THE BLOG

America Is One Big Playground Where Bullying Rules The Day

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I don't recall experiencing the anger, vitriol and nastiness that is on offer today.

07/31/2017 13:50 EDT | Updated 07/31/2017 13:53 EDT
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Long Island MacArthur Airport enroute to deliver remarks on law enforcement at Suffolk Community College in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., July 28, 2017.

America, what the heck is wrong with you? You're acting like a bunch of high schoolers.

I'm Canadian but I spent my formative years in the United States. Growing up in northern New York state in the 50s and 60s, I don't recall experiencing the anger, vitriol and nastiness that is on offer today. Sure, there was the Vietnam War and the divisiveness it engendered but otherwise things were fairly civilized.

In my small hometown of Potsdam, folks had their political differences but they were pretty mild. Membership in the Democratic or Republican Party was more akin to choosing between the Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus. Back then, there was a significant overlap in party platforms to the extent that there even existed a sizeable political sub-species called liberal Republicans, a group which now, of course, is virtually extinct.

In the space of fifty years, all of that has unravelled. Where once there was a civil society governed by two parties exhibiting mutual respect, now there is a dyspeptic polarization with a political divide so ingrained that reasonable discussions of policy matters are, for the most part, impossible.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
People wave placards during senator Ted Cruz's (R-TX) speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016.

Whereas American political life used to resemble a spirited but respectful university debating society, now it instead looks like the battle of high school social cliques. There are the red staters: the jocks and cheerleaders who have little use for intellectual pursuits and reasoned discussion. And then there are the blue staters: the nerds and band members who feel superior except when the red staters threaten to beat them up.

Just like high school, adults now feel no compunction in calling each other names and engaging in juvenile ad hominem attacks. "Your guy is a fascist/communist/socialist fool and you are an outright/obnoxious/congenital idiot."

And just like high school, American society is now one big playground where bullying rules the day. One sign of the times is that, rather than commander-in-chief, the president acts more like the bully-in-chief. He has given new meaning to the phrase "bully pulpit" and his wife, the first cheerleader, while purporting to fight bullying, defends her husband's vicious personal attacks on others.

Carlos Barria / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he and First Lady Melania Trump depart from the White House on route to Ohio, in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2017.

Check out America's new lunchroom. Much like high school, the nation's political cafeteria is strictly segregated with the east coast liberals here, the alt-right billionaires there, the gun nuts over in that corner and the angry disaffected split into two groups: one looking to resurrect some mythical 50s America and the other comprising a mash-up of every radical, single-issue movement in the land.

And just like the high school cafeteria, none of the groups interact and, if someone tries to, they're berated, ridiculed and ostracized. Just as a football player wouldn't be caught dead with a clarinet player, America's new political factions will have nothing to do with their perceived inferiors. Apart from nasty name-calling, these new political cliques stick to their own kind.

Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a banner at an anti-Trump protest organized by Refuse Fascism L.A. at the site of Trump's star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Calif., on July 15, 2017.

We now even have a high school-style media world where it's easier and easier to insulate oneself from opposing views. The basketball team and the pep squad don't need or want to know what the poetry clubbers and orchestra members think and vice versa. In our larger society, these insular approaches are now called media silos. Rather than engage and debate with one's fellow citizens, now you can ensure engagement only with like-minded people and never have your point of view challenged.

It used to be that you graduated from high school and moved on to employment or college where you were exposed to different people, places and philosophies but no more. Now you can jump straight from high school to your favorite sociopolitical clique without learning about the rest of the country. You can go on living the same petty restricted life you had in high school and look down on all the other cliques. Heck, if you want, you can even continue to live a fact-free existence and ignore whatever and whomever you choose. The only problem with this path is that you just might end up with the high school bully as your next class president.

Also on HuffPost: