Today is the last day I’ll be blogging about my child’s autism while Barack Obama is President. Next time I blog about autism, Donald Trump will be President.
Does that make any difference to my autistic child? Maybe, maybe not. Trump has given considerable support to anti-vaxxers, and that does concern me. But beyond that, I can’t help but wonder if bullying has been validated at the federal level – during years that my child stands to be the most vulnerable to bullying, his age 7 to age 11 (let’s hope that number doesn’t go to 15).
One might reply that just because President Trump bullies the press, and Europe, and civil-rights hero John Lewis, and SNL, and the cast of “Hamilton”…doesn’t mean that his behavior filters down into everyday life. If that’s your belief, I wonder how often you read comment sections on websites. Trumpkins (who may be paid Macedonians or Moldovans, but oh well) parrot his bullying style without having to be asked. As Streep said, “disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence.” Sure enough, Trump reacted to this comment with hateful disrespect.
Here’s something you know: every federally funded building, including every public school, mounts a framed, glass-covered photo of the current United States President on some wall or other.
Here’s something you don’t know, because no one does: the exact effect on schoolchildren of regularly seeing that mounted, framed, regal, smiling face.
We know dictators haven’t exactly waited for the psycho-social science results to come in. Instead, in any autocracy in the world, one sees Dear Leader’s face shining from a thousand walls.
And let’s face it, as a liberal/moderate, I was hardly bothered to see Barack Obama’s framed face adorning the walls of public buildings. It was to me a quiet reminder of American progress, of the “more perfect union,” and all that. I didn’t see it the way that my more conservative friends saw it, as a face of divisiveness.
These days, when I speak to these friends, and when I dare to engage on Twitter and in the comment sections, I have to be quick to include Bush, McCain, and/or Romney as examples. No one (that I know of) ever accused those men of being bullies. To call Trump a bully is not a partisan zinger. It’s a statement of worrisome fact.
Perhaps I have nothing to worry about. Dar generally seems to be in a loving, supportive community here in the Bay Area bubble. If we’re not footloose and fancy-free, we’re bubbly and bully-free, right?
I do see Dar getting far more physical with his peers than he was in previous years. He would never hit someone, but now he walks up to kids and touches their face and hair, sometimes grabbing their hair a little. I could hardly blame a kid getting his hair pulled for shoving Dar to the ground. And remember why my kid getting bullied isn’t like yours (probably): Dar will never be able to tell us who did it. Which makes him more of a target.
The optimist in me feels that perhaps Trump’s behavior, playing out at the Presidential level, might facilitate a larger and more nuanced conversation about what bullying really is. There are probably still people out there who think only physical assault deserves to be called bullying. In fact, Trump’s gaslighting of the country (e.g. telling people they didn’t see what they know they saw) is certainly another form of bullying. Insults can also be considered bullying. Making someone’s life hard is bullying. Granted, my kid may not grasp these forms, but I’m a parent: my job is to worry nonetheless.
The pessimist in me feels that Trump’s behavior, playing out at the Presidential level, will so dilute the concept of “bullying” that we won’t even recognize it anymore. “Bullying” could become like “racist,” a term that people don’t trust, a term supposedly employed by over-sensitive snowflakes to dismiss anyone they don’t agree with.
I was bullied as a kid. Is there anything more frustrating for a parent than failing to spare your kid the same pains and humiliations you went through?
Oh well. I can’t and I don’t blame everything on Donald Trump. I’ll even end this on a spirit of harmony. His presidency and my kid have something very important in common.
Neither is normal.