Casual ableism has cropped up multiple times in the international conversation surrounding the US presidential election, from Donald Trump’s imitation of a disabled reporter to inaccessible spaces at candidates’ rallies, despite promises of ADA-compliant sections for people needing disability accommodations.
It’s not just about physical disabilities either: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns have both unwittingly engaged in mental illness stigma in debates and in advertising. Sanders joked that the Republicans would benefit from increased mental health care coverage in his health-care plan near the end of a Democratic debate. At the end of an otherwise excellent Twitter ad criticising Donald Trump and his alienation of large swathes of the American population, Clinton’s campaign included a shot of Jeb Bush saying that Trump ‘needs therapy‘.
I don’t support the Republicans or Trump’s campaign, but that doesn’t make it acceptable for Clinton or Sanders to use mental illness stigma as a means to criticise them. Trump deserves all the criticism he can get for his bigotry against Muslims, his misogyny, his racism, his endorsement of violence against protesters, his eagerness to use nuclear weapons in Syria and in Europe, his pie-in-the-sky plans to build a ‘great, great wall’ at the US/Mexico border that Mexico will pay for, and every other noxious proposal he’s mentioned during this campaign.
Trump’s disgusting plans are not the result of a mental illness; they’re the result of deep-set, unbridled bigotry that he’s exploiting to worm his way into the White House. I think he is a loathsome human being with little regard for anyone else but Donald J Trump. The Republican Party as a whole deserves to be blasted for their dog-whistle racism, homophobic and transphobic bigotry, opposition to reproductive rights, their attempts to erode the separation of church and state, ginning up of hatred against refugees and immigrants, and everything else they’ve proposed, from Reagan on down. But this isn’t about mental illness; it’s about entrenched white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Christian supremacy and other prejudices.
People need to stop claiming that politicians – and their supporters – whose political views differ from theirs as a sign of a mental illness, as though people can’t hold different political beliefs without considering them rationally. This stereotype also comes with the insinuation that mental illness necessarily means the lack of agency required to arrive at a reasoned political decision, which is grossly untrue. People with psychiatric disabilities can – and do – have the agency necessary to come to their own decisions about their political beliefs. I vehemently disagree with anyone who supports Trump, but I’m not going to claim they’re crazy. There are a lot of things I can say about Trump supporters without saying that they don’t have the agency to decide that they want to vote for Trump.
Politicians can be wrong. They can be divisive, hateful, fear-mongering, venal, craven, wilfully ignorant demagogues. I don’t need to question their mental health to oppose their beliefs. And nor do their political opponents. Call them wrong. Call them misguided. Call them terrible, call them eldritch abominations, call them flaming racist cheetos or gasoline-soaked dumpster fires. But stop calling them crazy.