Captain’s Log 5,192
I know what it’s like to be bullied. I also know what it’s like to be a bully.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these last few days about why Trump supporters are rallying around him – even when he is saying disgusting things and behaving like a spoiled, whiny child. I started to examine my own life to see if I can find a parallel when I acted this way.
And I found it.
When I was in elementary school, there was a girl in the grade ahead of me who was different. I’m sure there was some sort of disease or disorder that made her look different. She had trouble speaking clearly. She was physically awkward. She was also borderline intellectually. Her sister (who was a lovely girl that I never really got to know) was in my class.
Kids are cruel, and when the poor girl became available as a target for bullying, it was incessant. It was cruel. And most of us participated. We ALL should have been thrown against the wall and caned with a bamboo stick for what we did. But that never happened. The teachers never seemed to interfere. We just went after her with everything we had.
Why? How could I have been so cruel?
Thinking about it the other night led to some insights. I was also a different child. My parents were of a mixed marriage (Catholic/Protestant). I was the only kid in our Catholic school with a “heathen” father. I also had a “heathen” grandfather who was an alcoholic. He was basically the town drunk. I lived on the “wrong” side of the tracks. My mother did not tithe her required amount of $1,000 to the church. I know that for a fact because the church used to publish what you were assessed and what you actually gave. Every year, my mom’s report showed $50. Never more. Never less.
I was tall and bookish. I had superior musical skills but I could not read a note (still can’t). I was outspoken about Vietnam and abortion rights. Basically, I was a fish out of water.
In spite of my good qualities (I had a few), I participated in the bullying of this girl. I wasn’t the meanest, but I was pretty nasty. And every time I did something to her, I made sure the other kids noticed.
I puzzled over this the other night. Why do my high school actions from back in the day remind me of Trump and his supporters now? I realized I bullied this girl so the rest of the kids wouldn’t bully me. I joined the swarm of indecency to save my own ass. NOBODY ever stood up for this girl because the kids who led the charge were fierce and powerful. I allowed myself to get swept up in the madness and the cruelty. They gave me “permission” be be an asshole. They also gave me “permission” to get close to their power over others. Even though it was blatantly obvious that I would never reach their pinnacle of control or coolness, I was part of their domain – at least in those moments when I teased this poor girl or knocked papers out of her hands.
When the girl graduated a year before me, I was seriously afraid that the biggest bullies of the class would turn on me during my senior year. But they didn’t. I lucked out. When I got to college, the game was completely changed. My school history did not follow me. I had a chance to start over. And I did. It was safe for me to be kind. It was perfectly acceptable for me to be “different.” And I have carried that with me ever since.
I talked to someone who is supporting Trump the other day. When I asked why he was doing it, he said he was afraid not to. His entire family are Trumpets. Most of his co-workers are Trumpets. So he was doing the very same thing to keep himself safe. He is completely terrified to challenge the bullies. I get that. I have been there. I know what that feels like. Heaven forbid if they should come after you.
The difference between then and now is the voting booth. Nobody knows what you do in there except you. We talked about that. With tears in his eyes, he said very sheepishly, “I am going to vote for Hillary – but please don’t tell anyone.”
How sad is it that even as adults we find ourselves under the thumb of someone we are too afraid to resist? But I understand the culture of the bully. I immersed myself in it all those years ago to keep those people away from me. I denigrated and attacked an innocent person to save my own ass.
I have no idea what happened to the poor girl, the target of our juvenile wrath. Some say she entered a convent. At least she would be safe from cruel taunts there. I hope she is well. I have thought about her a lot over the years and used to dream about the day I could apologize to her. Maybe I will get that chance someday.
Trump is a bully. He appeals to the lower nature of his followers. It’s a lower nature we ALL have but few understand. Some cling to it out of fear. Others see the cruelty and do whatever they can to make it stop. When I puzzle over how Germany, one of the best-educated and sophisticated countries in the world, could put Hitler into power, all I have to do is compare those times to these times. The parallels are chilling.
I hope I have made good enough amends over the years to the people I have harmed. I hope I have become a person who is kind and good. I hope I stand up for the underdog. Right now, I am looking for the light of understanding about Trump and what he is trying to create. I am not there yet. I am trying. I will never vote for the man, and I know it is my duty to help stop him before he can cause irreparable harm to our country and the rest of the world.
The best thing I can do is continue to express myself – and live my life according to what I preach from my soapbox.
Off the soapbox now. Thanks for your patience with this.