Patricia Leavy: Even the President Can Be Bullied
May 09, 2011
by Patricia Leavy, associate professor of Sociology at Stonehill
When President Obama recently offered up a copy of his detailed birth certificate, he cited the need to "put an end to the silliness" and help our nation focus on more pressing matters. We are now learning something more of the seriousness of the issues Obama was dealing with during the birth-certificate campaign. The sad fact is that the president's public disclosure of his birth certificate was not really about silliness. It was all about bullying.
Obama did not disclose his birth certificate to clear his name, but rather because he was bullied by Donald Trump and other characters into doing so. With an epidemic of "tween" and teen bullying, often with tragic repercussions, it is both somewhat reassuring and very alarming to know that no one is immune.
Bullying is always about power. Often, it is a means to make oneself appear strong and powerful at the expense of another. In this way, bullying always involves three parties: the bully, the bullied and the bystanders.
Bullies have one goal: getting attention for themselves so they feel like big shots. This was certainly evidenced when Donald Trump - who is now calling for the president's school records - held a press conference to take credit for forcing Obama to reveal his birth certificate.
The bullied, or victim, usually just wants the harassment to end, and there is a breaking point when he can take no more. President Obama's press conference was his breaking point, no doubt due to the issues of import requiring his full attention. And then there's us. In the "birthers' brouhaha," the American public has been forced to play the role of bystander to the bullying on the political playground.
When I was watching the birth-certificate drama unfold on live television, I couldn't help but think that it was such an enormous waste of time and resources in an age when we have so many pressing issues to deal with. This is exactly how I feel when my daughter comes home from school and informs me that she didn't learn her social-studies lesson because children were misbehaving, so instead, they spent their time in an unsettled classroom or sitting quietly, as time was diverted to restoring order to the class. In these instances it is clear that the loudest voice hijacks everyone's time and energy.
In light of the recent announcement that U.S. special forces have killed Osama bin Laden, the politics of distraction promulgated by Trump and others are all the more clear. While they were calling for the president to again prove his citizenship, Obama was leading a campaign to bring down the man responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks. Who looks silly now?
Unfortunately we have become accustomed to bullying at its worst. Whether it is a college student leaving a suicide note on Facebook, a lone high-school student hanging herself in her room, or two bullied eighth-grade girls in Minnesota carrying out their suicide pact, bullying is claiming young lives all across America. It happens all too frequently in all types of communities.
We are all no doubt saddened and troubled when we hear about these tragic events. As parents, we are heartbroken when we know our children are being teased and tormented.
This is an issue we can all come together on. But where does it leave us when we see the very people who want to run our country behaving like the nastiest school-yard bullies and calling their ridiculous campaign an important investigation?
The funny thing about bullying is that the ones who have the most power to control it once it has started are not the bully or the bullied, but rather, the bystanders. Those are the people who let it happen, by bearing witness silently, or, who refuse to let it continue.
In the case of Obama versus Trump, I've got news for you: That's us.
For parents this is a teachable moment. When children come home from school talking about being bullied, their friends being bullied or events they have learned about from media, parents are armed with a new resource that can offer valuable perspective. We can now cite the fact that no one is immune from bullying.
Not even the president of the United States.
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