Trump’s freakish candidacy

New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski (left) and Donald Trump speaking about Kovaleski at a rally last week in South Carolina. Photo: CNN

BY ERIC MINK

I don’t know what’s in Donald Trump’s heart. I don’t know what the candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination truly believes about anything, as opposed to what he says and does for presumed political or financial advantage.

I know some other things, though.

I know that we don’t make fun of people with disabilities. That’s not because of political correctness. It’s because making fun of people with disabilities is mean, ugly and stupid. It’s because that’s what our parents taught us. It’s because decent people understand that there but for the grace of God — or the rearrangement of the sequence of a few chemical bonds in our genetic code — go us.

Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter formerly with the Washington Post and the New York Daily News, has a congenital muscular disorder called arthrogryposis that affects the movements of his arms and distorts some of his joints.

Trump made fun of him at a campaign rally in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Nov. 24. 

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During his remarks to a crowd of supporters, Trump did an impression of Kovaleski. “You should see this guy,” Trump said, flailing his arms, contorting his wrists and affecting a distorted voice.

Days later, Trump said he “would never mock a person who has difficulty” and couldn’t have been making fun of Kovaleski because he didn’t know him, had never seen him, had never met him and knew nothing about his physical condition.

This was untrue.

As a business reporter at the Daily News in the 1980s and early 90s, Kovaleski covered Trump, interviewed him one-on-one, quizzed him at press conferences and even spent a day traveling with him in 1989 when Trump launched Trump Shuttle, an ill-fated airline service that failed after about three years.

Trump made fun of Kovaleski in an attempt to bolster a different untruth the candidate had told at a rally three days earlier at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala. Trump said he was watching television on Sept. 11, 2001, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and saw footage from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J., a city with a substantial number of residents of Middle-Eastern heritage of the Muslim faith.

Trump said the footage showed “… thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building [the World Trade Center] was coming down.” 

No such footage has ever been found or shown, despite the 9/11 attacks having been among the most thoroughly documented events in recent history. Past and present New Jersey law enforcement and elected officials and news organizations have said there is and never has been any evidence that such an event occurred.

Trump, continuing to insist that he saw televised celebrations in Jersey City, said that a story published by the Washington Post on Sept. 18, 2001, co-written by Kovaleski, proved he was right.

This was untrue.

As Kovaleski pointed out when news organizations asked him for his recollections of the situation, his 2001 story did not say what Trump claimed it did. It merely stated that police had investigated vague allegations of some people celebrating on a rooftop. The investigation found nothing to support the allegations.

Trump’s fantasy about Jersey City — a false memory at best; news footage of celebrating by some Palestinians in East Jerusalem might have confused him — wasn’t Trump’s only problem at the Nov. 21 rally in Birmingham. During his presentation, a local protester with the Black Lives Matter movement, Mercutio Southall Jr., began repeatedly shouting from the audience, “Black lives matter!”

Trump responded from the stage:

“Get him the hell out of here, will you please. Get him out of here. Throw him out … Yeah, you can get him out. Yeah, get him out. Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here!!!”

As captured on video by a CNN reporter’s cell phone, before security guards could reach Southall, audience members pushed him to the floor and began trying to punch and kick him. The guards got him up on his feet and out of the hall.

After the rally, a Trump spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told reporters that, “the campaign does not condone this behavior.”

This was untrue.

During a live phone interview on Fox News the following morning, Trump was asked about the incident. Trump said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing…. I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. This was a very obnoxious guy who was a troublemaker who was looking to make trouble.”

Is that what Trump really believes about this? I have no idea. I just know what he said.

But I know that we don’t assault people for shouting, and we don’t assault people for being obnoxious. It’s not because of political correctness. It’s because doing violence to people except in self-defense or to protect others is, well, wrong. And it’s because assault is, well, illegal. That’s what our parents taught us.

I also know what the incident with Southall looked and sounded like. It looked and sounded like a hoodlum boss telling his henchmen to take care of somebody who was bothering him — a troublemaker looking to make trouble — and it looked and sounded like his eager-to-please goons were doing just what the boss wanted.

I mention all this not because I care whether any particular candidate ends up winning the presidential nomination of his or her particular party. Nor do I mention it out of exasperation with the speculative filler that has passed for much of the political coverage and analysis for the last year. I’ve been selective and have limited my political exposure to occasional news pieces, columns and relevant video clips. And, of course, the work of satirist Andy Borowitz for The New Yorker. Sample: “Trump: I would attack ISIS on Twitter.”

But the thuggish quality and the pride of ignorance of this campaign have become disturbing, almost to the point of being its defining characteristics.

I can’t see how that’s good for anybody — behind or in front of the teleprompter. And the election is still 11 months away.