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The Riehl World: The Trump White House: Pulpit for a Bully?

By Richard Riehl

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kṻbler-Ross described five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the wee hours of the morning on November 9, I entered Stage One. When I went to bed the night before, I remained hopeful, but harbored a gnawing dread that Trump could actually win. That week’s Saturday Night Live skit of an election night party with true believer Democrats, captured how I felt.

Shortly after midnight I woke up to check the latest news on my iPad. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There had to be a terrible mistake. By sunrise my brief encounter with denial had turned to anger. If I were 30 years younger I would have joined protesters in the streets.

But a couple of arthritic hips, together with vivid memories of how I survived the elections of Nixon, Reagan and Bush (both father and son), suggested I stay home. Trump lost the popular vote by more than a million votes, but so had four other presidents before him. On December 19, Electoral College voters will do what they’ve always done, elect our President.

So I’m following the losing candidate’s and President Obama’s leads. After a campaign subjecting her to infantile name-calling, Hillary Clinton’s concession speech was gracious. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” she told supporters.

President Obama, whose very legacy was on the line in the election, echoed Clinton’s words. “It is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.”

That said, there are plenty of reasons to fear what lies ahead. Words matter, just as black and blue lives do. Those who’ve taken to the streets haven’t forgotten how Trump began his campaign with these words about undocumented immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

Throughout his campaign Trump resorted to name-calling and ridicule of everyone criticizing him, justifying his attacks by explaining when he’s hit he hits back harder. Now he says he wants to be President of all the people, refusing to apologize for anything he’s said, claiming they were just part of a hard-fought campaign.

Teddy Roosevelt called the White House his “bully pulpit.” The question many are now asking is will President Donald Trump’s White House become the pulpit of a bully?

Trump’s bullying became personal for me when, at one of his campaign events, he mocked New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who’d been critical of the candidate.

“Now, the poor guy, you ought to see this guy…” Trump jerked his arms in front of his body, flailing them in imitation of Kovaleski’s disability, arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints. Trump later claimed he didn’t even know the reporter and was not mocking his disability.

But the truth can be found in an August 2, 2016 Washington Post article, Donald Trump’s revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter, by fact checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Trump four Pinocchio’s for his refusal to apologize for his viciously unfair attack.

Ten years ago the love of my life was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition causing the narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of the spinal cord and nerves. In addition to creating chronic back pain, it affects her ability to walk.

When she walks across the room at home she has to hold her arms out for balance. When we go for walks in the park, she either has to hold tightly to my arm, or use a cane. In public she fears curbs, stairs, crowds and children, all of which threaten her balance.

She vows to keep walking as long as she is able, recognizing she may one day need a wheelchair to go anywhere.

Like many others with similar, less visible, disabilities, Karen’s is not as likely to be mocked as is Serge Kovaleski’s. But it often elicits embarrassment, and even rudeness, in public places, despite provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Take the time we booked a Daytripper bus tour, only to encounter a vehicle that did not lower its steps to ground level, or promise that we could sit together, even if I could lift her up the steps, an impossible embarrassment in itself.

We got our money back, of course, with an explanation that disabled customers could request a van, IF one were available. That proviso can be found only in the fine print of the tour company’s promotional brochure.

What does Karen’s spinal stenosis have to do with Making America Great Again? Trump’s tough campaign rhetoric suggests the rise of an American version of social Darwinism, survival of the fittest.

That’s not good news for those with disabilities.


Richard J. Riehl is a Carlsbad, California resident, retired university administrator, and award-winning columnist for the former daily newspaper, the North County Times.
Richard writes a blog titled The Riehl World
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