Norm Macdonald and Dehumanizing Intellectual Disability

Macdonald used the clinical term, Down syndrome, as an attempt to maintain his ability to make de facto “retard jokes”and use intellectual disability as a comedic punching bag without coming under criticism for doing so. In the aftermath of the Stern snafu, Macdonald’s defenders on social media claimed the criticism levied against him for mocking intellectual disability was just another instance of oversensitivity. But the issue runs much deeper than questions of casual offense; Macdonald was implying that people with Down syndrome were subhuman and incapable of higher emotions.

This kind of dehumanization of people with Down syndrome and similar disabilities has an ugly history in the United States and around the world. It’s a history that has led to sterilization, incarceration, institutionalization, and untimely death, with these horrific outcomes often linked to misconceptions about the full humanity of disabled people.

Donald Trump and the R-word

Donald Trump called Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded.” Does it matter?

Maybe. Kinda. Yeah.

“Bad words are the least of the problems for disabled Americans, their families, and their communities, coming out of Washington under Trump. People with disabilities who engage in policy and politics remain angry and worried about many aims of the Trump administration, as they have been since he began his campaign. The most serious threats come not from Trump’s personal character flaws and instincts to belittle, but rather from core issues of Republican ideology. The GOP has attempted to defund Medicaid, an effort stopped largely by the efforts of disabled activists. Republicans then repealed the individual mandate in their 2017 tax bill, potentially spurring rising health-care costs for the people who most depend on access to medicine. Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education rolled back protections for students in special education and has supported increasingly permissive standards for special education vouchers. Alas, when parents take disabled children to private schools, they surrender many of their child’s hard-won civil rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. While it’s true that 12 Democratic representatives voted in support of H.R. 620, a bill that guts core commercial protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a whopping 213 Republicans backed the measure. Sessions, the very target of Trump’s ableist language in Woodward’s book, rolled back key protections for disabled workers last year. While some of these moves came from Trump’s cabinet and others from the GOP-controlled Congress, all are fully in line with decades of Republican policy positions.”