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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.

Blow writes:  

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The culture of bullying (12+ / 0-)

    is certainly reinforce by today's TV programs in which physical violence--including shouting at people and making threats--is shown as the way to settle disputes. It is reinforced by sports programs which emphasize violence as the solution and in which the sports players are seen as being above the law.

  •  $500 grand was raised (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for the bullied bus monitor? That is some serious coin for 10 minutes of taunting. I mean, holy crap, that is a life-altering sum of money. That bus monitor is now the 1%!

  •  Some adults let themselves be bullied (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I know a teacher who would get upset to the point of crying when students called her fat.  So the students kept calling her nastier and nastier things and her classroom in the end was out of control.

    Other teachers come back with a snappy retort and shut the whole thing down fast.  "I have been fat longer than you've been alive.  If that's the best you can do, you better stay in school."  The kids know that they are done, you don't care what they say and they better find something else to do than bother you.  The "Oh wow, could you guys be more idiotic" look sometimes works too.

    We as adults have some control over our reactions.  If the bus monitor was not trained to handle kids, that is the fault of her school system.  If she was not allowed to say anything, what is the point of a bus monitor anyway?  I think that she must have had a poor self image and the kids were feeding off of it and reinforcing her feelings of self worth.

    Adults should never take crap from kids.  

    The kids were mean and vicious and out of line, but she didn't do herself or the situation any favors by just sitting there.

    •  Wow. Way to blame the victim. (6+ / 0-)

      How progressive of you.

      •  We all make choices. (0+ / 0-)

        She may have been more proactive.  It may or may not helped.

        She didn't ask to be bullied.
        The kids were absolutely wrong.

        I know there are places that I shouldn't walk alone at night.  
        I know that some reactions encourage bullies to escalate.

        Knowing how to deal with hostile situations is helpful regardless if you are conservative or progressive.

        •  If she got off the bus, she could lose her job. (0+ / 0-)

          Why didn't the bus driver help? Was she afraid that four or more boys would attack her? Only one would not attack her, not even just one bullied her. Egging each other on.

          This is a 68 year old woman. Is it reasonable for her to expect to be assalted on a school bus. In MA, the charge would be assalt on an elderly person. Assalt=threat, battery=touching.


          by CuriousBoston on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 02:24:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  re: Bus Monitor's job. Money to "take a vacation" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            is not the logical solution to this behavior problem on the bus. If a bunch of Middle School Brats can bully Monitor to leave her job it only reinforces the power they think they have to get rid of the next Monitor, and the next, and the next. The school administration has the responsiblity to give some guidance or punishment that will change the students' behavior.

  •  Fight Bullying! Learn to defend yourself! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think self defense classes should be  available to any kid who wants it. Same for adults
    Fighting bullying is mainly about attitude---your attitude that youre not going to take it. It helps to maintain some degree of physical preparedness. That poor little bus lady was way overweight and obviously posed no physical threat to these young bullies.
    I'm fairly small (currently 5'5"} and I was subjected to bullying whwn I was a kid, later in the Army. I learned the only real way to deal effectively with a bully, especially one you have to live with, like in a relationship, or in the army, is to exhibit behavior so that the bully knows he's going to get a fight EVERY time he  fucks with you. I don't mean sometimes--- I mean every time!!
    Sure you may  pick up a few scars that way but youre going to pick them up anyway. You will pay some to learn the attitude but youre going to pay anyway.
    One of the reasons I believe in RKBA is that I believe that correct usage will free women from a lot of domination by bullying. I encourage any female that thinks she's being bullied to get a gun, learn how to use it and develop the attitude that you won't take bullying. You don't have to take physical domination, ladies, if you know how to use the right tools.
    In my ideal world, only women could own guns. (but its not an  ideal world!)

    My experience is, after being involved one way or other in more than my share of bullying, that if you show enough fight a bully will find someone less quiescent to push around.

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 06:48:26 AM PDT

    •  You suggest bus monitors should be armed? n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      •  I think she should learn to defend herself (0+ / 0-)

        to meet an obvious and real threat

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 07:28:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, a 68 year old female against four or more (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          7th grade males. Egging each other on. It is a given how that will end.

          Was she bullied before? Was she hit in any way?

          Of course, if she hit any child under 16, she would be charged. The bus driver that did nothing would not support her, would he/she? How badly does the bus driver need that job?


          by CuriousBoston on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 02:29:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  This is ridiculous, she should have had a list (0+ / 0-)

            Of their names and their parents phone numbers.  The bus should have been stopped and  parents called to pick these brats up.  I can't think of anything worse than being called a work to come immediately to get your little brat in the middle of a work day.  In addition,  they should be required to go for counseling and banned from future bus trips of any kind.  

  •  Some of us remember a time when we didn't need (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, Mannie

    to have bus monitors, metal detectors, locker searches, a regular police presence or emergency contingency plans (other than normal fire drills, drop-duck-and-cover exercises and fallout shelters).

    We had no portable phones, mp3 players, video cams, "reality" shows or Intertubes.

    Heck, we even had to lug around and read real books, printed on paper, and many with hard covers --- and we had to write using pens and paper to record actual thoughts in full sentences and paragraphs!

    Downright prehistoric conditions.

    How did we ever hope or manage to survive?

    But in so many ways, we were enormously more civil.


    •  Well, having grown up in the '60's and '70's. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow, Joieau

      I envy you. The local high school had to have football games during daylight hours to prevent shootings and stabbings. My brother was jumped almost every day for his lunch money. They had police at the school. I remember one boy throwing a desk at a teacher in 7th grade, after cussing her out. I had men try to grab me when I went for walks. We did not tell our parents - they'd have never let us out again. I got clogs; he got big. Unfortunately, he took the path of physical response, and his brain does not seem to work like those of the rest of us in the family.

      "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H.L. Mencken, 1925

      by cv lurking gf on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 07:14:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Some didn't survive, at least not unharmed. (4+ / 0-)

      Bullying, especially bullying "faggots" ("gay" wasn't in the vocabulary), and "slut-outing" was accepted, tolerated, and sometimes even encouraged when I was in school in the 1960's and 70's.

      In some cases, it was even encouraged by the teachers.

      So no. We weren't more civil.

    •  Those days were not safer from bullying, (3+ / 0-)

      though I'd agree that a veneer of civility was expected by society at large.

      I'm 68. Kids could be just as vicious during my school days, and bullying was considered a rite of passage by many adults. At least by the adults that I knew. Today, elementary schools conduct campaigns against bullying with anti-bullying information to students and parents, and repercussions for bullies. Students get more protection than in my school days.

      Today, society places greater emphasis on children's rights, human rights and human dignity. So when social media and videotaping expose incidents of bullying, many object to the behavior. That's a good way to halt bullying.

      The sh*t those people [republicans] say just makes me weep for humanity! - Woody Harrelson

      by SoCalSal on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 08:29:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Depends on where you lived (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and what your situation was. I grew up in the '50s/'60s, bullying was endemic because we were always "the new kids" (Navy brats). In high school we regularly got hoax bomb threats, had unannounced locker searches, etc., etc.

      Smaller towns, relatively small midwestern cities. Sure, we could go outside to play and the neighborhoods weren't very dangerous, but school and all things connected with school (sports events, bus riding, walking to and from, etc.) were as fraught with bullies as they are now. Just a whole lot fewer guns, I guess.

      Kids have always been cruel. Part of our animal heritage, a jostling for status.

    •  When did you grow up? (0+ / 0-)

      As far as I know, bullying has always been a part of our culture.

      Shop Liberally this holiday season at Kos Katalog

      by JamieG from Md on Sun Jun 24, 2012 at 09:05:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for a thoughtful diary. (3+ / 0-)

    Though I think the wrong-doing may be worse by right-wingers, I think we have been guilty too. Many people, instead of learning from bad behavior, learn the bad behavior. An equal reaction is not the answer; a rational response is. Stop. Think. Consider. If words or action are deemed appropriate, then move forward. Let's be true progressives.

    "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H.L. Mencken, 1925

    by cv lurking gf on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 07:33:33 AM PDT

    •  And a thoughtful comment. It's true that in the (3+ / 0-)

      case of bullying, you can't fight fire with fire. The violence of bullying must be met with non-violence--as you said, a rational response.

      "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

      by Lily O Lady on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 10:26:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  when you are being bullied (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lily O Lady, CuriousBoston, WakeUpNeo

    by figures in authority, by cohorts...

    it's not always possible to get help, I took the getting-fired path rather than put up with it, but what kind of help is that?

    sure we want avenues out, same as any abused person or animal, but sometimes you have to build the avenue first, and sometimes you don't get much help doing that, and it can take a long, long time

    thanks Teacher Ken.

  •  It's a good thing I don't have kids (4+ / 0-)

    because if one of them on that bus were mine, I would have to struggle hard to restrain myself not to give them a hard spanking.

    I definitely would take away all electronic gadgets for the rest of the year. No TV, internet, cell phone. They would come straight home from school and do NOTHING every day except eat, sleep and study. On weekends they would do some form of community service. And in the end they would be made to grovel to the bus monitor for forgiveness.

    liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

    by RockyMtnLib on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 09:41:05 AM PDT

  •  the real threat (4+ / 0-)
    How threatening is it ... 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?
    How threatening - and for real - is the prospect of the Presidency in Republican hands, when they have shown themselves to be without responsibility, without shame, without compassion, without compunction, in carrying out their war on women, on the poor, on minorities, on workers, on legal precedent and protections, on civil and voting rights? (I just wrote that horrendous list, and am horrified that it is not even hyperbole - they are all true!)

    I'm getting a little tired of the "they feel threatened", "they're afraid" memes. I understand the need to be polite, to try and understand what's going on. But no: these are inherently nasty, vicious, unprincipled, people that are driving the entire "conservative" movement (and yes, the conservative thing is just a joke) and those that allow themselves to be led by such people without speaking up, without reluctance, are not much better.

    Bold at inappropriate times.

    by steep rain on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 12:25:02 PM PDT

  •  I wonder ....... (0+ / 0-)

    ....what childhood bullying might have to do with our President's aversion to direct engagement with Tea Party bullies in Congress and business bullies on Wall Street?

    In some measure we all are in terror of them, and oh how we wish for him to CONFRONT those bastards for us!

    Labor was the first price paid for all things. It was not by money, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased. - Adam Smith

    by boatwright on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 08:57:47 AM PDT

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