I am a 27-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who has survived discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault because of my disability. I also work for a nonprofit that helps refugees and immigrants, many of whom are from Central America or the Middle East. It’s almost ineffable how depressed I felt in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. I felt invalidated as a human being. This is not hyperbole. I’ll never forget that Trump mocked a reporter with a disability and called deaf actor Marlee Matlin “retarded” on Celebrity Apprentice. I have too much self-awareness and respect not to view this behavior as an insult to me personally. After the Trump tapes were released, many survivors grappled with the reality that sexual assault is a continuum, with rape as the extreme. Those of us who’d experienced lesser violations realized that we’d still been assaulted. By attempting to silence his accusers, Trump and his team created a toxic environment that empowers sexual predators and leaves no recourse for victims. His utter lack of accountability sets a dangerous precedent for all men in power, especially world leaders.
This is why I felt so skeptical when Trump urged us to come together as a nation. Of course, this superficially looks much better than continuing to incite prejudice, but it’s also very easy for Trump to say from a position of power. America will have to come together to repudiate the hatred Trump’s campaign embodied. His campaign was built on misogyny, contempt for disabled people, and xenophobia toward immigrants, Hispanics, Muslims, and others. This prejudice was not coincidental; it was integral to his campaign. It’s duplicitous for him to ride to victory on a platform of hate and then plead for “healing” for wounds that he created or reopened. After the election, he feigned ignorance of racially motivated attacks that his followers committed, telling them to “stop it.” I remember that his reaction to violent attacks like these was quite different during the campaign: “My followers are very passionate.”
Some say, “Give him a chance!” But this unintentionally asks us to ignore the reality of his campaign and instead choose to believe in an inaccurate, sanitized version. Saying that I’m not giving Trump a chance implies that I’m somehow prejudiced against him. Forming an unfavorable opinion about a public figure based on his behavior, not identity, is the opposite of prejudice. I’m not prejudiced against him; his behavior demonstrates that he is prejudiced against me.
I’ll feel relieved if Trump’s presidency does not deliver on the hatred that his campaign preached. But based on his campaign, I have no logical reason to assume that it won’t. Some of his proposed policies, such as restricting immigration on the basis of religion or “opening up libel laws,” would be unconstitutional, but that might not stop him from trying to enact them. The vast majority of people would never denigrate women or minorities to the degree that Trump has in the first place, so I won’t praise him if he stops doing so.
When people say that we are all going to be OK, this minimizes the fact that the outcome of the election affects us unequally. As a straight, white, college-educated, disabled woman from Massachusetts with supportive friends and family, hopefully my life won’t change much. Government healthcare and other services for people with disabilities, including the Ride paratransit service that I take to work every day, operate on the state level. I hope that our governor will continue to accept refugees from places such as Syria who are currently exhaustively vetted. But even if my own rights and job are not explicitly infringed upon, I don’t want to be complacent with that. If anyone lacks access to employment, healthcare, or social services, or if LGBT friends in any state are no longer free to marry, I won’t be satisfied. If anyone is the victim of a hate crime, or if immigrants feel unsafe, our country has betrayed its ideals.
I voted for Hillary Clinton reluctantly. I won’t ignore her party’s corruption and scandals. However, I did love one aspect of Clinton’s campaign: her commitment to the rights of people with disabilities. As President Obama mentioned, many years before the ADA, she advocated for the rights of disabled children in New Bedford to attend school. Her presidential platform was the most progressive for disabled people ever and promised to expand upon the ADA. The precipitous difference between waking up to a Clinton and Trump presidency was devastating for me.
I can understand why some people voted against Clinton, but I cannot fathom the conclusion that Trump was a less dangerous choice for the country. Of course, I don’t think that anyone should be harassed for any reason, including choice of candidate. Friends and acquaintances who voted for Trump obviously know that their human dignity is equal to mine. Not everyone who voted for Trump believed in his racist, sexist, albeist agenda, but they at least had the option of ignoring it.
However, I consider it unacceptable, paradoxical, and dangerous to tolerate intolerance. By electing Trump, the country has tacitly tolerated, even normalized, his views on women, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, LGBT people, and others. I can also understand why many Trump supporters felt economically disadvantaged by the loss of factory jobs or by policies like the Affordable Care Act. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is so vague that people can read whatever they want into it. However, combined with his bigotry, I think it suggests a mythical, prosperous time when white, straight, able-bodied men enjoyed dominance with no competition from minorities.
People with disabilities are already a marginalized group. Maybe this is why so many voters seemed able to disregard or compartmentalize Trump’s views toward us. Prior to this year, I thought that many able-bodied Americans were simply ignorant of disabled people. We were often invisible to other Americans—not on their radar. Within the past few years, I’ve finally started to think that my country recognized me as an equal, contributing member. After the election, like many other minorities, I have to accept that the winning presidential campaign explicitly discriminated against me on the basis of my identity. Asserting our humanity is a revolutionary act.