Sunday, February 14, 2016

Shameful, Bullying GOP Debates

A humorous story can allow us to engage with satire that reveals a deeper truth. Gary Jacobs is a former television comedy writer and producer. He recently wrote an op-ed titled "What To Do If Your Kid Was Frightened by the GOP Debate." Although the piece is fiction, it uncovers something that sticks in my craw. Maybe you feel the same way.

From Gary Jacobs' op-ed  printed in The Los Angeles Times on February 08, 2016 ...

We try so hard to protect our children from danger, but that's not always possible. This sad truth hit home Saturday night when my 6-year-old daughter came running down the stairs in her Peanuts pajamas, sobbing hysterically and shivering with terror. “Daddy, Daddy, I'm frightened!” she cried, throwing herself into my arms. Somehow she'd seen the Republican debate.

“It's OK, honey,” I told her, hugging her close.

She didn't understand, and I think I only confused the poor thing more when I explained the importance of momentum coming out of New Hampshire before the pivot to the Southern states.

I put my little girl back to bed, feeling I'd let her down. Then, in an amazing stroke of luck, I turned on the TV to find Charlie Rose interviewing Dr. Patricia Muldowney, child psychologist and author of “How to Talk to Your Children After a Republican Debate.” It turns out my daughter's experience was all too common.

Those men, those mean mean men.”

“Sweetie,” I said gently, “I think you're talking about Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. And yes, sometimes they can be very mean.”

“But why, Daddy, why?”

“Sweetheart, have you ever heard of something called ‘the Republican base'?” She hadn't. “Well, they're very, very angry and some of the candidates are trying to exploit that anger

She didn't understand, and I think I only confused the poor thing more when I explained the importance of momentum coming out of New Hampshire before the pivot to the Southern states.

We like to believe our candidates for office are teaching our children valuable lessons about democracy and decency, but instead, we see many politicians (even those running for office who falsely claim they are not "politicians") teaching our children bullying.

The Republican debates are helping normalize bullying in our culture. Republican candidates who use bullying as part of their campaigns are making intimidation, name calling, and persecution socially acceptable. And, perhaps, they don't even care. But, of course, you would never hear them admit their browbeating, pitiful tactics.

Combine bullying with endless fear-mongering and forecasts of "doom and gloom" that candidates claim will surely occur if citizens elect the "wrong" person, and the debates could not only scare the hell our of children but also frighten adults (or, at least, leave them with major contempt for the present circus that stands in place of serious, beneficial debate).

I admit that few children probably watch the debates. They have other, more pleasurable pursuits of interest. Yet, the candidates' bickering and backbiting filters through the adult audience, becomes a popular topic of conversation, and eventually makes its way to the ever-listening ears of youth.

I hate to think many grownups actually approve of political bullying and such juvenile behavior. But, according to the polls, they do. I think it is a sad statement about discontent. The message is that the best politics is to attack, to criticize, and to belittle opponents -- no matter their political affiliation or their obvious merits in office. Who thinks this onslaught is acceptable?

The Economist reported ...

"The new conventional wisdom about Donald Trump is that none of the old conventional wisdom applies to him. Have his gaffes, prejudices and profanities hurt him in the race for the Republican nomination? “Gimme a break," as Mr Trump might put it in one of his more temperate asides. Last night’s debate in Greenville (February 13) — a comic but also disgraceful evening for the Republican Party — may test that proposition to destruction. Then again, perhaps it won’t."

The Economist said the evening included the following:

"Donald Trump lambasted not only Jeb Bush, the habitual target of his bullying, but his big brother, who will be campaigning for Jeb! on Monday. Trump decried the Iraq war, accurately noting that no weapons of mass destruction were discovered after it; but he also accused George W.’s administration of lying about WMDs, and, still more controversially, blamed it for the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

"That Trump outburst allowed Bush to ride to his family’s rescue. “My mom is the strongest woman I know," he said. “She should be running," Trump snidely put in.

"In Trump’s onslaught, Marco Rubio saw a chance to defend the most recent Republican president, and to blame Bill Clinton for September 11th (on the grounds that he didn’t kill Osama bin Laden earlier) instead of George W.

"Yet Rubio, too, became embroiled in a nasty slanging match, in his case with Ted Cruz, as they revisited the allegations each has made regarding the other’s record on immigration. They had a bizarre sub-spat over whether Cruz can speak Spanish; he duly did, a bit. Then, Bush pithily dismissed their immigration row as two senators bickering over amendments to laws that never actually passed.

"The evening’s real heavyweight showdown, however, was between Cruz and Trump, victors of Iowa and New Hampshire respectively. ”I like Donald,"  Mr Cruz declared ominously, before lacerating his rival’s record on more or less everything. Trump took out his machete again. “You are the single biggest liar," he told Cruz: “Why do you lie?” (The charge chimed with Mr Rubio’s lament that “For a number of weeks now, Ted Cruz has just been telling lies”.) Unruffled, Cruz managed to goad  Trump into saying that Planned Parenthood, the much-maligned women’s-healthcare provider, “does wonderful things.” “What are the wonderful things it does?” Mr Cruz asked, now channeling The Wizard of Oz."

("A deplorable evening for the Republican party." The Economist. February 14, 2016.)

Political Bullying -- Nothing New But Worse Than Ever

According to a poll released in 2010 by Weber Shandwick, one of the world's leading global public relations firms, 65 percent of Americans said then the lack of civility was a major problem in the country and felt the negative tenor had worsened during the financial crisis and recession.

Nearly half those surveyed said they were tuning out from the most fundamental elements of democracy -- government and politics -- because of the incivility and bullying behavior. Surely that number has increased with the shenanigans of the recent campaign and the onslaught of disregard for political correctness by candidates like Donald Trump.

Back in 2010, the Tea Party allegedly used bullying tactics. The NAACP published a report called “Tea Party Nationalism,” exposing what it called links between various Tea Party organizations and racist hate groups in the United States, such as white-supremacist groups, anti-immigrant organizations and militias.

Michael Winship, Public Affairs Television senior writer said then: “Thuggery is nothing new in politics; it transcends time, ideology and party. But what’s even more disturbing in 2010 is how much of the public, especially many of those who count themselves among the conservative adherents of the Tea Party, is willing to ignore bullying behavior—and even applaud it—as long as the candidate in question hews to their point of view.”

("The Culture of Bullying: Loss of Civility at School, Work, Politics." November 01, 2010.)

Political bullying caused retired federal judge H. Lee Sarokin to question whether we should allow children to watch C-Span. He said when Hillary Clinton was called to give testimony on the Benghazi incident, it was "difficult to discern whether that brought disappointment or glee to the Republicans."

Judge Sarokin stated, "What it did without fail was demonstrate a total lack of respect for the office of Secretary of State and for the person who served so diligently and successfully in that position."
Sarokin explains ...

"First, the right was awash with claims that her illness, her fall, her injuries, evens her eyeglasses were all part of some scheme to keep her from testifying before she resigned...

"(Then, when she did testify) What I find particularly galling is the complete failure on the part of the grilling Senators to understand the purpose of a Congressional hearing. It is to gather information for a variety of purposes usually legislative of investigative; not to hear them spout off on the subject at issue. But this hearing had no such purpose. All of the information had been gathered and a full report made with numerous recommendations. They were more interested in their questions than in the answers.

"No, the purpose of this hearing was to lay blame on the administration for the tragic deaths in Benghazi and sully the reputation of Hillary Clinton in the process. Who cares whether Rand Paul would have fired Hillary Clinton if he had been President? Is that part of the fact finding or just some wishful fantasy about being President? And his implication that her long-announced resignation was somehow prompted by the Benghazi incident was a new low.

"Hearings Senator -- means that you ask questions and the information comes from the witnesses -- not from you. If our elected representatives show so little respect for those who serve our country, is it any wonder that they are held in such low esteem? Why and how Benghazi happened are appropriate and necessary subjects for inquiry in order to avoid a recurrence; what was said about it afterwards has no such purpose -- except a political one."

(H. Lee Sarokin. "Don't Let Your Children Watch the Bullying on C-Span."
Huffington Post. April 06, 2013.)

Judith Barr, psychotherapist and author says when candidates for leadership in our government use bullying as part of their campaigns, we adults must take actions to stop them. Barr claims it is our responsibility "to recognize bullying when it is happening, when it is being normalized, and when it is being made socially acceptable... even under a guise." As citizens we must say "no" to this behavior.

The politicians in our country need to practice restraint and civility so that young Americans can find role models in the system and build greater respect for democracy -- a democracy for all. It is time to quit the senseless bullying that only serves to denigrate both the candidate who uses such tactics and his poor opponent.

“If we are in a constant war-like mode societally, it sounds trivial, it sounds child-like, it sounds naively utopian to say, ‘Can’t we all get along?' If you call for civility or a suspension of unmitigated, unfettered aggression, they call you a wimp. They think you are a wimp.”

--Gary Namie, Ph.D, Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute

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