Home News Trump’s Biden Mockery Upsets People Who Stutter: ‘We’ve Heard This Before’

Trump’s Biden Mockery Upsets People Who Stutter: ‘We’ve Heard This Before’

Trump’s Biden Mockery Upsets People Who Stutter: ‘We’ve Heard This Before’


Róisín McManus has stuttered her whole life. When she saw the video start to circulate of former President Donald J. Trump at a rally on Saturday imitating President Biden stuttering, she had two competing reactions.

The first was: Of course. Mr. Trump had made fun of Mr. Biden’s stutter before, and a part of Ms. McManus figured he would do it again. But as she watched and rewatched the clip, the other reaction was a painful one.

“I think it gets to a very visceral feeling for all people who stutter,” said Ms. McManus, 35, a palliative care nurse practitioner in Providence, R.I., who said she was an unaffiliated former Democrat. “Most of us have been mocked in some way in our childhood. We’ve heard this before. And so watching a video, it hits that familiar humiliation feeling.”

John Moore, 53, a marketing consultant who leads a group for people who stutter in Greenville, S.C., said the clip had brought back memories of bullies who made fun of him. Heather Grossman, a speech pathologist who works with people who stutter, burst into tears thinking of her patients while she watched it.

The moment happened at Mr. Trump’s rally in Rome, Ga., when he was criticizing Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address. “Didn’t it bring us together?” Mr. Trump said. Then he turned to mocking Mr. Biden, mumbling unintelligibly and saying, “Bring the country t-t-t-t-together.”

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, said on Monday that “President Trump was clearly talking about Crooked Joe Biden’s declining mental state, which the world can see, and that he is unfit to be president any longer.”

Stuttering is unrelated to intelligence or comprehension: “I know exactly what it is I want to say, but it sometimes doesn’t come out as smooth,” said Mr. Moore, who described himself as an unaffiliated voter who leans libertarian.

It wasn’t the first time Mr. Trump has demeaned people with disabilities. During his presidential campaign in 2015, he mimicked a New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, by jerking his arms around in an imitation of arthrogryposis, a condition that limits joint functioning. Facing backlash, he said he didn’t know who Mr. Kovaleski was or that he had a disability.

A Biden spokesman, T.J. Ducklo, brushed off the mockery, saying it “just reveals how weak and insecure” Mr. Trump is. Many adults who stutter, having endured years of cruel comments, have similarly thick skin, a resilience that Ms. McManus said was important to highlight.

But she and others who spoke to The New York Times on Monday said it still hurt to see those comments coming from someone as prominent and powerful as Mr. Trump — and especially to hear his audience laugh in response.

Caryn Herring, who is the executive director of Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter and who stutters herself, said a big part of learning to live with a stutter was being able to “convince yourself that stuttering means more to you than to anyone else, and that it’s not going to be a big deal — people aren’t going to laugh, you’re still qualified for the job.”

Mockery from a former president will be interpreted as “evidence that this is a big deal and that this is something to be ashamed of and it means that you’re not qualified,” Ms. Herring said. “All those thoughts we know aren’t true, but when they’re said by a bully in such a way and then agreed upon by such a large audience, it can make someone feel really small and put them back so many steps in their journey to acceptance.”

Dr. Grossman, the speech pathologist, is also the executive director of the American Institute for Stuttering. She said the goal of therapy was not to eliminate a stutter but to enable patients to communicate effectively, and to accept and move through stuttering when it happens. Mockery like Mr. Trump’s, she said, could undermine that by reinforcing a sense that “I can’t stutter openly or the world is going to reject me.”

Advocates have long worried about rhetoric that stigmatizes disabilities and falsely implies that particular disabilities are incompatible with demanding jobs. Maria Town, the president and chief executive of the American Association of People with Disabilities, sent a letter to both of the national parties this year, asking them to “condemn such language in campaigns and to call on the candidates of your party to do better.”

Rebecca Cokley, a program officer for the U.S. disability rights portfolio at the Ford Foundation, said she had seen people in both parties “weaponize” disability or the appearance of one.

During the last presidential campaign, for example, some commentators mocked Mr. Trump for walking slowly down a ramp and using both hands to drink a glass of water.

“It might be something said in a moment, but the long-term impact on our community is real,” Ms. Cokley said. “By mocking people’s disabilities, we create a society in which it’s not safe for people with disabilities to self-identify.”


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