Bully In Chief

It’s clear that the toxic political rhetoric has poisoned our nation’s schools.
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By Jim Steyer, Founder & CEO, Common Sense

<p>Someone needs to take away the Bully’s Pulpit.</p>

Someone needs to take away the Bully’s Pulpit.

Common Sense Media

More than anything, we exist to make the world a better place for our children. That’s why we as educators, policymakers and community leaders devote so much energy to prevent bullying.

So it’s especially disappointing to see our current president bullying anyone who he feels threatened by, from women and minorities to his own government employees and our country’s allies.

In his latest attack on Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, our bully of a president childishly stooped embarrassingly low once again by calling Ms. Brzezinski “low I.Q.” and “crazy.” He followed that up with yet another sexist and offensive comment implying that Ms. Brzezinski missed a dinner he invited her to because she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”

Fortunately in this situation, Ms. Brzezinski and her co-host Joe Scarborough have a platform to stand up to our Bully in Chief. Their Washington Post column “Our President Is Not Well” and their response on television pulled no punches and, better yet, people all over the country responded in their own way on social media, from members of Congress and journalists to teachers and parents.

The question is, where are the members of this Administration? It is especially troubling that our Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, a woman and someone who claims to care about our children, hasn’t said a word. What kind of example is she setting for the kids she wants us to believe she cares about?

Where is Vice President Pence, father of two daughters? His benign silence is as bad as defending the indefensible.

“Where is Vice President Pence, father of two daughters? His benign silence is as bad as defending the indefensible.”

Speaking of which, how does Sarah Huckabee Sanders look herself in the mirror after not just defending the bully’s comments, but blaming the media? What kind of example does that set for kids?

And how can the FLOTUS say out one side of her mouth that she is combatting cyberbullying while on the other side of her mouth defend her husband’s cyberbullying behavior? She has said, when her husband gets attacked, he will “punch back 10 times harder.” Ms. Trump could have used a digital citizenship course to learn what cyberbullying is before she announced her anti-cyberbullying campaign.

At Common Sense, we define bullying as actions that make another person feel angry, sad or scared, usually again and again. That last part is important, because we all make gaffes. Bullying, however, is a repeated behavior, and this Bully in Chief has a track record of bullying that few can contest.

This matters a great deal to those of us who are working hard to turn the tide of bullying that plagues our children. In 2015, one out of five kids in America was bullied, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our goal is to reduce bullying, not encourage it.

The bully in Washington’s behavior and rhetoric has had the opposite effect on our children. Recently, Richard Cohen, the President of the Southern Poverty Law Center said, “We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.”

It’s clear that the toxic political rhetoric has poisoned our nation’s schools. For example, at a South Central Los Angeles school, girls were called “Miss Piggy,” repeating the slur Mr. Trump used against Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe contestant. In San Fernando, Calif., students flailed their arms to mock students in special education as they lined up for P.E., mimicking Mr. Trump’s ridicule of a reporter’s physical disability.

In Washington state, teachers report a new type of bullying emerging on the playground, one targeting Muslim and Hispanic students. A Muslim student, for example, was called a terrorist, while a Hispanic student who was born in the U.S. was told to “go back to the border” and “it’s not right for you to be here.”

Tragically, those incidents do not appear to be isolated. In a survey of 2,000 teachers across the country conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than a third of educators surveyed reported an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities were targeted in caustic campaign rhetoric, with a number of teachers reporting that students were using the word “Trump” as a taunt or chant as they ganged up on others.

President Trump, if I were you, I’d take it as a wake-up call that my last name was being used as an epithet and a rallying cry for schoolyard bullies. Children mirror what they see in the real world, and what they see is someone in power belittling and abusing anyone who he is threatened by. I know of no one who thinks this will make us a great nation.

Mr. Trump, I urge you to have more respect for those who disagree with you. Using power to shut down opponents isn’t democracy—it’s totalitarianism. Our nation is built on dissent and our strength is in our capacity to grow from open, healthy debates. Words have power, and the podium of the U.S. Presidency gives those words vast amounts of power. To make America truly great, I urge you to use your words to build—not destroy. Unite the country—don’t divide it with a “put up or shut up” stance.

To American families who, like mine, are bewildered by the prevalence of hate speech and offensive comments cultivated by this administration, I want you to know that you aren’t powerless. In fact, each and every one of us has influence. You can choose to give bullies more power by mimicking their actions. You can reinforce their bullying by doing nothing and tacitly condoning their behavior. Or you can step in and defend the people being bullied, which is what we saw in Ms. Brzezinski ’s case.

At Common Sense, we teach children, families and educators how to stand up for victims of bullying. Why bother? Because it works. Bullying isn’t a problem between two individuals; it’s a group process. And research has demonstrated time and again that the intervention of bystanders is an effective way to stop bullying and mitigate the psychological damage it causes.

For the sake of our kids, whether it is the Bully in Chief, a colleague at work or a child’s friend online, we have to consistently stand up to bullies and stop the damaging behavior in our country. Particularly, the one with the loudest voice of all.

About James Steyer

James Steyer is the father of four children, Lily, Kirk, Carly and Jesse. He is also the founder and CEO of Common Sense, the nation’s leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a powerful voice for kids and families in the 21st century. Mr. Steyer authored the acclaimed Talking Back to Facebook and The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the Media’s Effect on Our Children and as a faculty member at Stanford University, he has taught courses on education, civil rights, and civil liberties issues.

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