Board of contributors: Donald Trump for school president!

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For the Monitor
Published: 7/3/2016 1:00:42 AM

If your daughter were a reporter for her high school newspaper and a leading candidate for school president called her a “bimbo” for covering his campaign, what would you say to her?

Would you tell her that the candidate was correct – that she’s dumb and will never amount to anything – or would you tell her that the candidate was a bully who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

Most likely, you’d tell her the candidate was a bully and to ignore his insults. But, in fact, that fictional school presidential candidate would have been simply taking a page out of the Donald Trump playbook.

In today’s carefully coordinated and sometimes less-than-candid world of political speech, Donald Trump may initially seem refreshing, but would you like his “refreshing honesty” to be the leadership style that your children encounter in other parts of their lives or emulate themselves?

If Donald Trump were running for student body president at a local school instead of President of the United States, he would be sent to the principal’s office so fast he wouldn’t even have time to Tweet about it.

Donald Trump is a bully. His type of misbehavior wouldn’t be allowed in our state’s schools, and it shouldn’t be endorsed, supported, or tolerated in the public arena in pursuit of our nation’s highest office either.

Let’s return to our hypothetical high school (call it “Ourtown High School”) with its hypothetical student body presidential candidate who is using the Donald Trump playbook (call him “DT”). Let’s play out several more scenarios in DT’s bid for the student body presidency at Ourtown High School, all of which are based on real things Donald Trump has said and done.

Based on a recent survey from Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”), an internationally recognized authority on the law and disadvantaged groups, the “DT scenario” isn’t a stretch. SPLC has found an increase in school bullying based on race, religion, and nationality in the wake of Donald Trump’s campaign. SPLC has labeled this phenomenon the “Trump Effect,” cautioning that: “We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.”

Back to Ourtown High School, where your newspaper reporter daughter keeps you in the loop on the candidate. One day, she comes home with this update: DT said that the school principal, who’s Hispanic, isn’t qualified to determine how school rules apply to DT, who’s white. Your daughter, who’s also white, asks you if she can start ignoring what the principal has to say because she’d really like to start smoking marijuana in the school cafeteria while she eats lunch. Do you tell her that DT was right, that a non-white principal should be ignored, or do you tell her that DT is a bully who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and she needs to respect the principal’s authority?

A few days later, your daughter has another report about the candidate: DT says that Ourtown High School should ban all athletes from other high schools who are Muslim from playing in sports matches at Ourtown. In fact, DT added, Ourtown athletes who are Muslim should be banned from competition too because they also might make the games unsafe.

Your daughter asks what you think of this plan. Do you tell her that DT is correct, that Ourtown should lock its doors to all Muslim students, or do you tell her that this is another one of DT’s bullying rants and everyone should just go play ball?

A week later, Ourtown is in shock. A man with an assault weapon, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, slaughtered almost 50 students on a field trip to a gay pride parade. While law enforcement works to unravel exactly what happened, family and friends grieve the deaths, and everyone hearing the news struggles to come to terms with the brutal violence and heartbreaking loss of the worst mass shooting in Ourtown’s history, DT takes to social media and tweets: “Appreciate the congrats. When I’m Ourtown High School president, I’ll be so tough, this won’t ever happen again!”

Your daughter asks what you think about DT’s tweet. Do you tell her that DT is showing true leadership skills, or do you sit her down, look her in the eye, and tell her that DT is a self-centered, dangerous bully who is unfit to lead her and her classmates?

From a legal perspective, DT would be a bully. Here in New Hampshire, we have an anti-bullying law called the “Pupil Safety and Violence Prevention Act.” This law requires public school districts and charter schools to have a policy in place “prohibiting bullying or cyberbullying” and imposing “disciplinary consequences or interventions” on bullies.

Bullies, our legislature found, tend to engage in actions against others based on their “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry or ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability, gender, gender identity and expression, obesity, or other distinguishing personal characteristics, or based on association with any person identified in any of the above categories.”

This list of ways in which our Legislature determined that bullies: (1) hurt others and (2) create an unsafe environment for everyone sounds like a page right out of the Donald Trump presidential campaign playbook. Trump calls people names, often using sexist, racist, or other derogatory language. He does so to discredit and intimidate courageous people who question him and his policies. He would be a bully under our laws.

But if you’re not so interested in what the law has to say about bullies, that’s fine; let’s think about it from a common-sense, life wisdom perspective instead. If you think that any of DT’s actions amounts to bullying, and you plan to vote for Donald Trump (or you are a politician who “supports” but does not “endorse” him), then it’s time to reflect on this question: while there are all sorts of things we allow adults to do that kids can’t do (vote, drink alcohol, enter into contracts – to name just a few), we have good reasons for making those distinctions.

Are there good reasons to support a U.S. presidential candidate who’s engaged in bullying behavior we wouldn’t tolerate from a student body presidential candidate? And can you explain those reasons to your daughter or son when they come home from school one day in 2017, in tears because someone made fun of their gender, race, sexuality, weight, or other personal characteristic, and their teacher said to them, “Sorry. We can’t help you. That kid was just quoting one of President Trump’s expressions. So it’s not bullying anymore; now we call it leadership.”?

(Leah A. Plunkett founded the Youth Law Project at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. She has also done consumer rights work at the National Consumer Law Center and taught at Harvard Law School. She lives in Concord with her husband and two children.)

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