Down syndrome and the cruelty of Steven Crowder

By Jonathon Van Maren

In 2020, The Atlantic published an essay by Sarah Zhang titled “The Last Children of Down Syndrome.” Universal prenatal screening in Denmark has led to the near- total elimination of people with Down syndrome—the National Institutes of Health noted in 2007 that “Denmark halves Down’s births,” and that trend, Zhang observed, has escalated. “Prenatal testing is changing who gets born and who doesn’t,” she wrote. “This is just the beginning.”

It isn’t just Denmark. Depending on which study you read, at least 75% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth in the United States are killed by abortion. In the United Kingdom, it is 90%. In Canada, numbers are similar, with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society asking to be placed on the “endangered” list to draw attention to their plight. In Iceland, people with Down syndrome have been aborted almost to extinction. And in Ireland, where until recently more faces with Down syndrome could be seen out and about than anywhere else in the West, the number is approaching 95% just a few years after abortion has been legalized.

Despite deceitful declarations of opposition to ableism, much of the Western world has adopted the attitude of atheist and eugenicist Richard Dawkins, who stated in 2014 that it would be “immoral” not to kill a child with Down syndrome in the womb and that his advice would be to “abort it and try again.”

Thus, when the toy company Mattel released a Barbie representing a person with Down syndrome this week, the National Down Syndrome Society lauded the decision. The new toy, after all, is a reminder to the public that people with Down syndrome exist at a time when their existence has never been more threatened. This is not an example of a major American corporation sending an overtly anti-abortion message—not quite. But considering how many babies with Down syndrome are killed each year by the abortion industry, it might as well be.

That brings me to Steven Crowder, the conservative pundit and alleged comedian who hosts the YouTube and Rumble show “Louder with Crowder.” I’ll admit, up front, that Crowder is not my cup of tea. I met him a few times before he got famous (once at a New York City taping of Red Eye with Gregg Gutfeld where he was one of the guests), and I found his humor juvenile and—well, not very funny. In the past few years, I’ve appreciated one or two of his investigations and the occasional “Change My Mind” segment, but his comedy sketches (in which he spends more time in women’s clothing than a drag queen) strike me as high school slapstick. Obviously, his legions of fans disagree with me, so maybe I’m just missing something.

But I hope we can all agree that Crowder’s reaction to Mattel’s announcement was repulsive. He played a clip from Inside Edition announcing the new doll while he and his frat pack cackled loudly. When a Mattel representative noted that “this doll is breaking barriers,” Crowder responded: “Yeah—with retard strength!” When a young woman with Down syndrome came on the screen, the hosts responded with more laughter and: “Oh, no. Oh, no.” Crowder then joked that the next release would be “sickle cell Barbie” and showed a photo of several Barbies with a Planned Parenthood sign in the background. He ended the segment by “joking” that Barbie was now being sold “with more retard.”

I don’t get offended by much, but this is nothing but vile cruelty and a disgusting case of punching down at one of the most vulnerable groups in the Western world. Steven Crowder, who claims to be a Christian, not only gets his laughs mocking children with disabilities, but actually thought that this particular segment of his hour-long show was so funny that it should be separately clipped and released to Twitter. Crowder may oppose abortion, but the attitude he displays towards people with Down syndrome mirrors that of Richard Dawkins. In a society where people with Down syndrome are in danger of extinction, to ruthlessly mock a doll that raises awareness of their value as “more retard” is to participate in the collective dehumanization that has brought us to where we are.

The antidote to the dehumanization that Crowder so shamefully participated in is to see such people as they are. This week I’ve been reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ great 1938 American novel The Yearling. I realized, as I read it, that the great protagonist of the book may not be Jody Baxter, the little boy who raises an orphan fawn. Instead, it is Fodder-Wing Forrester, a neighbor boy with a disability who is his best friend. Fodder-Wing is not presented as a less valuable member of the Forrester family, a group of enormous, strapping woodsmen. His gentleness and love of animals and otherworldly wisdom emphasize that his strengths lie in his differences. His parents and his brothers love him fiercely because he is the way he is, not despite it.  And when Fodder-Wing dies, his weak body outmatched by a swift illness, Pa Forrester speaks for them all.

Jody comes to see his friend one last time and finds the Forrester men sitting around the table. Pa Forrester sweeps his arm at his able-bodied sons, sitting around the table, grief-stricken. “Ain’t it quare now?” he says wonderingly. “We could of spared nigh ary one o’ them fellers. The one we cain’t spare was the one was takened.”

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