I am in the politics business, so the Fall of a presidential election year is what you might call my busy season. Four years ago in October, though, in the middle of all that craziness, I took a several-day break because of news from home that my brother Kevin had a stroke and was close to death. My wife and I didn’t make it home before he died, but I spent several days with family, mourning, remembering and celebrating him before heading back for the final weeks election push.
I have been thinking a lot about Kevin this election season, not only because of his death four years ago, but because of the infamous video of Trump mocking a reporter with a disability. My brother had a number of serious disabilities. Kevin’s birth father broke a chair over his head when he was little and gave him brain damage, making him developmentally disabled and making it hard for him to speak clearly. As an adult, he developed a number of other problems as he was hard of hearing, couldn’t see well and had muscular dystrophy.
But Kevin was the kind of guy that no matter what he was struggling with, he made the world around him a better place. Everyone in my family, and the many other friends he had, were better people, much better, because of knowing him.
You know, it isn’t only that Trump insulted my brother and the millions of people all over this country with disabilities, or that he has insulted women, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, African-Americans, and so many others. It’s that he just doesn’t get it on a far deeper level. He doesn’t get the nature of good and evil itself, and that, as Joe Biden would say, is a big f’ing deal.
One thing that explains the mystery of how Trump got to be the way he is: He has said he is a fan of Ayn Rand, and has likened himself to Howard Roark, the “hero” in one of her novels, The Fountainhead. There’s a certain irony to Trump comparing himself to Roark given that Roark raped a woman in the novel, and that he engaged in acts of violent terrorism, but as I said, Trump’s view of good and evil is, to put it mildly, perverted.
That Trump says he is a fan of Rand isn’t the least bit surprising. Rand believed that greed is good, that selfishness is the ultimate virtue, and that generosity and kindness are bad things that only encourage people to be lazy. She especially disliked people with disabilities, whom she considered leeches on society that deserved to die. She believed that pretty much anything a businessperson did to impose their will on others was fair game.
Donald Trump — complete with sexual assault; rooting for a housing crisis, so that he could make out like a bandit; finding questionable ways to avoid paying his taxes; and making fun of people with disabilities — is quite literally the embodiment of the Ayn Rand philosophy.
But what Rand and Trump would never understand is that people like my brother Kevin raise humanity up, instead of “leech” off of us. Kevin was kindness and courage personified. I wrote about him shortly before he died in 2012:
He has always shown great tenderness to the people around him, and still does. He can’t talk right now because he is on a ventilator, but his expressive hands still say a great deal. After I was watching him go through strenuous rehab exercises, I came over to him after he was done and asked how he was doing, and he just grinned and patted me on my too-big tummy, not only telling me he was okay, but that maybe I should be doing more exercise, too.
Even with all the tubes attached to him, he was still up for playing catch with a plastic ball in his room. He still had smiles for, and played ball with, a five-year-old girl who came to see him. One of the nurses at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital told me how touched she had been when he gave her a hug even though she was doing painful rehab exercises she knew he didn’t like.
He still gave me all kinds of trouble, taking delight in showing me two stuffed dogs people had given him because he had named the big dog Kevin and the little dog Mike. And when I had to leave to go the airport and had tears in my eyes as I was leaning down to hug him goodbye, he rubbed my head to comfort me. I had come to comfort him in his time of pain, and he had comforted me even more. Kevin being a part of my life has been such a gift to me, and has made me 100 times better a person.
Kevin has also shaped my values and philosophy of life, and given me a perspective on policy issues. Conservatives are obsessed with the idea that somewhere, somehow there are lazy “undeserving” welfare recipients, but more than 90 percent of government support dollars go to the elderly, people working hard but are still below the poverty line because of low-wage jobs, and very disabled people like Kevin — those whose middle-class families like mine would be plunged into poverty if we had to pay for all their medical costs on our own...
It is Kevin whom I thought about when the audience at a Republican debate cheered about a man who had no health insurance dying. It is Kevin whom I thought of when an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference laughed and cheered when Glenn Beck gleefully proclaimed that ‘in nature, the lions eat the weak.’
A society that does not value my brother Kevin at least as much as it does the Wall Street titans who grow rich as they speculate with other people’s money, and use the tax code to write off the debt they use to buy and sell companies regardless of the consequences to the families who work there, is a sick society. A government that would cut support to middle-class families trying to support their disabled children, so the wealthy can get more tax breaks — a government that actually decides to help the wealthy and powerful more than the poor and disabled — would be a government with no decency.
Like Ayn Rand before him, Donald Trump has a soul too twisted to understand the enormous value that people like my brother Kevin give to this world. And it’s not just them. The Republican Party has mostly endorsed and embraced Trump, in spite of his mocking of people with disabilities, his misogyny, his bigotry, his bragging about sexual assault.
And if even if you look past the support of Trump, their policy ideas show their values. The budgets that Paul Ryan has submitted year after year slash the budget for Medicaid and Social Security disability, leaving the middle-class families of people like my brother unable to pay for their medical bills and day-to-day care.
Please vote in this election, and get every friend you have out to vote as well. Vote on behalf of basic human decency, and vote against a worldview that embraces selfishness and greed. Every election matters, but this one matters more than any I’ve ever seen. So for all of our sakes: vote.