The presidential 'bully pulpit' shouldn't take aim at Americans
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If you have ever been bullied or abused, election 2016 coverage can be nails on a chalkboard.

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Cruel names and degrading nicknames, mocking disability, looks, weight, ethnicity. Using money, status, and law to sway, harm or silence. Crudeness, vulgarity, and a professed entitlement to take without concern for the feelings, well-being or consent of others. A litany of untruths and half-truths. 

Even without taking into consideration other, more serious charges levied, it is bone-chilling to realize that this kind of bullying may not only continue but be legitimized if Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos claims he was pressured to sign plea deal Tlaib asking colleagues to support impeachment investigation resolution Trump rips 'Mainstream Media': 'They truly are the Enemy of the People' MORE is elected president. The “bully pulpit,” as Theodore Roosevelt termed a president’s prominent forum for advocacy and agenda, instead becomes a pulpit for bullying. 

Trump, who was, comparatively, born on third base and thinks he hit a triple, now wants to steal home. Our home. The home of those who were told that things get better and watched as they did, grateful to find adults who don’t see a woman as the sum of her parts or a man as the size of his fists or his wallet. 

Those who stopped seeing the world as black and white, as “winners" and “losers”, instead appreciating of all the nuances and colors there are. 

Those who still cringe hearing those words and that tone years later, viscerally feeling the implied threat and humiliation, in a kind of political PTSD.

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It is not just words, it's the message spread and the values inculcated. The misogyny, anti-Semitism and racism stirred up under the guise of telling it like it is, of locker room talk, of being raw. This aggression isn't strength that protects us — it is bullying that weakens the fabric of our culture and is perceived of as ignorance by other countries, making us more vulnerable. 

Unless next week’s election has the movie/after-school special ending — the version with the bully getting his comeuppance and everyone learning a poignant lesson — this will only become more prevalent. 

Elections always breed disagreement about politics and policies, though usually more respectfully. It is impossible to forecast how the world will change in the next four years and what tactics will prove most effective in response, and we rely on education and on intuition in making our best assessment. 

We look at what furthers our financial interests and/or sits right with us about the allocation of resources, consider who we feel responsible to protect and to what extent, and what rights we hold sacred or find harmful. We vote with our conscience so we can sleep at night, and for the candidate whose foreign policy we believe will keep us and the world safe because we want to have another night to sleep through. We do the best we can. 

With technology and transparency having revealed hidden sides of each candidate, this election has become a referendum on character — theirs, and consequently our own. 

Our votes can prevent uncomfortable rhetoric from being established as institutionalized policy, can keep Americans great and can maintain our electorate as a bully-free zone. History teaches what happens when would-be leaders prey on fear. Each of us is complicit if we allow that to happen here — and unless we make it a priority to stand up for ourselves and for each other, it could. 

We can’t let anyone be marginalized or attacked for the differences that are the very basis of what makes this country truly great, truly innovative, and truly respected.

Zirin-Hyman is an attorney and freelance writer in the New York area. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.