After Donald Trump caught flack for allegedly mocking a disabled reporter with spastic gestures, some news organizations circulated video of Donald Trump (see below) mocking “non-disabled” people (like Ted Cruz) with gestures similar to those he aimed at the disabled reporter. They did this in Trump’s defense, arguing that Trump’s one-size-fits-all style mockery defends him against the charge of picking on a person with disabilities. (Trump reportedly has a “limited range” in his ability to pantomime — so spastic gestures are his go-to.) Will Trump use the gesture to mock Hillary Clinton in the debate? Perhaps as she defends Benghazi accusations? It remains a possibility — especially since his camp says he’s been vindicated by evidence that he uses the spastic gesture to mock all sorts of people, abled and disabled.
It’s not clear the American electorate is buying it. What this Trump defense — that his spastic mockery style is not just for disabled people — omits is that Trump is still mocking the disabled. In the newly presented examples he’s actually mocking non-disabled people for being, in his mind, so feeble that they resemble people with disabilities. So the fact that Trump portrays the non-disabled with spastic gestures also doesn’t forgive the move. When Trump uses his spastic pantomime to indicate his distaste for someone like Hillary Clinton at the debate, he’s labeling that person frail and less than whole. He’s indicating that they (or their arguments) are lame — and describing the lameness both literally and figuratively. Just because sometimes the people he’s mocking (Cruz, Clinton) are fully functioning physically doesn’t mean Trump isn’t using disability as an insult. He’s doing exactly that.