Ever since Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the national narrative around politics has grown particularly cruel. While I know there are bad actors on both sides of the aisle, the lion’s share of hatefulness is inspired (and encouraged) by Trump.
His divisive, negative, misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric has infected our political discourse.
But, even worse, the disease that is Donald Trump is infecting schoolyards across America. Last week, the Washington Post published a piece which focused on this disheartening phenomenon. The article, Trump’s words, bullied kids, scarred schools, noted that kids as young as 6 are parroting Trump’s abusive language and and bullying behavior. The Post’s reporters analyzed 28,000 news stories going back to 2016. What they found is incredibly disheartening.
“Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016.”
The vast majority of this verbal abuse has, not surprisingly, been aimed at children who are Hispanic, black, or Muslim. A (much) smaller number of Trump-supporting kids have been victimized because of their support for Trump. Either way, it’s a dismaying trend and it’s entirely Trump’s fault. He’s a toxic, bubbling, boil on America’s skin and his pus is seeping into America’s bloodstream, poisoning us.
Trump’s specific brand of schoolyard bully charisma tends to inspire viciousness. He elevates rage, violence (or threats of violence), name-calling, blaming/shaming, and a lack of compassion into rallying cries couched in concepts like “freedom” and “America first!” He publicly derides people who show emotion, compassion or sympathy (e.g., “Cryin Chuck Schumer.”)
Name calling, in particular, is a favorite tactic among Trump and his base. Trump delights in creating nicknames for people to belittle them. Adam Schiff is “Shifty Shiff” and Joe Biden is “Sleepy Joe” and Hillary Clinton is “Crooked Hillary.”
These personal insults are meant to disempower Trump’s political opponents. They’re close cousins to the more generic anti-liberal labels that proliferate Republican dialogue: bleeding heart liberal, libtard, and snowflake.
The nicknames and insults imply, among other things, that emotions like sympathy, empathy, and compassion for those experiencing hardship somehow make you weak. They are meant to destroy moral and to hurt. Sometimes, they do hurt even though the definitions of words like “liberal” and “progressive” are inherently positive.
The term “bleeding-heart liberal” suggests I’m overly compassionate, that I care about other people to the point of self destruction.
The truth is that my heart does ache for people who are suffering. I’m not okay with the broad Republican policies that contribute to this suffering.
I’m not okay with the way immigrants are being treated in this country.
I’m not okay with Trump’s disastrous views on climate change.
I’m definitely not okay with Trump’s approach (or lack thereof) to healthcare reform.
I don’t think this makes me weak and I’m tired of being called stupid, naive, brainwashed, and other (far worse) names whenever I have an opposing viewpoint about policies or behavior I don’t agree with. But I’m an adult — I can shake it off. What if I was a Muslim kid attending a mostly white school and I was being terrorized by children who are parroting the vicious crap that comes out of Trump’s mouth? It is, quite frankly, deplorable.
Trump strives to radiate strength, but this approach is pretty disingenuous when you consider how often he claims victimhood himself (over and over and over again).
He either has no self awareness (at all) or he doesn’t care about this hypocrisy. Either way, he’s modeling an astounding lack of compassion. We see this played out again and again in the language he uses and the language used by his followers. To me, Trump’s infamous rage-filled tweetstorms demonstrate his inherent fear, anger, and pitiful need for validation.
Name-calling also has another, more insidious purpose. It dehumanizes people, turning anyone who is different from you into the “other.” It’s more than a little terrifying when someone as powerful as the president uses this kind of divisive language.
Am I a bleeding-heart liberal? Probably. I can embrace this label even though it’s meant to mock me. It implies that I’m excessively, even dangerously, soft hearted. I am liberal because I believe and support the liberal agenda: universal healthcare, gun control, environmental protections, support for immigrants, gender equality, LGTBQ rights, and..well, you get the picture.
So, I am liberal, but that’s not all I am.
I am also a grieving mother, a writer, someone who recycles, a bird watcher, a lover of tiny dogs and a person who wants everyone — Republican, Democrat, liberal, and conservative, to have healthcare, a free college education, and a living wage. I am more than the names Trump calls me.
Cruelty is how Trump leads. It’s what drives the idea that “dems” are a bunch of suckers and liars and losers.
Embracing the credo of the bully is Trump’s super power. It’s what riles his supporters. But it’s also destructive. It’s dangerous. It’s a cancer on our democracy. It’s hurting us. It’s hurting our children.
Words have power, especially now, in an age where Trump is successfully obfuscating, justifying, or outright denying his crimes and abuses under the cover of Fox news and Twitter.
The words, the labels, the tweets, and how we identify with all of it is a distraction. Maybe I’m okay with being a bleeding-heart liberal, and maybe you’re okay with being a card carrying, MAGA-hat-wearing deplorable, but at the end of the day, these terms are meaningless.
The language of this administration is dividing America, while allowing the person with the loudest megaphone to control an increasingly contentious political narrative.