For several years, there has been a campaign being waged in the United States to discourage bullying. Far too many young people were going to school only to face bullies with little to no recourse, no protection, from school officials. The increased attention to the problem revealed that it wasn't just in schools that the bullying took place; indeed, there was workplace bullying and it was just as painful and just as bad.
A definition of bullying said that "bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance." That definition spilled over to the workplace as well. "Unwanted, aggressive behavior" has always been seen in elementary, middle and high schools, in colleges, and in the workplace. But until recently, nobody did much about it. Daniel Briggs was a high school student who didn't fit in and was bullied mercilessly until he finally took his own life. His mother was heartbroken and pleaded that someone do something so that no other child was treated like her son. Another young man. Kennedy Leroy who had Asperger's Syndrome was bullied and ended up taking his life as well. Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers, was likewise faced with bullies who threatened to expose him as being gay. He could not take it, and took his own life.
America, it seemed, "got it." Bullying was a bad thing, a dangerous thing. For a while, there were ads flooding television, urging young people not to bully and giving those who were being bullied a support system they had not known before.
And yet now, a GOP presidential candidate is bullying his opponents, or anyone he feels is not being "fair" to him, and the media is silent. Donald Trump has been merciless in his bullying; he has put down women, a disabled reporter, a wartime hero, a protester he didn't want at his rally, illegal immigrants, fellow GOP candidates. In a way that seems to clearly have intimidated many of them. His attacks have been brutal and crude and he has done it with the approval of adoring supporters. There is nothing he says that can make them call him on his offensive behavior, and that, in and of itself, is troubling.
It is troubling because it says that this country does not disapprove of bullying. This country likes the appearance of "strength," and if that image includes what looks, sounds and feels like bullying, the "silent majority" doesn't care one iota. It seems that by extension those people see nothing wrong with bullying at all. In a "survival of the fittest" world, only the strong survive, and the underlying sentiment seems to be that if one cannot take the heat, one should just get off the pot, or, in the case of Trump and the GOP presidential contest, get out of the race.
What accounts for this lack of the courage to call Donald Trump out, to hold him accountable for his despicable words and lack of respect for so many people? He is touted as being "anti-establishment," with an unwillingness to be "politically correct." Since when is treating people in a humane way politically incorrect? Trump says he only attacks when someone attacks him, and the notion of "defending oneself" is an American value, for sure, but absolutely nobody in this GOP race has attacked as Trump has, being rude, crude, and, frankly, childish in the way he has struck back. He comes off as racist and sexist and ignorant of the Bible, but if someone mentions those shortcomings, he goes on a Twitter tirade and it is amazing how his bullying of others goes unchallenged.
Tavis Smiley called the media out last week for not challenging Trump on some of the things he says and does. He called Trump a "religious and racial arsonist" and said that the media had been remiss in letting Trump get away with his outrageous and crude statements.
In so doing, the media has not been too much unlike school teachers and administrators who have known bullying was going on in their respective institutions, yet said and did nothing to nothing.
What this entire scenario begs, though, is an examination of American values when it comes to bullying. Is bullying really an admired trait? Is it equated with being "strong," and "masculine?" (though women bully as well.) Is America an advocate for bullying, though it dare not admit it? And how can any teacher or administrator, on any school level, admonish kids for being bullies when they see an American public figure bullying others with abandon, with nobody reining him in and with scores of people cheering him on?
Now that Trump has added Sarah Palin to his ticket, I suppose the bullying will get even more severe, and it seems highly unlikely that the media, or evangelicals, or Conservatives in general, will say anything at all. That cannot bode well for our country, and it cannot bode well for young people at school and work who deal with bullies every single day.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.