.
Is it a good thing to mock a disabled person? No. But the constant — and legitimate — demands to be treated as an “equal” means inevitably that equality is forthcoming. Donald Trump regularly dishes equality. And equality — real equality — is no bed of roses. As Serge Kovaleski just found out.
*UPDATE: Serge Kovaleski has written to me requesting a correction. See “Serge Kovaleski Corrects Record.”