Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “Bully Pulpit” to describe how influential the White House could be in advocating a sociopolitical agenda. When he coined the term, however, the phrase “bully” had a different meaning than it does today. To call it a Bully Pulpit meant that it was a good platform to project an agenda. Remember the term “bully for you”? During the time of Roosevelt, it would have meant “good for you.” All that to say, when Theodore Roosevelt called the White House a “Bully Pulpit,” he meant it to be a positive thing to further ideas and agendas in American society.
I am sure that you, the reader, have heard or seen coverage of this election cycle in the United States. That being said, the reason I have called this post the Bully Pulpit is because the race for President has devolved into politicians bullying their way into the American spotlight. Why is this particularly dangerous? Because of the effect it has on the next generation. Not only is it making young voters more cynical of the U.S. political system, but it is also teaching children it is okay to bully, make fun and tear each other down. But before we explore the consequences of the Bully Pulpit, let us first look at the state of American politics.
Before we start, I must say that this post is not intended to promote one politician over another. It is simply my observation of all the candidates and the lengths they are willing to go in order to show their supremacy over their opponents.
It is no secret that the media is a powerful tool to promote ideas to the American public. It allows politicians to have a platform in which to reach people all across the country at one time. As with all tools, they can either be used to help or to harm. Unfortunately the American media has helped politicians do vast amounts of harm. This election cycle in particular (for the most part), the candidates have said little about policy and a lot about each other. For instance, let us look at the issue of foreign policy. Trump has mentioned China several times, but what has he said about specific policy initiatives that he would enact as President? Hilary has mentioned needing to be tough on Russia, but what specifics has she offered? Sanders has said that we need immigration reform as part of our relationship with Mexico. That is all well and good, but what is it specifically that he will do?
If you look at the amount of air time each candidate has gotten, the majority of it is spent tearing down their opponent. Their policies are not coming through because they are too busy attacking one another and trying to demonize the opposing party. An example of this is Trump saying that Obama has been the worst President in United States History. A pretty bold claim right? As someone who has an MA in U.S. History, it vexes me deeply to hear a politicians (especially one running for the highest office in the country) say inflammatory statements like that. When top politicians make it okay to call each other names, tear each other down and actively seek ways to destroy each other’s reputation, what kind of message is that sending to the American people?
We are a nation of reality television. What I mean is that we would rather vote for who gets the final rose than for elected officials responsible for the future of our country. We thrive on gossip, slander and fights. The danger in the way things are now is that it has a profound impact on the next generation of Americans. For instance, young voter turnout has been strikingly low the past few Presidential elections. One of the main reasons young voters give is that they feel as though it will not make a difference in the way things are run. Can you blame them for having this opinion? We have had a deadlocked Congress for years. Why? Because it has become more important to bolster your own party than it has to pass legislation that will benefit the American people.
Things like health care, college tuition and immigration reform are all issues that desperately need to be talked about, but it has become impossible because politicians are more concerned with their own reputation and not the job they were elected to preform. Young voters don’t want to vote because politicians have lost their constituent’s trust. I speak for myself when I say that I’m tired of watching the news and hearing nothing but politicians say how evil the other party is. When you reduce your opponent to an idea or platform, then it is easy to talk about them as if they weren’t human. The Bully Pulpit has become a platform where the only way to survive is to push your opponent off.
The other detrimental effect that U.S. politics has on the American people is with children. It is not a coincidence that children mimic things they hear adults saying. What are we to expect from children who see grown adults calling each other names and dehumanizing their opponents? It makes it okay for children to do the same. We cannot hold our children to a standard of decency that we ourselves refuse to hold our politicians to.
An example of this was an elementary school where a couple of boys were overheard bullying another kid by saying “when Trump becomes President, he’s sending you back to Mexico.” There are many more examples that I could use, but the point is that the two bullies would not have said anything so hurtful unless they had heard it from someone else. Kids are looking to us to set the example for them. Whatever we condone or allow will be what they learn is okay. If they hear politicians saying that all Mexicans are rapists and criminals, then they are going to grow up with the understanding that they cannot interact with Mexican-Americans. The mean, snarky and offensive nature of American politics extends far beyond the realm of adults. We are going to be experiencing the same xenophobia, the same racism and the same sexism for generations to come because it is the example of what is acceptable. We are setting up the same broken political system for our children. Isn’t the point to pass on to our children a better society then we had?
The Bully Pulpit is alive and well. As we can see from the Presidential candidates, they are the biggest bullies of them all.