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.