Bannon on Mental Health: Spank Your Children More

Steve Bannon’s long history promoting sexist, antisemitic, and racist views are very much in the news right now, appropriately. I’ve been saying it’s the first major test/fight of the President Trump era. He can place this man in the heart of American power. There’s no Congressional approval. But here is where we find out if the media has learned anything from its normalizing of Trump during the long campaign, if the GOP has any qualms, if the Democrats can learn to fight.

Let’s talk ableism, because where you find one (or more) form of oppression, you tend to find others, but ableism doesn’t always track with partisan divides the way racism/sexism do. GOP ableism tends to be in the form of 1) disabled people are lazy 2) people with invisible disabilities are spoiled 3) disability supports are mostly vehicles for fraud 4) Defunding programs that keep people alive or out of institutions.

Here’s what I’ve got on Bannon so far. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network put out a statement on Bannon which highlighted this passage from The Hill

    In December 2015, weeks after Ryan became Speaker, Bannon wrote in an internal Breitbart email obtained by The Hill that the “long game” for his news site was for Ryan to be “gone” by the spring.
    In the Dec. 1 email, Breitbart’s Washington editor, Matt Boyle, suggested to Bannon via email that a story promoting Ryan’s planned overhaul of the mental health system would be a good way to “open a bridge” to Ryan.
    Bannon wasn’t keen on the idea.
    “I’ve got a cure for mental health issue,” Bannon wrote to Boyle. “Spank your children more.”

This comment was made in the context of trying to get Bannon behind the “Murphy Bill,” a bill I do not support. I have been persuaded by experts, as I wrote here, that stripping away rights in favor of incarceration of people with mental disabilities will in fact not radically improve mental health outcomes and will lead to increased stigmatization and loss of basic human rights.

But although I don’t especially want Bannon to back it, the slur is telling. For him, mental health is just about spoiled children. The solution is violence and abuse.

Keep in mind that there are millions of Americans who have various forms of mental illness [note: ableist jokes mean I’ll ban/block you] or have family members who do, including lots of Republicans. Many of them likely lack appropriate services. Trump just appointed someone making fun of them to the White House. Will they care? Will Republicans speak against this particular slur?


I searched Breitbart for terms related with disability and found mixed results, often leveraging anti-ableist rhetoric in order to attack the left. Search, for example, for the word “retard,” and you’ll find article after article detailing lefties of various sorts using the word “retard” or related stigmatizing language. What you won’t find, though, is anything on Anne Coulter’s consistent use of the word, or, of course, Trump’s many instances of using that word.

Other searches yielded claims that Social Security programs are vehicles for fraud and should be defunded. And then there’s this defense of the eugenicist Center for Immigration Studies. Their eugenic ideas detailed here from the Anti Defamation League.

On mental illness, the site has no consistent ethic, as it both wants to blame US gun violence on mental illness while trying to blame Islamic terrorism on Islam, decrying attempts to blame it on mental illness (sometimes).

I mostly left the Serge Kovaleski story out of this search. It’s whole different set of epistemologies. Disability is a space where, unlike other forms of bigotry, even the racist right is uncomfortable using pejorative language in public. That’s why they spent so much energy denying that Trump mocked the disabled reporter (he did) and trying to claim that Clinton mocked disabled children as First Lady of Arkansas (she did not).


What I find significant about Bannon’s nasty slur is that it reflects broader GOP epistemologies surrounding disability. There’s a tendency to divide disabled people into the “good disabled” – people with obvious conditions such as Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome – and the “bad disabled” – including people with invisible disabilities. Policies reflect suspicions that people who need benefits are just faking it or (to use the UK term) are scroungers. GOP pro-disability policies tend to reflect the needs of white, affluent, parents of kids with disabilities, but even there under highly limited contexts.

Bannon’s “spank your children more” is just a quip, but it’s a quip that leads us into a nasty place where people are denied care and subject to abuse.

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