Trump’s “Bully” Pulpit

We all know Donald Drumpf is a cancer on the Republican Party. We already know he’s a cancer on American politics. We already know he’s a cancer on U.S. relations with other nations. Have we yet considered this cancer’s effect on our nation’s youth?

Drumpf is a bully in every sense of the word. He is the type of stereotypical bully portrayed in teen B films of the 1980s; the kind we had nightmares facing every day in middle school. Unfortunately, he’s a grown “man” (although I use that word with great reservation). And he is the republican nominee. And his name, face, and brand are everywhere these days. This is bound to have a deleterious impact on America’s youth, especially at a time when cyber-bullying is contributing to teen violence and suicides at rates not seen when we were kids.

According to WebMD, many bullies “think highly of themselves. They like being looked up to. And they often expect everyone to behave according to their wishes. Children who bully are often not taught to think about how their actions make other people feel.” We don’t need another delineation of Drumpf’s behavior to recognize this description suits him.

We adults who do not support him shake our heads and hope beyond hope he is not elected. But to our grade-school students, most of whom have no recollection of prior presidential campaigns, Drumpf’s behavior may appear appealing and even normal. After all, he’s rich, powerful, famous, loud, brash, and propped up by ratings-driven, infotainment media upon which most kids today have been raised. Who under age 18, raised on American Idol and the Kardashians doesn’t emulate this? Not all, but many. Drumpf wields Twitter like a Scottish Highlander wields a claymore, something youth may not see as a problem since they have grown up in a culture where social media is ubiquitous and de rigeur to daily interaction.

I am a high school English teacher, which means I spend more time with adolescents than anyone else, and most of the students in my school are cordial to one another. In my classes I have students who are far more tolerant of racial differences and sexual orientation than most students with whom I attended school in the 1980’s and 90’s. This is something to celebrate because we have spent enormous resources on diversity education. However, I also have students whose families outwardly support Drumpf, for one reason or another, which is fine. Except when we go to great lengths to educate students about how to positively handle, report, and prevent bullying; and they are then bombarded every moment with contradictory images and sound bytes of the Republican front runner’s racism, name-calling, xenophobia, misogyny, and abuse of social media.

Since educators and parents often wind up sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher, which voice can we guess is the one kids are most likely to hear? After all, Drumpf is someone speaking with a junior high vocabulary, and exhibits all the bravado and hubris of an action-film character. Again, he’s rich, famous, loud, brash, and propped up by ratings-driven, infotainment media upon which most kids today have been raised. Why wouldn’t they prefer him to other adults in their lives telling them not to do the very things he is doing? After all, don’t we laud Presidents of the United States? Don’t we hold them in the highest regard? Don’t we assume if someone gets elected president, he is a de facto role model?

So now we’ve got a man who has risen to the head of the presidential line by:

  • mocking his opponents,
  • refusing to play by the rules,
  • trotting out specious conspiracy theories,
  • lying,
  • pandering to ignorance,
  • inciting violence,
  • blaming others when he feels threatened,
  • insulting the handicapped and women,
  • implying he’d have sex with his daughter if she wasn’t his daughter,
  • possessing little to no knowledge of facts or insight into what a President of the United States is even supposed to do.

All this, while we are charged with the unenviable responsibility of going back to our impressionable youth and telling them he’s got it all wrong despite the media conveying otherwise.

What do we do?

  • Well, for starters, keep on keeping on.
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to teach kids this is not normal, acceptable behavior for anyone, let alone adults seeking the nation’s highest office.
  • Continue educating kids about the qualities that comprise bullies, and how to combat bullying.
  • Let them know that in America we are free to support any political candidates we choose, but that choice should be based on where candidates stand on issues affecting ordinary Americans.
  • Ask kids to articulate what they care about most. Most will say their families, freedoms, whether or not they will be able to acquire the job they see themselves performing after they graduate, and whether or not they will be able to move out of their parents’ unfinished basements some day.
  • Then ask them to research political candidates’ stances on those issues. In my experience, once they’re given the opportunity to do their homework, so to speak, they will inevitably realize Drumpf is a charlatan.
  • Expose students to presidents and presidential candidates that ran and/or held office before they were born. Let them see for themselves that even most republicans aren’t and weren’t as unhinged as Donald Drumpf (although hopefully they’ll side with democrats).
  • Finally, remind kids of the Golden Rule. No one wants to be mocked or belittled, and they should be made aware that when Drumpf does it, it is no better than when it is done by a kid in their school from a broken home seeking a distraction from his low self-esteem.

A few months ago, I believed any media coverage, positive or negative, about Drumpf only fueled his rise. Now I feel we have a duty to talk about him as much as we can so to spread the truth about his deceit and danger. He’s a bully, and bullies don’t have anything but bluster. Expensive suits, orange hair, and money aside, he is still nothing but a petulant, frightened little boy. Too bad he backed down from the fight he picked with Bernie Sanders, but, after all, are we surprised? Most bullies are cowards to the core.

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