By Michael Shank and Former US Congressman Mike Honda
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Michael Shank and former Rep. Michael Honda. Shank, of Brandon, is the communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. Honda, a Democrat, represented California’s 17th congressional district between 2001 and 2017 and founded the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus in Congress.
Bullying, along the lines of what we’re seeing with President Donald Trump and his approach to dissent, disagreement and, frankly, democracy, isn’t a new phenomenon in American politics, press or public space. It’s always been there, from early European settler domination of our indigenous First Nations communities, to more recent hate speech and actions accosting American Muslims.
While bullying is a term often reserved for classrooms and playgrounds, it’s now pervasive in every aspect of American life.
The Trump administration is inculcating a bullying ethic and norm into America’s domestic fabric and our foreign policy. This was Trump’s campaign modus operandi and he is role modeling it for every American — on Twitter, on television and at every turn.
The Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, which we launched a few years ago in the U.S. House of Representatives to tackle a problem already prevalent pre-Trump, now seems prescient. The caucus’ work is especially vital now if we’re going to change the course and character of this country. It will require the vigilance of every American. Being a bystander isn’t an option.
On four fronts, this will be particularly critical: on diversity inclusion, income inequality, foreign affairs and climate policy.
We’re nearing dangerous tipping points on all four. Whether it’s white males bullying new American immigrants, conservative extremists bullying transgender teens, big banks bullying Congress at the expense of low- and middle-income America, Pentagon officials bullying weaker countries with aggressive air strikes, or fossil fuel industries bullying Washington into inaction on climate change, the consequences of this continuing, unchallenged, are grave.
All of this is bullying. And it’s increasing in frequency and ferocity, adding more insult to more injury. There’s a cost to all of this bullying. Harvard and NYU medical schools’ James Gilligan — and even Aristotle, Aquinas and Hegel — have long noted that failure to recognize or respect persons or populations foreign or domestic, while shaming, humiliating, or slighting them, can generate revenge, conflict and violence.
There’s a reason, for example, why American income inequality and unemployment correlate strongly with violent crime. When the gap is so big between the American Dream and the American reality it’s hard not to take it personally (an anger which the Trump campaign tapped into). No one wants to feel this way.
This isn’t rocket science. And yet we let it continue, in fact we give space for it to breathe and grow, in the press and in our politics — all of which further undermines our once healthy social capital (i.e. trust, cooperation and reciprocity in society).
And we know that the less we have of that kind of capital, the more violent our society becomes.
This may seem too soft for some political scientists, but when the facts are out there on every front — whether it’s ineffectual foreign interventions, disastrous climate impacts, or the rapid return of unregulated subprime lending, all of which prey on poor populations and adds insult to injury — and yet we fail to inform and reform our policy, then a new mass social movement is needed. We’re tired of writing about and sourcing facts.
We’ve been doing it for years. We now need to take to the real and virtual streets, mobilizing America.
Why, because we keep making the same mistakes. For example, we know that religious or race-based registries are wrong.
They were wrong in World War II, when we interned Japanese Americans, and they’re wrong now (yet where is the categorical condemnation by elites).
We know the financial industry continues to take advantage of low-income communities. It was wrong before the financial crisis and it’s wrong today.
We know our Defense Department is using predator drones to kill and maim indiscriminately, as the numbers climb of innocent dead in our wars in Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.
It was wrong under every previous administration, and with every report detailing war crimes, and it’s wrong today.
And we know that the fossil fuel industry has bullied members of Congress into quiet submission — through exorbitant campaign contributions — and bullied environmentalists in the courtroom and via aggressive attacks from funded pundits.
That was wrong in the 1980s, when we knew carbon emissions were killing us, and it remains wrong today.
All the facts out there are telling us that this bullyism is hurting our economy and our communities. There are plenty of data.
The costs of this unchecked behavior keep mounting, something we’ve written on before as the costs of violence, stemming from predatory policies, keep climbing into the hundreds of billions of tax-paid dollars. More facts, more reports and more data won’t upend this unsustainable status quo.
That’s why, we believe, only mass movements can save us now. Patriotic Americans mobilizing to protect marginalized communities from verbal or physical or other attack, Americans divesting from the financial industries that rob middle America, Americans refusing to pay taxes that militarize our main streets or support the killing of innocents overseas, and Americans shutting down fossil fuel pipelines before they further threaten health and habitat.
If ever there was a moment to stand up — not stand by — this is it. It’s time for nonviolence resistance, along the lines of what Jesus would do, what Martin Luther King would do and what Gandhi would do.
We, too, must do it. If we fail to mobilize now, we allow the balance to tip in favor of hate and intolerance, greed and profit, pollution and violence. It is time to risk something in order to save everything. See you on the streets.