photo by Matt A.J. (Matt Johnson)
From as early as preschool, we try to teach our children basic values: Be kind. Treat people well. Don’t be a bully.
We not only try to tell them these lessons in words, but to serve as role models for their behavior. But many other figures, from athletes to pop music artists to actors, are also pressed into the job of role models, whether they asked to be or not.
When celebrity entertainers act in ways that fall short, the media often takes them to task, sometimes brutally. Whether it was Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs, Kanye West’s grandstanding at the Grammy awards, Lindsay Lohan’s meltdowns or Justin Bieber’s trouble with the law over reckless driving, mainstream news publications sometimes seem just as likely as the paparazzi to disseminate the unflattering details.
Of course, in a perfect world the athletes, singers and actors kids love would also model mature and admirable behavior for their fans. But entertainers are, by and large, not actively asking to be entrusted with any responsibility more serious than selling tickets to their next event.
Not so someone running for president of the United States. Unlike, for instance, a reality television star, a presidential candidate seeks a position that invites the closest scrutiny, not only of beliefs, but of behavior. The leader of our country should, in fact, serve as a role model – not only for our children, but for all of us as Americans.
Instead, the leading Republican candidate in this election deals in childish displays of bullying and name-calling that would be unacceptable from a kindergartner.
Donald Trump has unapologetically worked to draw discourse to the lowest common denominator, whether throwing water to mock Sen. Marco Rubio, criticizing Carly Fiorina’s face and physical appearance, or dragging Jeb Bush’s mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, into his feud with the other candidate. This is not to mention his initial refusal to disavow support from a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan or his serious honesty problems.
Even Trump himself has effectively admitted that his behavior is not the sort you would hope for in a commander in chief. On Today, he recently said, “I would have a very, very presidential demeanor when I win, but until such time you have to hit back. When you hit back, you’re no longer presidential, unfortunately.” Given the sort of campaign Trump has run thus far, it is hard to take this assertion particularly seriously.
Yet for all this bad behavior, he has garnered less media criticism than many celebrities with much less reason to be held accountable. While it certainly isn’t hard to find opponents to criticize him, his success in the primaries has meant an increasing amount of straight coverage of his efforts and even a measure of grudging respect for his staying power. A year ago, many people dismissed his candidacy as a stunt or a joke. Now that it can’t be dismissed at all, however, observers have already grown used to his bullying and name-calling – to the point where they are taken as givens, hardly worth remarking on.
Not only is Trump’s behavior an embarrassment, but he is pulling other candidates down to his level as the campaign wears on. A recent republican debate was described after the fact as “unintelligible yelling.” Trump may be the leader of the pack in nastiness as well as votes, but personal attacks and name-calling have become the order of the day for many of the candidates across the board.
In a recent CNN interview, an audience member asked Trump how he could serve as a role model if he were elected, considering the disparaging remarks he has made about various groups and the blatant disrespect he has displayed for those who oppose him. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s reactions was first to accuse the speaker of being put up to asking the question and then to dismiss those concerns and effectively change the subject.
Trump’s behavior is getting him exactly what he wants, so of course he would see no reason to change. But we deserve better from a candidate for the highest office in the land. Given how much outrage commentators can muster for a young woman in skimpy clothing or a man praising his own art too loudly, it would be nice if they could redirect some of that disdain at a figure who has earned it many times over.