September 28, 2016

A Cedar Rapids television reporter asked me what I’d say is Carroll’s defining feature — what’s made me most proud to call our west-central reach of Iowa home.

Yes, Carroll’s a commercial hub with superior schools, strong industry and a growing medical center. And to use former Mayor Ed Smith’s brilliant description, Carroll is like a suburb that functions outside the gravity of a big city.

Those are winning talking points.

But what, the reporter pressed, reveals our heart, our identity when no one’s looking?

In my view, it’s Carroll’s embrace of people with mental and physical disabilities, our genuine incorporation of this community into daily life and business activities here, largely through the presence of New Hope Village, but in other ways as well.

I’ll go this far with the theme: no city in the United States of America has more warmly wrapped its collective arms around people with disabilities.

Yes, we are lacking in racial diversity in Carroll, Iowa, but we didn’t choose who settled the land in the 1870s, the German- and Irish-American families who farm to this day as plucky generations-deep Carroll Countians. They are indeed mostly white folks.

Where we have seen diversity, though, is with the arrival of New Hope Village in 1977, and the growth of other organizations, professional and voluntary, aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Our response is an extraordinary and defining big-heartedness.

New Hope serves hundreds of people with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to cerebral palsy to seizure disorder.

Many businesses, including this newspaper, have employed clients from New Hope Enterprises.

What’s more, New Hope employs 372 people, patient and tender human-services professionals who celebrate the trials of triumphs of their clients with smiles and tears. We’ve been proud to chronicle these moments in stories and photos over the last 40 years.

It is the Carroll I know.

It is the Carroll I love.

And it is wildly out of sync with the candidacy of Donald Trump, the boorish evangelist for an uncompromising winners-and-losers sorting of America, where any weakness is to be exploited, joyously derided with frat-boy privilege for self-advancement.

All good political strong men have contempt for the weak. Donald Trump rises from that tradition.

A Donald Trump presidency, to be blunt, brings with it a re-licensing of the word “retard.” How can any parent or school administrator admonish a kid for calling another a retard in Donald Trump’s America?

Of all his line-crossing outrageousness, his hit list of racist insults and sexist posturing, Trump’s worst moment came with his mocking of a reporter who has a disability. That journalist, Serge F. Kovaleski, has arthrogryposis, a condition that freezes his frail right arm near his chest.

By now, you no doubt have seen the videos of Trump flailing his arms and twitching in an ugly mimicking of a man with a disability, all because Trump didn’t approve of some of his writing.

The Trump justification is a nothing’s-off-limits approach to business and public life, where any angle, any shortcoming, any deviation from majority identity and self-image, whether congenital condition or skin color or religion, is fair game to make money or win votes.

It’s as effective as it is soulless.

So fair warning to the hundreds of people with disabilities in Carroll and the thousands who care about them.

Donald Trump, as evidenced by his schoolyard pantomime and so much more, sees people with disabilities as retards. And retards need not apply. Trump wants winners, remember?

We have to be realistic here. If Carroll County goes for Trump (even if he loses the national election), is it reasonable, possible even, to ask our kids to rise above the behavior exhibited by the man we select to lead the free world?

Or will Carroll’s kids, too, divide their peers into Trumpian categories, winners here, and retards there? It’s the job of winners to mock, after all, and the spoils of victory shouldn’t be limited by the boundaries of political correctness.

So Trump voter, you better make sure your kid or grandkid is the rare, one-in-a-million, wart-free winner. Otherwise, Mr. and Mrs. Trump for America, when the social media bullying starts flying at your kids and grandkids, spare us the outrage. You brought Gutter World on yourselves, and you are, as Trump will remind you, the losers here.