Whether it is a Republican debate audience booing a gay soldier or Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attack on a female Georgetown law student or Newt Gingrich’s salvos at the poor, bullying has become boilerplate. Hiss and taunt. Tease and intimidate. Target your enemies and torture them mercilessly. Maintain primacy through predation.That paragraph is from a powerful New York Times column by Charles M. Blow, titled Bullies on the Bus, about the incident of the 68 year old bus monitor in upstate New York who was bullied by a group of 7th grade boys began to taunt her. As you can read in this news article today, the resulting video Making the Bus Monitor Cry, captured by a student on his cell phone, went viral and outraged people. If you have not seen the video, be warned: you will be disgusted. Fortunately, as both Times pieces make clear, enough people have been outraged that over $500,000 has been raised on behalf of the bus monitor.
For many of us, such bullying on a bus is not new. Anyone who has seen the movie Bully has seen the young student getting bullied, horribly so. Several posts here, by Laura Clawson on the front page and by me in a diary, explored that movie. Those of you at Netroots Nation got to meet one of the students in that movie who was bullied.
I want to focus on the column by Blow, because he is putting it in the context of our political culture, and i think that is incredibly important, particularly in the year of major elections.
First, I had no intent of writing this. I got up late this morning, and have other writing commitments. I understand that Blow's column may well be featured on the front page, or perhaps someone else might write about it.
That does not matter. As a former teacher of adolescents, including 7th grade boys and 8th grade girls, I am all too aware of this aspect of adolescent culture. But as bad as that might be, it begins to pale with what is becoming acceptable in our political culture.
Bullying is a form of terrorism. It quickly escalates to major violence. I addressed aspects of this earlier this week, in July 21. 1964 - a day of shame on the 48th anniversary of the disappearance of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner in Mississippi. The three had gone to Philadelphia MS to see a church that had been burned by the KKK - clearly an act of bullying and of terrorism. I wrote in that post the following paragraph:
We should remember that we have a history of terrorism in this country. The original KKK, founded by former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose troops committed the Fort Pillow Massacre - slaughtering Black Union troops who had surrendered - cannot be described as other than terrorist, and it is to our nation's eternal shame that Birth of a Nation, the film by D. W. Griffiths based on a book and play called "The Clansman" was screened at the White House by President T. Woodrow Wilson who supposedly praised it (although there is some dispute about this by saying "like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." The movie caused such an uproar that Griffiths tried to make up for it by his subsequent film "Intolerance" but one could argue the damage was already done. The film was released in February 1915, and by the end of the year the Klan had been reestablished in Stone Mountain Georgia (why M. L. King referenced that location in his 1963 speech).because I was trying to help people understand our history of terrorism, our culture of bullying.
Blow writes of the boys on the bus
Those boys are us, or at least too many of us: America at its ugliest. It is that part of society that sees the weak and vulnerable as worthy of derision and animus.He notes
The country is changing, and that change is creating friction: between the traditional ruling classes and emerging ones; between traditional social structures and altered ones; between a long-held vision of an American ideal and growing reality that its time has passed.This should connect with our history, including that of the Klan. Remember, the original Klan arose in the context of the South being defeated in the Civil War, and the relationship between those formerly slaves and white being very much upset. First the Klan, later the post-Reconstruction reimposition of white dominance through law as well as cultural aspects demonstrated that those used to being able to be bullies do not quietly change their ways.
Our country is rapidly changing. Blow reminds us of the many ways. The first President of color is emblematic of the changes - after all, not only are several states no longer majority non-Hispanic white (CA, TX, HA, etc.) but our demographics suggests that as a nation we are moving in that direction. The nation's attitudes on things like marriage equality are rapidly changing - here we can see the real impact of the President affirming it in the quickly changing polling data on the matter in the black community. Changes in immigration policy by executive order - an order the President had to issue, lest the Dream young people continue to occupy DFA offices around the country - are an acknowledgement that we cannot as a society continue to divide ourselves by categories some of which are considered inferior and thus one can rightly intimidate, bully - gender, race, religion, etc.
We still have far to go as a nation. Our politics may be exacerbating some of the problems.
As bad as what happened on that bus is, what is happening in our political discourse is far worse, and legitimizes the use of bullying in all aspects of American life, especially as our society is changing and some used to being top dogs by dint of being white non-Hispanic males of certain religious and political persuasion experience a loss of stature, of control, of the ability to dictate to others.
This has led to some increasingly unseemly attacks at traditionally marginalized groups, even as — and possibly particularly because — they grow more powerful.What is a more powerful symbol that a President of color? How threatening is it the that the legal authority of the Federal government, which can push back on matters of racial intolerance in AZ, gay intolerance in the military and in marriage, the attempts to disenfranchise those whose votes have put into power that President of color are also in the hands of a man of color?
Women are under attack. Hispanics are under attack. Minority voting rights are under attack. The poor are under attack. Unsurprisingly, those doing the attacking in every case are from the right.That is because the right is full of scared people whose "idealized" way of how the world works or should be is being taken away from them, by reality. They will oppose in any way they can. They will by law when they can change the meaning of science. They will attempt in any way they can to stand against the onrushing tide, as futile as their efforts may be in the long run, they can be destructive on smaller scales, in the short term, and do this nation, this society, our people much harm.
Seldom is power freely passed and painlessly surrendered, particularly when the traditionally powerful see the realignment as an existential threat.It is in my mind more than realignment - it is a fundamental shift. Yes the powerful in finance stil have many tools - we see that in the imposition of austerity in Europe and the destruction it causes, we see it in rulings by a US Supreme Court which seems intent on enthroning a disposition of power to the powerful against the background of its own precedents and the thrust of history. It also means a willingness to use the fear of ordinary people and turn them against those "different" in order to maintain sufficient political power to protect the financial or power positions of certain elites, including the power of bishops to dictate to faithful in ways that may be contrary to the spirit of Christ and the Gospels.
The bullying on that bus was awful, but so is the bullying in our politics. Those boys were trying to exert power over a person placed there to rein them in. But bullying is always about power — projecting more than you have in order to accrue more than your share.It is about power.
It is also about the fear of the loss of that power.
It is destructive, whether it is of 7th grade boys on a bus, Rush Limbaugh on a radio show, Rick Scott and Florida Republicans seeking to disenfranchise as many as they can among groups who would not vote for them, or even in the casual acceptance of racist, homophobic, sexist remarks and attitudes.
It is certainly destructive when some foment those fears and those attitudes, encourage such bullying by others, as a means of attempting not only to hang on to power for themselves, but to fundamentally prevent real democracy from operating in this nation.
Bullying of ANY kind must be opposed.
It must be called out.
It should NEVER be acceptable.
To stand by silently when it is applied against someone else is to legitimize its use, including against oneself.
Either we will confront this in all of its dimensions, or we will have no hope of surviving as a civil society in which all can feel they belong, in which the principles in our founding documents continue to have meaning.