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The Bully’s pulpit

Anger is defined as a strong feeling of displeasure, irritation, frustration, or distress prompted by one or multiple causes.  Anger can be free-floating or precisely directed.  Anger can be held within or expressed outwardly onto the surrounding environment.  It can explode in a seemingly unprompted outburst or released as quiet, subtle hostility over time – both harmful and unproductive.  Anger can cause depression so severe that it disables or ends a life; it can fuel action to such a degree that it brings positive and needed change to a life.  It can be self-righteous and self-centered or sincerely altruistic.

Students of history are quick to point out that anger has been a motivating factor in important events that have changed the direction of societies over thousands of years.  Anger at injustice and inequity have fueled wars within and between countries.  Anger has been responsible for changes in religious practices that have historically ostracized, condemned, marginalized, or killed adherents whose expressed beliefs differ from tradition.   Anger has fueled elections that have changed the direction of an oligarchy or despotic government to that of a democracy or republic.  When examined with honesty and blended with compassion, anger can be the primary mechanism by which we create positive change in a negative situation.

In the United States today, we see anger surging to an alarming level.  Anger, and its underlying component fear, are normal and understandable responses to being bullied.  As most anyone who lived through childhood can easily explain, being bullied is all about power – power over someone who is ‘different’, power to be The Most, The Best, The First, etc.   But most telling is that bullies are motivated by their deep needs and fears.  Keeping that in mind has helped many children and adolescents learn to effectively deal with being bullied, and occasionally, to turn the bully into an ally or possibly a friend.

But how do we respond to the adult who bullies, especially when that individual has power over millions of people?  This is the dilemma we are faced with in our country today.  The current president has shown himself to be an admirer of dictators and despots who use strong-arm tactics, abuse, and murder to control their populace.   He appears to be motivated by an insatiable need for power, money, and adoration – in essence, motivated by deep needs and fears.  Is anyone around him helping him see the consequences of his actions?   Is anyone reminding him that this country – his country – was founded by immigrants, political, and/or religious refugees seeking the freedom to live their lives in safety?  From his pulpit, he appeals to deep-seated prejudices and misconceptions about individuals historically seen as The Other.  ‘Keep them out with a wall’, he says.  ‘It will be so easy to build’, he says,  ‘Mexico will pay for it’.  Does anyone close to him ask, “Who are the They that you refer to?”

And what of our elected officials who follow him?  They appear to be so intimidated by his bullying that they will bend to his will even while knowing the severe damage their actions will cause to their communities.   Specifically, the recent successful vote in Congress to ‘repeal and replace’ the ACA – this new healthcare bill will make insurance unaffordable to millions of Americans – myself included.   These elected representatives have chosen to ignore a very basic fact of history: when one group of the populace is hurt, all eventually suffer.  To allow themselves to be so intimidated by the small-minded, mean-spirited tactics of a bully is moral cowardice.

Our national parks and monuments are now under threat of being opened to development by the  very interests that helped install our current president into office.  (An aside – how many of us individual citizens have enough money to buy a politician to do our bidding these days?  None that I know of.)   These treasured spaces were protected for all people to enjoy and value, for generations upon generations.  Now these pristine lands are in such danger of being destroyed by drilling for oil and gas, being mined for the minerals they contain, and for the endangered flora and fauna they protect, that they possibly will change dramatically within one decade.  Lawsuits will hold off the assault for a limited amount of time, or possibly not at all, depending upon the court.

In this, one American’s, opinion, of all the damage done to our country – to our friends and neighbors and children – most harmful is the encouragement to freely express the most base, primitive, inhumane prejudices and attitudes that our species can hold.  Regardless of the language by which these attitudes are expressed – religious, political, national – condemning groups of people and denying them the basic human rights of safety, shelter, healthcare, and autonomy is morally abhorrent.  Basic civil rights that were hard-fought to obtain are in danger of being taken away by a bully and those who follow him.

The individuals running our country today claim to be Christian, they claim to base their actions upon the teachings of Jesus.  But if this is what their god teaches, if their actions represent the true teachings of Jesus, I want no part of this religion.  I want no part of a god who bullies.

We can do better than this.

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When a bully wins.

Like millions of people in this country, I stayed up into the early morning hours of November 9 to watch election returns.  The most frequent descriptions I’ve heard in response to the results of this presidential election: shock, stunning loss, despondency, frightened, heartbroken, confused, angry, disbelief, tragic.  From the victor’s side, a great victory for the forgotten man and woman, a vindication of beliefs, the first step in making America great again.

During his campaign, our president-elect has promised to do the following: gut regulations in the business sphere, repeal the Affordable Care Act, dismantle the EPA, cut federal funding for education, deport millions of illegal immigrants, build a wall between our country and our neighbor Mexico, defund Planned Parenthood, place a temporary ban on Muslims (from specific countries) on entering the US, create a database of Syrian refugees, watch and monitor mosques, plus a host of other harmful and unconstitutional acts.  This is whom we have elected to lead our country for the next 4 years.  He did not win the popular vote, but he did win the Electoral College vote.

Where do we go from here?  How do we, as people of a large and diverse nation, proceed?  If our beliefs differ from the president-elect, as so many of ours do, how do we respond to the threatened/promised attacks that our country and its citizens may soon face from its newly elected leader?

The optimistic view:  Give him a chance.  Some of his campaign staff have said that most or all of his histrionic statements, threats, and promises were nothing more than bluster and ‘campaign talk’; the implication being that he will not act upon them.  There is, also, a chance that he is unable to engage his Republican opponents in support of his ideas.  If the congress and senate dissolve into fighting and continued inaction, some of the progress we have made during President Obama’s 2 terms will stand.   If our president-elect is unable to act on his threats and promises (as often happens with bullies), he will be ineffective and voted out of office at the end of his first term.

A more realistic view: he will succeed.  He will proceed to dismantle environmental protections and regulations put in place over many decades to protect our shared public lands, and open these lands to mining, development, and destruction on an unprecedented scale.  He will repeal, bit by bit, the health care of millions of Americans who had no health insurance before the Affordable Care Act and put in its place a system designed to enhance and increase the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  He will seek to elect to the US Supreme Court a judge intent on overturning Roe v. Wade, and other progressive rulings from decades past.  He will cut federal funding to education and place the responsibility of educating our country’s children directly in the hands of each state.  This is just a very small sample of what he has promised to do.  All of his promises are available to anyone who cares to read them.

All of the above are bad enough.  But most harmful, most damaging (in my mind) is what he will do to our national personality, to our collective attitude towards our fellow citizens.  During the preceding 8 years, we have seen hateful attitudes come to prominence that minorities have lived with on a daily basis, but that a large number of Americans had refused to acknowledge.  Now to the existing racism is added sexism, xenophobia, making fun of people with disabilities, and general mocking of attitudes different from his.  In short, the attitudes of a bully.  Most of us have had at least one experience with a bully, and we know the damage this particular form of cowardice can cause.  A common tactic a bully uses is to pit one person (or group) against another.  This causes distrust and erodes common ground among people quickly and efficiently before the parties involved realize what has happened.  It is more effective than most other tactics a bully may use.  This is one of the tactics our president-elect has used during the campaign, and I would be surprised to see it stop now that he has achieved his goal.  But it can be overcome.

Often I have advocated walking away from a bully and letting him/her burn out on their own.  This time, however, I will not walk away.  I promise to fight back using every legal, moral, and ethical means available to me as a citizen:  write letters to representatives, join demonstrations, work for candidates who have our country’s best interests at heart, volunteer on a greater level than I do now.  But most of all, I will speak up and speak out at every opportunity that comes my way.

This is not the country we want our children to inherit.  This is not the country we want immigrants to see when they arrive.  This is not the country I want to grow old in.  This is not the country I want America to become.

We can do better than this.  We are kin – all of us.  And we can stand up to a bully by using grace, intelligence, and compassion.

And we will win.

 


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Time to Speak Up.

Insulting.  Degrading, contemptuous comments.  Sexist, racist, and intolerant.  Lies and false accusations on record, but denied.   Erratic behavior, very little self-control, a hair-trigger temper, and narcissistic.  Uninformed.  Thoroughly unqualified.  A bully.

These are the most conspicuous and frequently cited characteristics of the republican nominee for president this year.  These are the characteristics of the man who aims to, if elected, guide this country to a ‘renewed level of greatness’.  This is a man who bullies those who don’t agree with him.  This is a candidate who resorts to name-calling and condescending behavior if he hears something he doesn’t like.  This is a man who demonstrates no reluctance to lie, change his previously stated position, and then lie again.  This is a candidate who smirks at the world.  This is a man whose primary interest is in winning at any cost.

This is the definition of a bully – Trump.

The scope of harm this man will do if elected president of our country may prove to be immeasurable.

Speak up, speak out.  The time is now.