Knopf: Trump’s cyberbully pulpit (column)
Our president is a bully. Don’t take my word for it. Smarter people than me have said so, like esteemed conservative columnist George Will and Foreign Policy magazine. Trump’s not just a bully in government and in foreign policy; he bullies weaker, vulnerable people. He separated immigrant families at the border, a practice the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics called “government sanctioned child abuse.” Then he flipped, after the courts, his daughter and the vast majority of the country, including much of his base turned on him.
He bullies women. Do I need to repeat his vulgar statements that he can grab women’s body parts anytime he wants? We’ve seen him at high-level meetings with foreign heads of state aggressively elbow past peers so he can be the one in front. Perhaps most egregious of all (if a distinction can be made) is his lambasting of a Muslim gold star family, the Khans.
So what? A lot of people elected him because he is tough. Isn’t this how it looks when a tough guy takes over the office? Not really. You don’t have to be a bully to be tough. Diminutive, pleasant-mannered Harry Truman was considered very tough. He’s the guy who decided to drop the atomic bomb. He had a sign on his desk, “The buck stops here,” meaning he’s the one responsible. That’s very different from our president who prefers to dodge responsibility, while taking all the credit, even for things he hasn’t really accomplished like a “great deal” with North Korea.
So what difference does it make if the president is a bully? We each can still maintain our individual moral compass. Or can we? We’ve already discussed in this space how many Trump supporters have become increasingly adversarial. In the last column we learned that research reveals just witnessing bullying can have long-term negative mental health consequences. So how toxic is it to our national mental health to have our president busily tweeting epithets almost daily, sometimes numerous times in a single day.
Let’s put it this way, two books have been written on the subject: “The Donald J. Trump Twitter Library,” by the “Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” and “Trump Tweets: A Collection of Donald Trump’s Most Outrageous, Offensive, and Deleted Tweets from Trump’s Twitter Page,” by Tony Robson. One reviewer of the Trevor Noah book said, “A startlingly eloquent view of our era’s most impactful cyberbully.” Large numbers of the public, here and abroad, believe our president is a bully. Believe it or not, that does affect how we see ourselves, how we treat each other and the aspirations of young people exposed to the daily diatribe.
In a recent Politico article, co-written by Yale School of Medicine assistant clinical professor Bandy Lee and “Art of the Deal” co-writer Tony Schwartz, the authors discuss the psychological effects:
“Trump’s psychological disposition has profound implications for our personal, national and international security. Unfortunately, Americans remain deeply reluctant to talk openly about mental health or to recognize how profoundly it can influence behavior.
“So how can we hold onto our own mental health in the face of the danger Trump poses? First, don’t use logic or rationality to try to understand or counter Trump’s statements and behaviors. He is driven not by reason but by negative emotions that are infectious. Trump thrives on creating fear and sowing confusion. He lies without guilt.
“Trump is aware that whatever he says repeatedly — no matter how outrageous — many people are more likely to believe, or at least to stop resisting.”
I was in college during Watergate. Everybody thought President Richard Nixon was a liar. They called him “Tricky Dick.” Somehow this all seems a lot worse to me. I think that’s because when things were looking bad for Nixon, the Republicans were calling for an investigation. They weren’t sweeping it under the rug, pretending somehow it’s normal for the White House to be directing burglars to break into a doctor’s offices and the Democratic Headquarters.
But when Trump publicly asked Russia to help him find Hillary’s emails, and the FBI proves the Russians took that directive and ran with it that very day, and then in the first weeks in office the president takes a private meeting with Russian officials, with no aides present, and divulges top secret classified information, outing an Israeli spy, the Republicans don’t seem to think we have a problem. I think we have a problem.
So does Steve Schmidt, a Republican adviser to Bush and McCain. He says he was proud to be a member of the party that sought to “end slavery and stood for humanity.” Schmidt says the GOP is now “the party of Trump,” the party of “trickery and bullying.” Schmidt has renounced his membership in the GOP after almost 30 years. He said he has no choice in the name of “democracy and decency.”
I implore all the true believers out there. This is not about political philosophy, taxes or big government. This is about our national security and our national mental health. We deserve a president who conducts himself with dignity, integrity and authority befitting the office. We deserve a president who will uphold his oath of office. We deserve a president whose behavior is a role model for our youth, and inspires each of us to strive to be our best. It is not our job to ignore the president lest we be infected by his bullying.
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.
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