How A Stuttering President Confronts A Right-Wing Bully

@sutherlandDK
How A Stuttering President Confronts A Right-Wing Bully

Donald Trump mocks Joe Biden’s stutter,” the headlines blare, and I am confronted (again) with (more) proof that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee hates people like me.

I don’t remember when they told me I stuttered, but I do remember the banana chips I got as “rewards” in the speech room in my Ohio grade school. I learned tricks that worked well and tricks that didn’t, tricks that I still use to this day, and tricks I’ve long forgotten. I don’t remember if I got picked on for it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Fifth grade was my Nerd Year, after all, plagued by incessant bullying and the kid-violence that comes with it.But I do remember when the former vice president “came out” as a stutterer in a sprawling profile in The Atlantic, written by John Hendrickson, a stutterer himself.

I already knew Biden stuttered, because I’m a stutterer and Extremely Online, but the big reveal rippled through the media and endeared him to the public. People seemed to be watching for the former vice president to get caught on words, just so they could loudly forgive him for it. He even invited a young stutterer to be part of the virtual Democratic National Convention that summer, and I cried as I watched the video.

Some four years later, my response to video of Trump mocking Biden elicited a far different response.

The Washington Post, August 21, 2020:

Twenty seconds into his speech to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, Brayden Harrington started to stutter.
He knew he would — it was the reason the 13-year-old was addressing millions of viewers from his bedroom. As he had explained to kick off his speech, his life had changed after meeting former vice president Joe Biden in February.
“He told me that we were members of the same club. We ... ” Brayden said, shutting his eyes as he drew out an “s” sound, willing the word to emerge: “... stutter.”
And then, he kept going — smiling, poised, and delivering a powerful message about how Biden, who has spoken openly of his battle with a speech impediment, had inspired him to reach higher.

“He kept going.” I have two words, in my own handwriting, inked where my right wrist meets my palm: Keep going.They’re words that apply to many situations—how I got through a rough childhood, a challenging young adulthood, more than one breakup, and a spinal injury in 2018. But those words whisper encouragement when I cover my mouth to “reset” during those moments when my mouth stops listening to my brain.

It’s a trick I learned in that small speech room in elementary school. It requires me to stop trying to speak and focus on just being present.

Biden has other tricks.

The Atlantic, January/February 2020:

At first, Biden sounded strong, confident, presidential: “My plan makes a limit of co-pay to be One. Thousand. Dollars. Because we—”
He stopped. He pinched his eyes closed. He lifted his hands and thrust them forward, as if trying to pull the missing sound from his mouth. “We f-f-f-f-further support—” He opened his eyes. “The uh-uh-uh-uh—” His chin dipped toward his chest. “The-uh, the ability to buy into the Obamacare plan.” Biden also stumbled when trying to say immune system.
Fox News edited these moments into a mini montage. Stifling laughter, the host Steve Hilton narrated: “As the right words struggled to make that perilous journey from Joe Biden’s brain to Joe Biden’s mouth, half the time he just seemed to give up with this somewhat tragic and limp admission of defeat.”

I remember that montage. It sickened us here in the Daily Kos newsroom, because it was so unapologetically childish and cruel. I took it particularly hard, because I’ve lost so many words to “that perilous journey.”

Stress exacerbates my stutter. It’s a force multiplier. So when, for a few years in my life, I found myself speaking before crowds and before cameras, I wasn’t surprised when no amount of preparation guaranteed my carefully chosen words would make it out of my mouth without encountering obstacles. I’d fret for weeks, wondering if I’d manage to avoid getting caught up, and if I did, if I’d be able to keep going.

Then a good friend advised me to own it. “Once you’ve reset, just smile, say ‘sorry, I stutter, so that might happen again,’ and just keep going. And remember those people want to hear what you have to say. They’ll wait.”

And that’s what I did. That’s what I still do. And I remember that folks want to listen to me, and waiting a few seconds for me to squeak out a word isn’t the big deal I think it is.

And so it is for Biden. When the president speaks, people listen. Even if they have to wait a few seconds.

As Hendrickson wrote for The Atlantic on March 10, 2024, after Trump mocked Biden for his stuttering incidents during an undeniably successfully State of the Union speech:

Stuttering is one of many disabilities to have entered Trump’s crosshairs. In 2015, he infamously made fun of a New York Times reporter’s disabled upper-body movements. Three years later, as president, when planning a White House event for military veterans, he asked his staff not to include amputees wounded in combat, saying, “Nobody wants to see that.” Stuttering is a neurological disorder that affects roughly 3 million Americans.
[...]
For a time, Trump exercised a modicum of restraint around this topic. As I once wrote, Trump was probably wise enough to realize that, to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Republicans stutter too.
[...]
Trump may be among the most famous and powerful people in modern history, but he remains a small-minded bully. He mocks Biden’s disability because he believes the voters will reward him for it—that there is more to be gained than lost by dehumanizing his rival and the millions of other Americans who stutter, or who go through life managing other disorders and disabilities.

The rights and dignity of the disabled have always mattered to me, but after my injury, I am more aware of how cruel the world can be to those with different or fewer abilities. Watching the opposition party become the “fuck your feelings” party of wannabe fascists these last nine years should embarrass and enrage us all.

Alliteration is especially tough for me, and when I know it’s coming, I slow my words and enunciate them with almost comical intensity. But I don’t stutter when I type. And so I can easily say that I’m ready to spend the next seven-plus months beating bullies, building benches, saving statehouses and the Senate, and righting wrongs.

I’ll never say “fuck your feelings” to anyone, even a MAGA zealot, because that’s just not me. But I will say this—a few times, fast, even:

Fuck fascism.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve earned some banana chips.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

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