Trump keeps insisting that he never intended to imitate the reporter, Mr. Kovaleski's, disability; supposedly he's used similar body language in reference to other people throughout his life. But here's the thing: Even if that were true (which, if you watch the video of the action in question, is beyond unlikely), it makes his actions absolutely no less abhorrent.
When I was in gradeschool, there was an extremely inappropriate mocking gesture that was very popular for a while: Slap a limp hand against your chest, slacken your face, say "dur". Not a single one of us kids actively thought about disabled people when doing this. To us, it was just a way to express that a person or idea was stupid, completely divorced from its now painfully obvious origins.
But even at that age, I was quickly taught that such a gesture is unacceptable. Most obviously, it degrades any person to whom it is directed, and that's never an okay thing to do. That's not how any person should treat another.
Even when the target isn't a person, however, the gesture is derived from and therefore mocking of disability. As a similar example, when someone uses gay slurs to describe an annoying situation, they aren't literally saying that situation feels same-sex attraction; rather, they're misappropriating a sexual identity as a derogatory descriptor, or using an offensive slur that even further demeans that group.
As a child, I didn't understand the nuances of all this, but I could certainly accept that using a certain kind of body language and tone was hurtful to both the people to whom it was directed and those from whom it was derived. It's not rocket science to understand that people shouldn't treat each other this way.
Of all people, our president should be the last person to get a pass on this kind of behavior. "Disrespect invites direspect." He is setting an example and a tone for how all of government can interact with its people, and we the people are giving him tacit permission to treat anyone who disagrees with him with utmost disrespect. The tone is set for silencing of any people who disagree with the current administration, and that is not a healthy democracy.
As a nation, I know we are all cynical of our politicians. But it wasn't that long ago we impeached a president for being a bad moral example. We have to at least try to hold our politicians accountable.
Trump's response to criticism has consistently been to attack and demean those doing the criticizing, just as his response to praise is to reciprocate that praise. Everything is a transaction to him, every interaction a chance to leverage his power to make a deal that puts him out ahead, or to provide payback for a past boon or slight. He can't really hear any of us over the sound of his own internal calculations.
Even in his response to Mrs. Streep's criticism at the Golden Globes, which directly called out this pattern, he remained true to form, attacking her career in order to diminish her relevance and personhood. He called her an "overrated" actress, and a "Hillary flunky", and dismissed her criticism as bitterness because she "lost big".
The point I am making is simply this: Trump has and continues to use his power of personality, position, and money to bully those who criticize him. He does so using painfully offensive words and actions, most grossly evinced by his mocking of Mr. Kovaleski, but certainly not limited to it.
This entire controversy over whether or not he deliberately mocked this specific reporter's disability ignores the fact that in using that gesture, he mocked ALL people with disabilities. Furthermore, in demeaning his critics, he demeans us all.
Below is the complete transcript of the speech delivered by Meryl Streep at the January 2017 Golden Globes:
"I love you all. You have to forgive me, I have lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year so I have to read.
Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said, you and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.
But who are we and, you know, what is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey, Viola was born in a sharecropper's cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, R.I. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio, Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates?
And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in Lon -- no, in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.
They gave me three seconds to say this, so. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work.
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good, it was -- there’s nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth
It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back. It, it kind of broke my heart when I saw it and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. OK, go on with that thing. OK, this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.
That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood foreign press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, ’cause we’re going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around the set one day, whining about something, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me: “Isn't it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight,
As my, as my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”