By now, most people should probably know that Donald Trump mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Koveleski during a speech Wednesday. If you have not already done so, read my colleague streiff’s write up of the incident, which sets forth the backstory pretty nicely. Also, if you have not done so, I highly recommend watching the video of the incident in question, so you can judge for yourself exactly what happened.
This is obviously pretty ugly, even for Trump. Mocking a disabled person for their disability has been universally passé since at least the 1950s, and so some of his supporters have been out on twitter over the last couple of days offering various defenses for Trump’s behavior on this video. It is important to note that Trump himself has (as far as I know) offered only this by way of “explanation” for his actions:
Defense 1. Trump didn’t know Koveleski was disabled.
I do not know the reporter for the @nytimes, or what he looks like. I was showing a person groveling to take back a statement made long ago!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2015
This is, as it happens, the only even mildly meritorious possible defense for Trump’s shenanigans – that he did not know the reporter in question was disabled and was just mocking him for forgetting. No one, after all, is above mockery for being dishonest or cowardly, even the disabled.
Unfortunately, this defense is completely implausible to anyone possessed of a functioning forebrain. For one thing, there is a well-documented history between Koveleski and Trump going back for years and years that is by now a matter of extensive public record. There are voluminous writings by Koveleski from his time at the NYDN about Trump that are clearly reflective of in-person interviews with Trump.
Koveleski himself has noted the extent to which he and Trump have had personal interactions:
‘Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,’ said Kovaleski.
‘I’ve interviewed him in his office. I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.’
Perhaps you’re disinclined to believe the word of a New York Times reporter. Completely fair. There are still at least two compelling pieces of evidence that Trump is full of s*** when it comes to this story. The first is his repeated invocation of “the poor guy” when he is mocking Koveleski. When doing an impersonation of a disabled person, if you’re just doing it to mock him for being dishonest or cowardly and you don’t even know he’s disabled, you wouldn’t say “the poor guy.”
The second, of course, is this. Here is Serge Koveleski holding his arm/hand in the way he is forced to as a result of his physical disability:
Here is Donald Trump at two different points from the video, from when he first starts mocking Koveleski, then after when he says “the poor guy” and goes back to it:
So, to believe that Trump had no idea what Koveleski looked like or the particulars of his disability, you would have to believe a) that the entire written record of their numerous interactions is fabricated, and Koveleski in particular (the very person on whose word Trump is staking his 9/11 claims) is flat out lying b) that he said “the poor guy” when referring to Koveleski because… well, I have no idea what the “because” is even supposed to be on that one and c) Trump was able to pull off an imitation of Koveleski’s specific physical deformity purely by chance.
Trump’s twitter denizens have offered other, even more bizarre “defenses” for Trump. Let’s examine them to see if any have any merit.
2. “The Media” mocked Trig Palin for having Down’s Syndrome, so they are fair game.
First of all, let me note that the entire premise of this defense is shaky at best. There was some Trig Trutherism that occurred, primarily led by Andrew Sullivan, but even that was largely shunned by the mainstream media. However, questioning whether Trig is actually Sarah’s son is different from mocking him for having Down’s Syndrome, which simply did not occur on a widespread basis in the media. In fact, knowing that conservatives would (justifiably) have flipped their lid over such an event occurring, I searched fairly extensively for articles criticizing the media for making fun of Trig. Basically I found that some liberal websites populated by subhumans (like Wonkette) were guilty of doing this (although frankly this was even the only example I found of that), but not anyone from the actual mainstream media.
It’s hard to prove a negative, so I’m not going to go out on a limb and say it never happened that a member of a respectable, actual media outlet mocked Trig for having Down’s Syndrome, but I will say that it’s simply false to claim that this was a widespread occurrence, as I had literally dozens of people confidently assert to me on twitter yesterday.
In fact, if any Trump/Palin supporter can find me a single instance, I would love to see it, because at this point I don’t believe it has ever happened. And I feel equally if not more certain that if it did happen, the person was either fired or issued an abject, groveling apology, as would only be expected.
However, let’s go ahead and assume, counterfactually, that it did happen. Why would that give Donald Trump free rein to mock disabled people in the media everywhere? Donald Trump is not related (even distantly) to Trig Palin such that he has some special right to defend her honor or immunity from criticism for striking back. And more to the point, the “media” is not some vast corporeal single entity which is responsible for all the activities of its constituent members. The word “media” itself is plural, for God’s sake. The relevant question really ought to be whether Serge Koveleski personally insulted Trig Palin for having Down’s Syndrome, which I can say with total certainty that he did not.
Let me restate the following paragraph more simply, for the benefit of Trump supporters: if Tom Brokaw insulted Dick Cheney, that would not give Rick Santorum free license to punch Jake Tapper in the face. That’s more or less exactly the defense that is being raised by Trump supporters, though.
3. No one is above mockery.
This is a true statement, but beside the point. I sympathize with the frustration some people have that certain whole categories of people are placed completely outside the realm of attack no matter what they do. I don’t buy into that myself. I think anyone is fair game when they do blameworthy things, and should be mocked for the things they’ve done.
The problem comes when people are mocked, not for the things they’ve done, but for the physical conditions over which they have no control. This is why I didn’t have as much of a problem with Trump’s attacks on McCain for having been captured. If, however, he had mocked the fact that McCain can no longer raise his arms over his head because of the torture he endured, that would have been a completely different scenario.
The same sentiment applies here. Trump seems to genuinely believe his own BS with respect to people in Jersey cheering 9/11 so I get that he’s frustrated at Koveleski’s waffling over what he saw/reported (although Koveleski never claimed in the first place to have seen “thousands and thousands”). If he wants to mock Koveleski for that by pretending to be a forgetful person, fine, do that. Mocking him for being physically disabled due to a condition beyond his control is the sort of jackassery that will get you justifiably punched in the face in polite company.
At the end of the day, I’ve gotten over bigger policy differences than the ones I have with Trump, and gone ahead and pulled the lever on election day. However, Trump has demonstrated time and time again that he simply is not suited for the office either by temperament or by judgment. His presidency would be a walking, talking conflagration involving the entire world. The probability that he would insult (intentionally or unintentionally) the wrong foreign leader, leading to some pretty catastrophic consequences, is astronomically high. The probability that he would be completely alienated from both parties in Congress for the same reason and thus unable to accomplish any of his inane campaign promises (including the construction of a wall) is so high that it ought to be regarded as a certainty.
Anyone who is left defending him at this point has to be regarded as basically being okay with making fun of disabled people for their disabilities. Which, is to say, we can finally dispense with the fiction that anything can or should be done to woo these folks to vote for the Republican in the general when Trump inevitably loses.