The Real Bully Pulpit

The Real Bully Pulpit

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I think Donald Trump is confused. Or perhaps he’s just unaware that the meanings of words can change over time. I’m beginning to believe that Candidate Trump thinks that when President Teddy Roosevelt called the presidency a “bully pulpit” at the turn of the last century, that the word bully had the same meaning it has today. If Donald Trump’s entire campaign strategy to date and recent Twitter war with Senator Elizabeth Warren is any indication, then I’m sure Trump is confusing the progressive era adjective with the common noun we use today. No Candidate Trump, you are not running for the position Bully-in-Chief…that’s not what the United States presidency is. I think someone should also alert his followers.

When President Roosevelt referred to the White House as a “bully pulpit” the word “bully” meant superb, wonderful, or excellent. Roosevelt, during an era when America was emerging as a world power, viewed his role as the country’s leader and burgeoning world leader as a position of power to persuade, exhort, instruct, and inspire. According to presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, Roosevelt believed he could use the presidency to bring out the best in civic life during one of our country’s great reformation eras. I think Candidate Trump, with his brash and aggressive behavior, isn’t concerned with bringing out the best, instead his tactics bring out the worst.

Some of Trump’s followers have dismissed his behavior as an “act” to gain media attention. They pretend to believe that the real Donald Trump will emerge much more dignified and presidential after he becomes president. But even as the presumptive Republican nominee, he continues to behave like a grade school bully, hurling insults at anyone he considers a threat. It’s not an act folks. It’s not a reality show. Donald Trump is not a great actor. We really are in the process of selecting the next leader of our country.

I don’t think Candidate Trump is alone in his confusion. Unfortunately, I see the same problem at the local level. There are some candidates who believe bullying is the way to win an election. They try to threaten individuals into endorsing them. They try to threaten voters into voting for them. And they bully their fellow candidates. I remember the bullies at Muscott Elementary School quite well. I even remember their names – Chauntae was one. It seemed every year of elementary school there would be a girl in Mrs. Blackmon’s 6th grade class who would rise to the ranks of the “queen of the playground.” She would walk around the “big kids” playground with her posse – a gaggle of girls – who would protect her, amuse her, and terrorize the rest of us. As has been repeated throughout history, none of those girls fared too well in adulthood. Inspiration always trumps intimidation.

The last thing we need in a leader of the free world is a bully. A diplomat, yes. An intellectual, yes. A compassionate and caring leader, of course. But someone who believes the best way to communicate is through intimidation, threats, and fear-mongering…no, not when it comes to our president or any other elected office.

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