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A New Kind of Bullying

WHEN POLITICIANS ARE BULLIES

“I’m going to stomp all over [his] face with golf spikes.”

“Any guy that can do a body slam—he’s my guy.”

These lines were spoken by politicians. The first one is in a campaign ad by the Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania Governor’s race, Scott Wagner, and the face he is referring to is that of his Democratic opponent, the incumbent Tom Wolf. The second line was spoken by President Trump, during a recent campaign rally in Montana, where he praised the actions of Congressman Greg Gianforte last year when he body slammed a reporter for the Guardian, knocking him over and breaking his glasses. The reporter, Ben Jacobs, had asked him a question about healthcare. (Gianforte pled guilty to misdemeanor assault.)

More recently and closer to home, Georgia Senator David Perdue, when asked by a student at a campaign event for Brian Kemp at Georgia Tech how he could support Kemp for Governor in light of recent allegations that he had engaged in voter suppression during his tenure as Secretary of State, grabbed the phone of that student, ostensibly to prevent the question and the recording of it. The student, Nathan Knauf, has now filed a lawsuit against Senator Perdue.

At the time of posting this blog, explosive devices had been sent to: the home of liberal activist and Democratic donor George Soros; the homes of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama; and the headquarters of CNN. The devices had thankfully been intercepted by Secret Service and police. The link between all of the targets of the devices? They are high-profile Democrats/liberals, or in the case of CNN, seen by some conservatives to promote those values. They have all been the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories. While this link certainly does not lead to the conclusion that any politician is behind this scheme, it does lead to the conclusion that the irresponsible rhetoric and tone being used in politics today created an environment conducive to violence.

WHEN BULLYING REPLACES TALKING

Much has been said about the partisanship in politics these days. But something even more alarming is going on: outright bullying. From confrontations in restaurants; to pundits arguing—not talking—on television; to demonstrations with tiki torches ending in tragedy, the environment has become one of intimidation, rather than one of participation. In light of the

Bullying in politics is not new. In her article, “America Descends into the Politics of Rage,” Yale University Professor Joanne Freeman points to the Age of Jackson for historical precedent. Andrew Jackson, not coincidentally one of President Trump’s favorite presidents, presided over an extremely violent period in Congress. From the 1830s to the Civil War, the “Southern Fighting Men” as they became known in the House, became more and more aggressive about the “slavery issue.” By the 1850s, approximately 30% of House members carried weapons, and virtually all discourse between the Northern members and Southern members of the House stopped. The Civil War followed.

While we hopefully are not headed for war, violence has broken out in demonstrations and protests. Politics has become about personality, not policy, and when that happens, bullying is allowed to take root. In light of the news about the explosive devices noted above, it appears that some disturbed individuals have taken political bullying to a whole new—and horrific—level.

THE KIDS ARE NOT OK

What impact does all of this have on our kids? First, a look at some of the tactics used by politicians: blame-shifting/failing to take responsibility; name-calling; and reputation-bashing. A recent study by Penn State University shows that a child who witnesses bullying may have a hard time feeling safe even if they are not directly impacted by the bullying. An informal study by the Southern Poverty Law Center after the 2016 election found that political bullying leads kids to mimic what they see, especially if that bullying gets the bully “positive” results—such as popularity or winning an election.

WHAT CAN BE DONE

With the midterms only two weeks away, the climate of political bullying is intense. One way to mitigate this is to monitor your kids’ viewing habits on television and online. Put the words and actions they see and hear into context, establishing what is and is not for political gain versus real life experience. Be careful about your own words and actions when discussing politics and the views of others, either in person or online. Remember: kids model the behavior they see, both with respect to politicians and parents.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or your child is being bullied, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation about your legal rights.

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