After Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, 2017—and quite frankly, ever since his presidential campaign began, Donald Trump and the words “insane,” “crazy,” and “psycho” can frequently be found within the same sentence on social media posts, on protest signs across the nation, and within our everyday conversations. These terms are not just exclusive to descriptions of Trump; his supporters are practically equally described with the same terminology.
“You’d have to be mentally ill to vote for Donald Trump.”
“What’s wrong with you, are you mentally insane?”
Words hold power. Words allow us to create meaning and understanding out of our experiences. And if words can empower some people, they also have the power to disenfranchise groups of people. Ableist language surrounds us everywhere. This language has become normalized—especially evident within a diverse contemporary U.S. society—given that we can see ableist language anywhere from the readings assigned in college classes to the casual conversations between people of various ages, races, genders, and even abilities. Ever since Trump’s inauguration, I have become more aware of the ableist language that surrounds me in almost every social setting I inhabit. As someone with mental disabilities, I have found that many of the spaces I occupy are filled with people that are actually alienating me, whether they acknowledge it or not.
Speculating more on the topic at hand, I have found that there is more than one problematic consequence by using words such as “crazy,” “insane,” and “mentally ill” in reference to either Trump or his supporters. The first of these reasons lies in the fact that mental disorders are still severely stigmatized to this day. Words carry a tremendous amount of power, and by using words like “insane,” “crazy,” and “mentally ill” to describe someone or something as unfavorable and unwanted, we continue to accentuate negative stereotypes of mentally disabled people. By continuing to normalize negative stereotypes, we continue to see mentally disabled people as less entitled to adequate health care, education, and inclusion in society.
Additionally, by normalizing terminology associated with mental disorders, we continue to enforce power into the false idea that mental disorders are not as valid of disabilities than physically-visible disabilities. The “Mental Health” section of data and statistics on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website informs that “57% of all adults believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illnesses,” while “only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.”* Mentally disabled people are oppressed, and the discrimination they face from the lack of support from the people in their environment is only one example of how this institutional oppression is manifested in day-to-day interactions.
Moreover, by placing blame on the mental state of Trump and his supporters, not only are we reinforcing negative stereotypes of mentally disabled people, but we are also distancing people from being held accountable for their actions. Trump needs to be held accountable for his actions as a ‘leader’, and Trump supporters need to be held accountable for their actions, which includes voting for him in the election and/or rallying for his beliefs that will supposedly “Make America Great ‘Again’”. There are social reasons as to why people choose to vote one way or another, and by choosing to only focus on how these voters must be “insane” or “crazy,” we cannot get to the core of the issues we are dealing with.
The ableist language used toward Trump and his supporters is only one recent example of white people being associated with mental ‘illness’ to distance themselves from their discriminatory actions. White male shooters are often portrayed through a lens that focuses on the perpetrator’s severe mental disabilities, without analyzing important factors like the perpetrator’s and the victim’s race, gender, and class, to name a few identities.
It’s a disorder, not a decision. Voting for Donald Trump is a decision. Living with disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are not decisions. The words we say—whether as the President of the United States or as an individual in the masses at a Black Lives Matter protest—hold power. Your words cannot be empowering if they are alienating groups of people as the wrong “other.”