Make America Mean Again

We’re in a pretty uncomfortable political position. Everything has gotten so…mean.

This election has been defined by bullying and non-bullying, by the Republican party via mouthpiece Donald Trump taking the pushy, gross, ugly American role of the winner who quips at everyone else while the Democrats via mouthpiece Hillary Clinton have taken to urging for unity, for friendliness, for being our best selves together instead of pushing. It’s aggressive patriarchy versus calm matriarchy—and this stark contrast is turning America into a giant feuding high school.

So what happens when those who aren’t young enough to vote watch these antics? We’re left with a toxic environment for American kids.

Chronicled in a brilliant yet frightening New York Times story, op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof zooms in on the everyday, small American town of Forest Grove, Oregon. It seems quaint and cute but upon stepping into the halls of their high school do you find that the surroundings are under heavy influence of Donald Trump’s mean spirit. The school sees white students verbally attacking minority students, namely hispanic, who have resorted to taking their papers to school to protect themselves from potential deportation.

It’s a gross scene.

“We’ve spent the last 15 years fighting bullying in schools, and the example set by the Trump campaign has broken down the doors, and a tidal wave of bullying has come through,” said Maureen Costello of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The center issued a report documenting how Trump’s venom has poisoned schools across the country. It quoted a North Carolina teacher as saying she has “Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported.” Another teacher reported that a fifth grader told a Muslim student “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president!”

Here in the Forest Grove area, west of Portland, students of Mexican heritage at four high schools — most of them born in the United States — described to me how some local whites take cues from Trump.

“They say, ‘We’re going to deport your ass,’” said Melina McGlothen, 17, whose mother is Mexican. “I don’t want to say I hate them, but I hate their stupidity.”

…and young adults thought they had it bad when we were in school. Now that it appears to be acceptable to verbally harass someone for their identity, these acts are clearly not done in secret. Disgusting. Yet, major recognition to teens like Melina who are taking this abuse in such an adult, responsible, and peaceful manner.

The obvious happening is how this situation illustrates how words are heavier than what Trump and his party believe them to be. Beyond this, it highlights that which was always there: race based bullying. When I was in school, in the South and beyond, in a military family, there was always some tension of the majority (white) kids and system against the minority (hispanic, sometimes black) kids. There were moments on the playground where a racial slur or class comment was tossed out as a petty, casual joke. This was a trickle down repeat of what children hear at home or see on television, things that happened just as often as my quoting Clueless. The main attraction of bullying may seem to be LGBTQ students but, really, minority and undocumented students have faced this harassment for years—and now it’s becoming acceptable to do this openly because our potential president is doing it.

Proof of this phenomena has been around but there doesn’t seem to have been a sexy news peg to attach this to. Now? It’s out in the open because Trump’s thought cloud is out in the open. No wonder Hillary is lobbing ad campaigns about our children watching: a need for role models has never been more important.

Yet, as the article points out, there is a sliver of silver around the clouds.

The upshot is that this election year, we’re divided not only by political party and ideology, but also by identity. So the weave of our national fabric unravels. And while our eyes have mostly been on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the nation’s history is being written not just in the capital and grand cities but also in small towns and etched in the lives of ordinary people.

Identity politics are not just for minorities anymore but for everyone. This academic subject—like gender politics and performance theory—has now gone mainstream because we see it every day, all around us.

Hopefully this will pass. There are good people combating this and we will overcome. It’s important to notice what is happening though, to actively participate in the good side of the conversation, to push out the ugly. We cannot afford to be mean. Maybe Donald Trump, a rich and lawless man, can afford to be mean because he has cascades of security. But us everyday people? We cannot. There are lasting effects for us.

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