Edward Udel: Trump drags us further into gutter


DALTON >> As the Trump bandwagon rolls along, propelled by support from a significant percentage of primary voters, pundits are dumbfounded. Trump can say or do virtually anything, insult anyone and his popularity holds steady. His rapid-fire exchanges with his opponents bordering on slander earn him even greater adulation.

While this confounds many seasoned political observers, in at least one respect, his political success is as predictable as the polar ice melt. Within the context of an expanding culture of belligerence, animosity, vulgarity and bullying, Trump's candidacy has gained a strong foothold.

During a Trump rally, someone shouts out an obscenity directed at one of his competitors. Trump, to the delight of the crowd, repeats the obscenity after playfully warning his audience against the use of the word. He then uses the word again, whipping his audience into a frenzy. His admirers shout out Trump's name in a rhythmic cadence, a love-fest catalyzed and intensified by a mix of profanity, wildly unsubstantiated accusations and cleverly conceived innuendo.

Ugliness in schools

More than a thousand miles away in a Berkshire County elementary school, a teacher coaxes a second grade student into his assigned seat. He charges at her, accosting her with a loud stream of obscenities while kicking her in the leg. He circles around to repeat the attack, forcing the teacher to call for help.

This type of belligerent schoolroom behavior practiced by some of our youngest students began as a trickle and is now an established trend. We have also seen disturbing and persistent bullying in our middle and high schools. Some of these cases have resulted in deaths.

New laws and guidelines have been recently applied to our schools to require educators to snuff out this disturbing trend. But they can't control the context, the very fabric of our culture, within which bullying is learned and rewarded.

In 1963, if one of my Mount Greylock Regional High School classmates made the mistake of talking in Edna Lunney's English class without permission, he or she might be invited up to the front chalkboard to "Justify your existence." I remember one such incident with crystal clarity.

From that lock-down determination to maintain discipline, concentration and focus, we have morphed into a far different society. Childish and belligerent confrontation is all the rage even among some of those who hope to lead "the most powerful nation" on earth.

How can this extreme cultural shift be explained? Context. Walk through any suburban neighborhood as darkness descends and you will see the glow of television screens in almost every home. That glow lasts well into the night and carries dozens of "reality television shows" complete with vulgar, profane and childish confrontations. You can now add televised presidential political rallies to that list.

Profanity-laced dysfunction that first earned Jerry Springer large audiences and high ratings now seems to dominate the airwaves. We have developed a climate of acceptance and even appreciation for such behavior. Dramatic verbal clashes are staged to precede "professional wrestling" matches. Confrontational television is available 24/7. Surveys and studies verify that our children spend many hours each week in front of television sets directly observing the dark side of human behavior.

With all of the outlandish statements political candidates have made, none of them advocate childhood bullying, yet many of them may be contributing to it. Children emulate adults.

Young children who are prone to verbally and physically attacking their teachers likely witness their share of this behavior on their television screens or even worse, in their own homes. Verbal confrontation is so common that some who aspire to the highest office in the land have become skilled practitioners of crudity.

No decency?

As I write this, Trump has just expressed his desire to punch a protestor in the face. Does he think that our children are being raised in a vacuum? Candidates who prefer a raised middle finger to elevated political discourse are dragging our children into the gutter.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy was asked, "Sir, have you no decency?" The same question should be asked of presidential candidates who cater to our worst instincts without regard for the destruction they will leave in their wake.

In announcing his withdrawal from the race, Jeb Bush argued that ideas matter. Conduct matters too as do our children. They have a steep enough climb ahead without the added burden of dislodging themselves from deep gutters.

Edward Udel is a regular Eagle contributor.


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