I think it’s possible that I hate the concept of "Rampgate" even more than Donald Trump does (which is, a whole lot). If you have no idea what I’m talking about — first of all, congratulations.
Secondly, the term “Rampgate,” referring to a viral 25-second-clip of the president struggling to make his way down a short incline after delivering a commencement speech at West Point, is just the latest in a series of buzzwords meant to allude to ongoing public concerns surrounding the president’s physical and neurological health.
Donald Trump’s well-being has been subject to scrutiny from critics on the left since long before his inauguration in 2017; he became the oldest U.S. president ever to be sworn into office at 70 years old. Speculations of his allegedly deteriorating health status have only intensified over time, having resurged lately in light of his current, largely ill-received bid for re-election.
While many of these concerns are well-founded and likewise deserving of legitimate discussion, it’s not difficult to detect certain ulterior motives that play into this narrative.
Classical political notions indicate the elected official as someone who represents culturally ideal leadership qualities; having a socially accepted health status is a near-universal priority. Calling an elected official’s health into question is a fairly well-documented baiting tactic used to shame the official and to generate doubt among the impressionable public regarding his or her competency to hold office.
It’s why Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent 12 years in the White House constantly concealing a polio infection that left him paralyzed from the waist down. John F. Kennedy, once regarded as the picture of presidential health, kept a secret of his struggle with osteoporosis and the autoimmune affliction known as Addison’s disease to maintain his public image.
Across cultures, disabled people have consistently been undervalued and discriminated against by their able-bodied peers. Though it’d be nice to be able to say that we’ve moved past that by now, "Rampgate" is shrouded in the kind of rhetoric that proves ableism is still deeply ingrained in American society today.
"Rampgate" garnered quick press from media outlets like the New York Times, attracting the attention of left-wing personalities all too eager to spin the whole thing into yet another incredibly predictable anti-Trump routine. Picture the usual suspects: late-night hosts like Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, along with both Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel — plus, naturally, the incident also spawned its very own hashtag.
After four years, it’s still pretty fun to ridicule Donald Trump. And so, so easy. But when the punchline really just boils down to “Trump isn’t walking normally,” what exactly is the joke? That certain individuals indeed have limited physical capabilities? Why is it that joking about disability is suddenly considered acceptable as it pertains to Donald Trump?
In fact, millions of people have difficulty walking for one reason or another. Most would have the same amount of trouble walking down the ramp as Donald Trump did. Some wouldn’t be able to walk down the ramp at all. Through "Rampgate" and similar Trump health “scandals,” they too are being mocked. The president may be the intended target in such attacks, but he is far from being the only victim.
This kind of behavior is especially hypocritical coming from those on the left who’ve previously claimed support for the disabled rights and empowerment movement. Remember when Donald Trump mocked a reporter with arthrogryposis during a rally in 2015, and everyone was able to rightfully identify this as a cruel ableist attack? "Rampgate" is essentially the same, only this time with the roles reversed.
When did we lose our sense of justice? Perhaps LSU English professor and disability advocate Rick Godden summarized it best in his June 22 tweet stating, “Trump's machismo antics are performative ableism. But so, too, are the videos mocking his perceived impairments. Performative ableism is starting to become a shibboleth for the whole political spectrum."
"Performative" is right. "Rampgate" feels played-out, more like a farce than anything — one that's not funny, original or entertaining.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.