I am horrified by last night’s Republican debate, and not merely because it opened with discussion of the size of Donald Trump’s genitalia. Conservative values have long esteemed personal dignity, self-discipline, and competence. Yet frontrunners Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio demonstrated that they are willing to push these values aside to scandalize the competition. To his credit, John Kasich stayed out of the fray, informing the FOX News moderators that he would not be baited into personal attacks, preferring to focus on policy.
Unfortunately, it was nasty insults and charged accusations that dominated the debate. Viewers heard Rubio derided on multiple occasions as “little Marco,” Trump accused of committing fraud against Trump University students, and Cruz mocking Trump for his frustration at allegedly misleading facts. The Hate Triangle reminded me of Sartre’s No Exit, with its pithy epiphany that “Hell is other people.” That Americans are left to choose between candidates is certainly a hellish situation.
People with disabilities were gallingly used as a prop in this debate. Rubio injected disability into the fracas as a foil to reveal Trump’s rumored lack of respect for others. No one but Kasich spoke of people with disabilities in terms of policy. The moderators, too, failed to focus on any issues disparately affecting people with disabilities, instead joining in on accosting Trump.
Some pundits have suggested that all non-Trump supporters within the Republican Party will now come together, in an effort to force a plurality at the Republican Convention. Others have speculated that GOP leadership may try changing the rules to take the nomination away from Trump, should he be victorious. This may be good news to some within the disability community; I understand that many people have a deep-seated abhorrence of Trumpian behavior and question his decision-making abilities. However, I fear the consequences of behind-the-scene political machinations. After all, many of Trump supporters have rallied around him in rejection of political scheming. Efforts to thwart the will of the voting populace subvert the very foundations of democracy.* Surely, that must matter to people with disabilities, too.
As disappointed as I am in the state of presidential campaigning, there may be a silver lining. For the first time, Kasich was given a respectable amount of time to share his policy agenda with viewers. As my prior blog posts have explained, Kasich appears to genuinely care about people with disabilities and has substantial experience in the expansion of both Medicaid and competitive, integrated employment opportunities. Perhaps more viewers will gravitate toward him, prompting future moderators and journalists to ask all candidates for more information about their disability agendas.
Additionally, as candidates attempted to distance themselves from Trump, they unequivocally stated that there is no place for racism or other forms of odious discrimination within the Republican Party. I have long believed this to be true; Republicans leaders freed slaves, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc. Yet, I know many are still wary and have felt unwelcome to enter the GOP tent. I hope that, as Republicans continue to disavow any discriminatory tendencies, people from all walks of life will feel comfortable engaging with Republican candidates.
Goodness knows, the candidates need to be pressed on new issues. Who better to ask then those who can share new ideas and solutions?
*Note that both parties have been accused of undermining voters’ wishes. While proposed GOP methods have been discussed above, the Democratic Convention uses superdelegates, which cast weighted votes in favor of the candidate the individual delegate desires. This diminishes the value of a vote cast by the average American.