Between Trump And Clinton, Only One Shows Clear Symptoms Of Being Unfit For The Presidency
By Emily Willingham, August 18, 2016
First, anyone and everyone—especially you, Sean Hannity—should quit speculating that Hillary Clinton has epilepsy. It’s sexist. It’s inappropriate. It has no basis in fact. It maligns people with the condition. And it’s crying “squirrel!”
Allow me to elaborate:
It’s sexist. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts has had documented seizures. Where is the commentary calling for him to give up his leadership duties on our nation’s highest court? It’s part and parcel of this political season to try to exploit what people already perceive as weakness in women by piling on about neurological conditions.
And the focus is all neurology. Epilepsy isn’t the only thing people have trotted out to convince voters that Clinton’s nervous system is compromised. Some have even falsified medical records in their effort to cast Clinton as neurologically weakened. Trump’s worked hard to double down on giving this impression, saying that Clinton lacks the “mental and physical stamina” to fight ISIS, of all things. It’s not clear how any condition would compromise her mental and physical stamina to the point of preventing her service as president yet not prevent her from participating in endless months of intense campaigning, debates and the Democratic National Convention.
It’s inappropriate. Claiming to diagnose anyone with a condition when you aren’t a specialist and have never met that person is inappropriate, always. It’s even more so to take a condition or disease and try to use it as a political weapon, a gambit to try to make your opponent look somehow “weak” for having a health problem. The word for using a disability-related condition to stigmatize or marginalize another person is “ableist.”
It has no basis in fact. If someone can produce confirmation of any diagnosis for Hillary Clinton from a specialist who has actually evaluated her in person or confirmation from her campaign, then that’s a basis in fact. Even if some hypothetical condition like seizures were confirmed, that’s not a dealbreaker for doing the job of president; see “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” above.
It maligns people with the condition. Children who have epilepsy already feel stigmatized and discriminated against. So, yeah, thanks for trying to perpetuate negative and ignorant stereotypes about it on the public stage in a presidential election.
It’s crying “squirrel.” Trump hasn’t released his tax returns. People ask about it, and he or some high-profile lackey says, “Hey, look at that epilepsy over there!” Trump’s poll numbers are dropping as hard as his campaign chairmen, and he says, “Hey, what’s that? A disability?”
Trump doesn’t care. This is a man who has mocked a disabled reporter, picked a fight with Gold Star parents, called women dogs and said you have to “treat them like shit” and shamelessly contradicts himself over and over. He has lowered the bar for expected behavior in a presidential candidate so far that we’d need a shovel to find it.
But it matters when someone like Sean Hannity (whose future show with Trump should be called “Trump ‘N’ Annity”) picks up the “look, squirrel!” thread and tries to weave it into something with a vague appearance of journalism. Columnist Kurt Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, wrote about Hannity’s behavior in his blunt Newsweek article, “Sean Hannity: apologize to those with epilepsy or burn in hell”:
And then came a video of Clinton making goofy movements with her head when a reporter held a tape recorder very close to her face. Being pulled in different directions by multiple speakers at once, Clinton playfully acted like a bobblehead doll, smiling and then speaking after the joke was over.Eichenwald points out that Hannity and many others clearly have no idea what they’re talking about when they discuss seizures, which generally do not present as in that video of Clinton (for more about what seizures are really like—which can vary enormously and may not be at all what you think—read here). Eichenwald also writes that stigma and misinformation about epilepsy have harmed him as much as the condition itself. That is part of the great damage that this kind of talk does to anyone with a condition that few people really understand.
Hannity and his lying pals shrieked: Clinton had a seizure! Right in front of the cameras! “Are there many seizures like that?” Hannity said. “This looks like violent, out of control movements on her part.”
In another Newsweek commentary, Eichenwald makes much of the very faux-seeming doctor’s note Trump has produced to support his claim that he himself is in great health. The letter, which purports to address Trump’s general health across body systems, was allegedly written by a specialist in gastroenterology rather than by a general practitioner. No, that doesn’t make any sense, and there’s a lot more about the letter that’s pretty hinky.
But this bizarre presentation and Trump’s own behaviors—lying reflexively, projecting, being infantile—don’t justify calling Trump’s mental health into question, either. It’s worth noting, though, that the focus of these discussions is on the masculine “fault” of being “overly brash” and “narcissistic” rather than the implications of “weakness” associated with Clinton’s case.
Very few health conditions that might conceivably compromise one’s ability to govern could remain hidden in this day of oversharing, 24-hour communication among far-flung global networks, and incessant public attention. We aren’t in that bygone era where an already-elected Ronald Reagan might be protected by an inner circle from any revelations about early Alzheimer’s or George H.W. Bush could hurl at a Japanese state dinner and collapse, only to be allowed to recover from the “flu” without much further ado. A health-related condition that would interfere with an ability to execute the duties of president would be readily manifest already in the nonstop exposure of this interminable campaign season.
And there’s no need to look to health conditions as a way to explain or evaluate either candidate’s fitness to lead. Between Clinton and Trump, only one of them has shown an utter incapacity even to govern his way out of an Elks Lodge meeting, and we don’t need anything more than his own words to know that.