Melania Trump promises that “if I am privileged enough to became your First Lady,” her work would focus on ending social media bullying. She asserted that the culture of social media has become “too mean and too tough” punctuated by abusive insults based on “looks and intelligence.”
While certainly wanting to engage in a laudable and necessary project, her proclamation on Thursday in a rare public speech is jaw-droppingly ironic and up-is-down, down-is-up, Alice in Wonderland-esque, since she married the most egregious high-profile cyberbully of all time.
As a retrovirus latches onto a cell and infects the body’s immune defenses, Donald Trump has latched onto and manipulated people’s economic and cultural fears, and has infested the body politic.
Trump has conducted a campaign of attack, innuendo, name-calling, character assassination, blatant lying, and downright and incessant racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and misogynistic bullying. I would not find this as troubling if he had not positively resonated with a significant segment of the electorate.
Donald Trump, arguably the more prominent of the so-called “birthers,” continually accused President Obama of illegitimacy as Commander in Chief by arguing that he was born outside the United States, even well after the President released his official birth certificate. This along with his supposed investigations into Mr. Obama’s time spent in Indonesia as a child, and inquiries into his African roots on his father’s side coexist as not-so-veiled xenophobic and racist threats.
Trump called Rosie O’Donnell “a fat pig”; attacked Megan Kelly by saying that “blood was coming out of her eyes, blood was coming out of her…whatever”; branded former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, “Miss Piggy” and “The Housekeeper” because she was Latina; virtually admitted to sexually assaulting women because of his celebrity on the “Access Hollywood” tape.
He mocked a disabled reporter; called undocumented Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals, and rapists; denounced a U.S.-born federal judge on the basis of his ancestry; threatened to reinstate the failed and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” tactics used against primarily people of color; stiffed building contractors who worked for him; was sued and forced to pay damages for patterns of racial discrimination in the sale and rental of his apartment properties; threatens lawsuits on anyone who speaks against him.
He promised to monitor U.S. Muslim residents and impose bans on Muslims entering the U.S.; vows to reverse women’s reproductive freedoms and marriage equality of same-sex couples; retweets white supremacists’ racist and anti-Jewish propaganda; boils his rally audiences to a fever-pitch by demonizing and bashing the press.
Trump excused his staff for producing a blatantly anti-Semitic poster depicting Hillary Clinton surrounded by $100. bills and a Star of David; said f*ck in a press conference; argued that he could randomly shoot someone in New York City without losing a voter; told a rally audience that he would pay the legal expenses for anyone who punched out a protester; advised Russia to hack Hillary’s emails.
In addition, he refers to anyone who disagrees or opposes him in demeaning terms: “lyin’ Ted,” “little Marco,” “low energy Jeb,” “crooked Hillary,” Biden’s “not a very bright guy,” Ryan’s a “weak leader,” McCain’s “not a war hero,” and the bullying goes on.
The 2016 GOP Presidential Platform validates Trump’s bigotry by referring to undocumented people as “illegal aliens” as if they were invaders from a distant planet in deep space bent on annihilating the country.
The American Medical Association defines “bullying” as a specific type of aggression in which the behavior is meant to harm or disturb, it occurs repeatedly over time, and where there is an imbalance of power with a more powerful individual or group attacking a less powerful one. This can occur face-to-face, through gossip or innuendo, or over the media, including social media.
We are increasingly seeing what has come to be known as “The Trump Effect” in which through Donald’s derisive and abusive words and actions, many young people mirror his behavior and react similarly against their peers.
We must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and is reproduced within the schools. Young people, through the process of social learning, often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, and they also often learn the socially sanctioned targets for their aggression.
Melania Trump, by refusing to speak out against Donald’s toxic behavior, has acted as his enabler, as have all the others who refuse to call him out.
We all have a choice, however, in the role we play: we can join in the abuse, enable the abuse by defending him or by sitting passively on the sidelines as so-called “bystanders,” or we can perform as active upstanders to intervene to stop and prevent further abuse.
For those of us old enough to vote, how we mark out ballots will indicate which option we have chosen.