Nothing But Questions

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Andrew Pulrang

The Primary debates are over. So, where are we now?

Unless serious weirdness breaks out at the Republican Convention, we pretty much know Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. And it’s still a bit early, and wounds in the party are still raw, but it already looks like Trump will get at least superficial support from the party bigwigs.

Let that sink in a moment or two more if you need to.

The Democratic race isn’t quite locked in yet. That’s mostly because Bernie Sanders doesn’t look like he plans to quit before the Democratic Convention. Still, the delegate math seems to point to Hillary Clinton. The big question on the Democratic side is whether Sanders and his supporters will really get behind Clinton if she is nominated.

We don’t really know what kind of support and opposition either Clinton or Trump will have, but it seems pretty clear that the Presidential race is going to come down to the two of them. The thing is, after almost six months of active campaigning, and decades of media coverage, we still don’t really know who these two people are.

Is Donald Trump an American fascist, a threat to our democratic institutions and standards of decency? Is he an old-fashioned American populist, in the shady tradition of George Wallace, Huey Long, and William Jennings Bryan? Is he just a racist, plain and simple? Is he a narcissist, hungry for even more fame than he already has? Is he a savior for “ordinary” Americans who feel disrespected by smarty-pants liberal elites? Is he an unlikely but enthusiastic champion who’s going to kick ass for a better America? Does Donald Trump really mean it, or is running for President just his latest sophisticated con? Is a vote for Trump a vote for Trump, or against Hillary?

Those of us with disabilities have even more questions. Does Trump have any ideas at all about disability policy, good or bad? Does he consider disabled people to be fair game for attack, like undocumented immigrants? Should we feel targeted when Trump talks about the evils of “Political Correctness?” Will Trump ignore us, make fun of us, or, will he try to get on disabled voters’ good side by promising to take care of us the way he says he wants to take care of veterans and the retirees? Exactly where do disabled people fit in the story Donald Trump is telling about what’s gone wrong with America?

And what about Hillary Clinton?

Is she an unprincipled self-promoter? Is she a corporate tool who never met a campaign donation or speaking fee she didn’t like? Is Hillary an authentic child of the sixties, who long ago lost her idealism? Or, is she a skilled, detail-oriented lawmaker who can grind out small but real progressive accomplishments? Is she a warmonger or a realist? Is she awkward, or just businesslike? Or, is she a little bit of all of these things … an actual complex person like all of us? Would it be radical and historic to elect her as the first woman President in American history? Or, would that mean losing an even greater opportunity for progressive change, with a candidate like Bernie Sanders? How many people will vote for Hillary, and how many will vote for her to escape Trump?

If acknowledging the disability community and endorsing policies we care about is a valid measure, then Clinton should easily win the “disability vote”. But how firm is her commitment? She has endorsed the Disability Integration Act and ending sub-minimum wage, but hasn’t yet faced any real opposition to these policies. What happens when the nursing home lobby and nonprofit sheltered workshops come calling? I can hear it now: “We love your idealism, Mrs. Clinton, but let’s get real!” What happens if parents of disabled kids push her to save sheltered workshops, or if health care unions try defend the jobs their members rely on in nursing homes? Where is the line between Clinton’s idealism and her pragmatism, especially on disability issues? Who, if anyone, is Hillary Clinton willing to piss off on our behalf?

Unless some major news occurs, the next time we’ll have another chance to reassess these candidates for President will be at the conventions in July. The Republicans will choose their candidate in Cleveland, July 18-21, hoping to put some kind of brave face on the fact that they have what conventional wisdom says is a less than ideal candidate. The Democrats will meet in Philadelphia, July 25-28, where they will try to patch things up between Clinton and Sanders and their supporters.

This is where the candidates get to make their most important political speeches … longer than stump speeches, more complete and coherent than debate answers. Unless you were lucky enough to be in the audience at a primary campaign appearance, watching a candidate speak at a convention might be your first real chance to find out who they are, and who they want to be at this moment in history.

Watch, also, for new political stars to ignite at the conventions. People first started paying attention to Barack Obama after his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, when he was just an Illinois State Legislator, running for the U.S. Senate. Look and listen for some nobody to start talking from the podium and for the audience to suddenly go quiet and snap to attention. Watch for heads whipping around to see, wondering, “Wait a minute, who’s THAT?!”

The rest of the summer might be pretty dull, with ritual beatings on TV and social media, usually over something fairly minor, like Hillary Clinton’s tone or Donald Trump’s hair.

If it’s really Hillary vs. Trump, this General Election summer will probably be even more gossipy and gross than usual. It might also start to feel a bit desperate, because each candidate is a living insult to the others’ whole value system. Both candidates have fans, but both also have even more people who hate and fear them. It may not be the most uplifting summer campaign of our lifetimes. Which doesn’t mean it’s not important … just that it’s probably going be tiring and dispiriting, as muggy, sweaty August afternoons can sometimes be.

Then, the televised debates start again in September. There are four scheduled debates between the nominees, and one between the Vice-Presidential nominees.

Once again we will wonder whether disabled people still exist in this country, while looking for small, indirect clues about how the candidates would deal with disability issues. If we are very lucky, and if we can engage the campaigns a bit more before the fall, we might get a few moments of actual disability debate. We might see one exchange, one question and reply, showing us some genuine differences of opinion and approach on disability issues that mean something to us.

We might even find out which parts of these candidates are crude stereotypes, and which parts are the real deal. We might even discover something to make us excited to elect one of them, and not just to prevent the other from being elected.

Election Day is November 8. Are you registered yet? Is your polling place accessible? How are you going to get there?

And don’t forget, when it’s all over, there’s 2020 to think about!