With President Trump As Top Role Model, Teachers Could Have A Lot of Explaining To Do

Soon after it was clear that Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election, if not the popular vote, a friend who teaches high school civics wondered aloud: "What am I going to say to my students?"

I've done some teaching myself, and I have been a parent, so I could appreciate her concern.

Trump's politics are one thing, and teachers are accustomed to conducting fair and accurate classroom discussions of politics and policies, not that it's easy. A seasoned high school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area got into trouble the other day for comparing Trump to Hitler, and Trump's plans for immigration bans and mass deportations have sparked campus walkouts in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

But Trump has brought more than just textbook issues to class. He has exposed children of all ages to a personal modus operandi that's often contrary to their lessons in citizenship and civility, and to the many signs posted around schools across America -- touting variations on themes like respect, cooperation, fairness, and the quest to recognize and prevent bullying.

Now we have a president-elect whose many teachable campaign moments include his response to a protester at a Nevada rally, where he told the cheering crowd that in the old days -- perhaps back when America was great? -- protesters would be carried out on stretchers. Said Trump: "I'd like to punch him in the face!"

Take note, kids!

So much for the earnest directives in Robert Fulghum's classic, All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten (share everything; play fair; don't hit people; put things back where you found them; clean up your own mess; don't take things that aren't yours; say you're sorry when you hurt somebody, etc.).

Come to think of it, Trump's oft-repeated, gale-force riffs about winning ("We're going to win so much you may even get tired of winning!") are a distinct departure from a more sober schoolyard refrain: It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.

It's how Trump plays the game, and the example he sets, that could add some challenging twists to a teacher's school day.

It was one thing when Trump was merely a braggadocios businessman, or a ratings-minded reality TV star, or even a cavalier candidate for president who peppered the campaign with issues like penis size. Sure, our world is filled with questionable role models, but now Trump, a 70-year-old New York billionaire, who openly takes as much pride in his testy tweets as in avoiding paying taxes, is no longer just the star of The Apprentice. Donald J. Trump is now America's Top Role Model.

It is encouraging, if somewhat ironic, that Trump's wife, Melania, who once worked as a model, is planning as first lady to take up the cause of fighting cyber-bullying, presumably the kind in which the president-elect himself seems to enjoy engaging. Witness his late-night twitter attack on the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, which included calling her "disgusting" and suggested that everyone check out her "sex tape." No such tape apparently exists, which might explain why Trump offered no link to it.

As English and history teachers like to say: Back up your claims!

Speaking of claims, I'm pretty sure that students everywhere - from blue Los Angeles to the very red Pennsylvania region where I lived for a decade and my kids grew up - heard the president-elect's disturbingly candid words, recorded during an interview with "Access Hollywood," about physically forcing himself on women, which Trump dismissed as locker room banter.

I've never actually heard such predatory talk in a locker room, and definitely not from a married man in his late 50s, Trump's age at the time of the 2005 interview. And Trump wasn't in a locker room. He was on a job, speaking into a microphone with reporter Billy Bush, a cousin of former President George W. Bush and a nephew of former President George H.W. Bush - small elite world!

Billy Bush's audible cackling at Trump's vulgar commentary got him fired from his prestigious new post on NBC's Today show. Trump was elected president of the United States.


I can imagine teachers fielding all sorts of Trump-inspired queries. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask:

Why respect authority? For quite a few years, Trump noisily led the "birther" movement, which doubted President Obama's citizenship and erroneously called into question the legitimacy of his presidency, even after Obama released his birth certificate and won a second term. Then, shortly before this month's election, without the kind of explanation or apology that would be expected in school, Trump tersely said: "President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period."

Why respect anyone? Mexican immigrants? Muslims? Megyn Kelly? U.S. military leaders? Trump has had harsh and demeaning words for so many, including top fellow Republicans, like John McCain ("I don't like losers"), Marco Rubio ("Little Marco!"), Carly Fiorina ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?"), and Mitt Romney ("He's a choke artist!").

Why pay your fair share of taxes? Trump apparently hasn't - and has made his tax avoidance a point of pride, even as he has criticized others for not paying taxes.

I'm not sure what a teacher is supposed to say to the kid who asks: If President Trump can do or say stuff like that, why can't I?!

Since the election, both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the FBI have reported a surge in incidents of harassment and intimidation, many of which seemed to bear the president-elect's rhetorical fingerprints.

The most common location for these reported incidents? K-12 schools.

When Trump was asked on "60 Minutes" on Sunday about the ugly behavior in which some of his supporters appeared to be engaging, he offered to say to them, right into the camera: "Stop it!"

Let's hope that they - along with children everywhere - were listening, although as any teacher (or parent) knows, it can take a lot more than saying "stop it," especially if you were at all responsible for starting it.

Throughout the campaign and even as president-elect Trump has been urged to act more presidential. Saying "stop it" was at least a start.