That a solid percentage of the American electorate has readily succumbed to the ‘law and order’ message of Donald Trump — self-professed strongman and fixer-of-all-problems — should not be surprising given humanity’s vulnerability to fear through the rhetoric of bigotry, xenophobia and cultural division.
Throughout history, tin-pot dictators have been propelled to power upon the duality of fear and aggression that manifest in the type of deep societal divide that has become the signet and primary political tool of Donald Trump. Classically authoritarian, he simultaneously pokes at our anxieties while proclaiming himself the exclusive warden of our safety and, for pure self-interested political gain, encourages a dangerous play of ‘us vs. them.’
This game, however, is no longer amusing, or even intriguing. His toxic brand of bombast has created synonyms of the words ‘diversity’ and ‘dangerous,’ and has provided tacit permission to the free expression of racism to those so inclined.
And the nativists are restless.
The aggressive style that has worked so brilliantly for Trump in political sphere has spilled like toxic waste onto the whole of society, sullying even our halls of education in what’s been termed “The Trump Effect.”
An April report issued by The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights and anti-discrimination advocacy group, entitled ‘The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on our Nation’s Schools’ suggests a discernible uptick in bullying in schools. According to the report:
The results of an online survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance suggest that the campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms. It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.
Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.
The SPLC cautions that it’s report, as a compilation of subjective surveys, is not scientific, yet nevertheless highlights an alarming trend based on anecdotal observations from teachers. Feedback from nearly 2,000 educators reveals that students ‘seem emboldened to make bigoted and inflammatory statements about minorities, immigrants,’ ‘use the names of candidates as pejoratives to taunt each other’ and claim they are ‘just saying what everyone is thinking.’
It is having a spillover effect that is sort of green-lighting bullying that is impacting our kids.
Recounting an incident of students chanting, “Trump, Trump, Trump” while pulling the hijab off a Muslim student’s head, Ellison continued:
This is really something that I find physically worrisome. I’ve never realized kids were listening that closely, but they really are. This idea that there would be open appeal to bullying and bigotry is a new thing.
The term “Trump Effect” coined in the report is the subject of an upcoming six-figure advertising campaign which will run in nine swing states, featuring teachers recounting stories of bullying dovetailed with remarks made by Trump on the campaign trail.
Because this is truly not what we want our children to be learning.
Bullying and intimidation, as manifestations of the long shadow of racism cast by Donald Trump, are symptoms of his prototypically authoritarian leadership style. What, though, can be said about the psychological profile of the individual who willingly, often eagerly, acquiesces to Trump’s amoralistic exploitation of their most febrile fears?
Bob Altemeyer, retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba and premier researcher on the authoritarian personality, claims that the characteristics of authoritarianism — ethnocentrism, fearfulness, aggression, dogmatism, distrust, prejudice, blind abidance to authority — are found both in leaders and their followers.
Authoritarians obey. They enable the ‘strong-man.’ They demean the powerless. They magnify threat and they respond with aggression. They exact revenge. They pledge to build a walls, to close Mosques, to ‘stop-and-frisk’, to divide, to dominate and, somehow, this is supposed to ‘make America great again.’
That the grip of an authoritarian political culture — one based on fear, aggression and xenophobia — is gaining purchase within the institutions that educate our future leaders should be a matter of grave concern.
American democracy stands at a crossroad, for which no u-turns will be allowed after November 8th.
I urge you to choose your path wisely.
Our future depends on it.
Featured Image via YouTube screen capture