As President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Presumptive Democratic nominee, sharpen their attacks on each other in the run-up to the US Presidential Election, they have resorted to words and statements that smack of ableism and present disability as incompatible with the projection of leadership.
The ableism narrative has been once again brought to the fore by the now viral rant by President Trump “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV”. In fact, last I checked on Google search; it seems to be the most searched entry.
It is just Trump who is insisting on putting the issue of his own fitness for office right in the middle of the campaign, Biden camp and Trump distractors have been ‘pathologizing’ the President Trump as a disabled toddler-in-chief.
US congressman Don Beyer (D–V.A.) compared the president to a toddler in a tweet. To Beyer, Trump’s curious commitment to the notion that the novel coronavirus will simply “disappear” makes him less sophisticated than a “toddler who touches a stove” and quickly learns “not [to] touch it again.”
Political scientist Daniel Drezner authored ‘The Toddler in Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches Us about the Modern Presidency’ with book’s cover carrying the image “Trump Baby” balloon, which has become iconic.
Trump has been attacking Biden on the latter’s cognitive decline in a very systematic manner. In fact, there is an official campaign ad by the Trump camp where Biden is presented in scenes in which he seems ‘confused, disoriented, or at a loss for words.’
Last month, Trump’s West Point commencement speech event coverage was overshadowed by his so-called inability to walk down the ramp with the Republican-led Lincoln Project unveiling an ad presenting the president as “unfit” and “weak.”
Ultimately, as Byrd McDaniel and Paul M. Renfro write, these attacks from both sides underscore what disability theorist Tobin Siebers has described time and time again: “The pathologization of other identities by disability… summons the historical and representational structures by which disability, sickness, and injury come to signify inferior human status.”
One the most troubling aspect of the US Presidential campaign narrative is that this line of public discourse not only reinforces the idea that disability is incompatible with ideal leadership, it is also high jacking the agenda away from multiple crises that the US is facing with Coronavirus pandemic and massive social collapse with protests against inequality and racial discrimination.