Ableism on the Left

Here’s some things that highlight for you that ableism is not just a right-wing issue:

My friend got called the r-slur for being an ally to the mental health community and penning an opinion piece on “Stop calling Trump crazy.” The sad and terrible irony is so great I don’t know where to start. Perry noted that people attacked him “who, in theory, are on my side in many issues.” Theoretically, people on the left and people who call themselves progressive Democrats are against ableism and bigotry. Bernie Sanders said Republicans were the reason we needed mental health care as a “joke” in one of the Democratic debates. The audience laughed. But wrong does not mean crazy.

Salman Rushdie, who supported President Obama’s election and has criticized Republicans before, stated the following in an August 12 Tweet: “No, I’m backing the non-insane candidate. And Flann O’Brien would be ashamed you’re using his name.”

salman rushdie assholery

When a disability activist, DandelionGirl on Twitter, expressed that Rushdie’s tweet was distasteful and ableist, lamenting, “<sigh> another fave using ableist language. Will the mental illness stigma ever end?” he responded with the following: ““Ableist?” Oh, sorry. Trump is not insane (unfair to insane people). He’s just “differently abled.””

salman rushdie being an asshole'

Someone commented on a Facebook share about a Trump spokesperson saying something factually inaccurate about President Obama starting the war in Afghanistan. They said of Donald Trump and his spokesperson, “I wonder what mental institution he found her in and why he got her out!”

To conclude what could be an even longer list of ableist actions, the founder of the DiagnoseTrump Twitter hashtag (arguments against this presented by s.e. smith for Bustle in the link) is a Democrat. Many disabled people/people with mental health needs have spoken out against the DiagnoseTrump hashtag and pathologizing Trump, as s.e. smith did for Bustle.

I am a mentally ill, twice-institutionalized in a psych ward person. I read your posts. I read your comments. Many of us do. We all notice. We notice how much you want to blame mental illness for bigotry and believe it’s because people are sick in the head that people could say and do such things. For distance – it’s easier to not acknowledge society’s shortcomings when you can point fingers at mental illness. We notice how much you are willing to throw us under the bus to try and defeat Trump. Defeating Trump is a good cause. Using ableism to do it is unnecessary and increases stigma. It hurts people, including me. We know what you think.

Do you think that actually helps our mental health? Encourages people to reach out to others when they’re struggling? Isn’t that what you want – for us to get treatment? You want us to get treatment, and then blame bigotry on mental illness and use it as a prop to try and defeat Trump. Note that I am not advocating for us to focus on treatment in mental health advocacy – we should have the right to self-directed services if we want them.

But if that’s what you want, then openly linking bigotry to mental illness and joking about mental institutions will not help. Maybe try working to decrease the amount of bigotry in the mental health system (that does not respect racial, disabled, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities). Maybe try advocating for changing the way it involuntarily holds people in psych wards and institutions (get us more community-based services). Maybe try working to make it more affordable? Maybe try not forcing us into a broken system that treats us as unpeople. Maybe don’t talk about us like we’re the root of all evil.

I am holding the left Democrats responsible for perpetuating discrimination and stigma. Trump and and the GOP are assuredly ableist – but for the Democratic Party, a party that sets itself up as being not-Republicans and not-bigoted and more progressive, this betrays their – and society’s – ableism. I have pointed out before that even when journalism is responsible, people’s comments bring out society’s ableism. People’s comments show how little they actually think before they make such comments – or if they do think, they find it acceptable.

We don’t need to throw disabled people, and people with mental health needs, under the bus to make our points. We don’t need to do that to ensure Trump’s defeat.

Ableism is not just a right-wing issue.


10 thoughts on “Ableism on the Left

  1. Very well said! Thank you for saying what I have been thinking this whole election. I am sorry you have to see such hurtful things said in this world, that use mental illnesses as a convenient excuse for all bad things. It makes me sad as well, because I have several disorders that people always point to in these cases. Keep fighting sending love <3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, same (voluntary and with the feels of needing to stop stigmatizing us). I know I have it easier than a lot of people because mine weren’t forced, but I don’t know that if I had tried to go home they would have let me, so… IDK. Still not the issue. People need to stop throwing _all_ of us under the bus…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Once you’re in, it’s pretty much impossible to get out unless you “exhibit compliance” with the treatment plan, even if you *know* the treatment plan is bullshit. Any challenge is put down to “well, you can’t know what you need because you have a mental illness.” And all stigma contributes to this, because care providers are just as apt to buy into it as anyone. Separating the mentally ill into “good crazy” and “bad crazy,” and even “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” hurts ALL of us when the whole system is messed up.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, basically. First time I had the therapist going “WHAT ABOUT THE VITAMINS” at me, non-stop, basically. What an effective plan! (sarcasm)


  3. Excellent piece. Too often people use “mental illness” as a cognitive & rhetorical shortcut to dismiss people/events/ideologies too troubling to seriously address without distress. While it is lazy argumentation, it also perpetuates stigma, and you are right in saying it is done so as casually by progressives as byanyone else.

    In Katherine Quarmby’s “Scapegoat”, she makes reference to the fact that the three major emancipatory movements in the end of the 19th century (psychoanalysis, feminism, Marxism) were all as profoundly ableist as their contemporary, the eugenics movement. In the early 21st, PWD & MH conditions are omitted from even big tent identity politics (except as token, prop, footnote), what is left of the labor movement, and progressive discourses in any meaningful way, in addition to a neoliberal social order that reduces all humans to their economic functions (in an inversion of earlier Marxist frameworks), its legacy of austerity shredding social programs, and the resurgent eugenicism that I believe your analysis is a part of. From anti-vaxxers to advertising to framing murder as “mercy killing” to “better dead than disabled” reasoning which can encourage (or even celebrates) suicide, the specter of disability seems to haunt our current age as economic pressures mount and insecurity becomes the norm.

    Not calling it out seems like a massive omission by society, but esp. by those who should really know better, people who often dedicate their lives to fighting systems of oppression yet want to retain “mental illness” as a slur. In the US, we have the privilege of being the only OECD 20 country that treats basic medical care as a premium service instead of a human right, with mental health care seen as an additional luxury reserved for the wealthy. Given how many are structurally excluded from access, it is no wonder, just as people who would qualify for the ACA Medicaid expansion but live in states whose governors have blocked it rail against “Obamacare”, when they would likely celebrate lifting the individual financial burden (as they do with Medicare) were they to recieve the access federal law mandates and funds.


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