I was routinely bullied as a child. I was a bully magnet, a perfect storm of targetable infractions: Visibly handicapped, highly intelligent, and reliably histrionic. Bullies didn’t usually need to beat me up; it sufficed to get me upset, and I’d have an impressive tantrum all on my own.
Because this usually happened on school property, well-meaning adults would intercede after the storm passed by having a talk with the bully, which would result in the requisite Apology and the equally requisite Apology Acceptance.
I went through this ritual quite a few times throughout my childhood. There appeared to be a script that the adults were handed. If I balked at the apology, I would be reminded that I wanted to be the Bigger Person. This is the way Mature People acted. The bully had accepted the error of their ways, and was ready now to make amends.
Why didn’t I give them a chance?
When I was in high school, I had long hair, which I wore in a ponytail. One day, walking down the hallway after school, I heard a boy behind me tell me to cut my hair. I ignored him, so he grabbed my ponytail and pulled. Hard. I clenched a fist and turned, barely missing his face. He punched me in the gut; I collapsed. He laughed.
Winded, I made my way to the Assistant Principal’s office. Not long after, the three boys who had been walking behind me were in the next room, being scolded sternly. They were busy learning the error of their ways. Soon, the leader of the three would be ready to express his remorse.
Sure enough, the Assistant Principal came in and told me that the boy was very sorry, and that he wanted to apologize. Wouldn’t I come with him for that?
No, I said. Not this time. He doesn’t mean it. It’s not sincere.
And out came the script: Be the bigger person, Paul. Not everyone can be as mature as you can. Other people make mistakes, too. He’s ready to apologize. It will be all right now.
No. I wouldn’t give him a chance.
The Assistant Principal begrudgingly let me leave his office to go home, still trying to cajole me into accepting the apology. As I walked out, I saw the three boys, smiling at each other and then sobering up and looking remorseful when they spotted the Assistant Principal.
I walked right by.
That boy never bothered me again.
We who are concerned about Trump’s campaign of racism, misogyny, ableism, and xenophobia are told to “just give him a chance.” We don’t know what he’ll be like as President, after all. Maybe that rampage of hatred was an act to get elected, to tap into the vile underbelly of American jingoism. Maybe he’ll settle down once he’s in office.
Why don’t we give him a chance?
I’ve been giving people like Donald Trump a chance my entire life, and my entire life the result has been consistent. People with the mindset that they can get what they want through force are rarely impressed by shows of vacuous civility. They rely on it. They leverage it.
When we give them “one more chance,” they typically take full advantage of it by abusing their victims yet again.
In a perfect world, abusers and their victims can come to interact together. That is a wonderful ideal for everyone to work towards. I would love to be writing, in one year’s time, about how mistaken I’d been about the Trump Presidency. I would gladly accept that I was wrong, that Trump has set aside his divisive rhetoric and truly made America a great place for all its legal residents.
But it’s ludicrous to put an equal onus on both sides to make peace. The onus should be on the abuser to demonstrate that there’s true remorse for the behavior, there’s true commitment for change, and even more so, that there’s already been some positive change.
As of this writing, the extent to which Trump has addressed the mind-boggling list of acts of violence and hate done in his name is to say, “Stop it.” That’s not true remorse.
Trump has named alt-right darling Steve Bannon to his transition team, allowing Bannon to continue having a toxic influence. That’s not a true commitment for change, and it’s definitely not a positive change.
In September, Barack Obama said of Trump, “This guy who spent 70 years on this Earth showing no concern for working people. This guy is suddenly going to be your champion?”
Nobody is perfect, but someone who has done acts of abuse in the past and who continues to demonstrate the same pattern of behaviors should not be trusted or “given a chance” yet again. They’ve already been given chance after chance, and they’ve failed.
It does not make us “better people” to continue to give abusers chances. It makes us targets, and helps the victimization to continue.
As a child, I generally caved to the bullies. A handful of times, I refused to bend, I refused to be the “better person” by giving One More Chance. And it was after those times that the bullying stopped most abruptly.
As a teacher, I seek to create a safe environment for all my students. I have students who engage in behavior that would best be characterized as bullying. Sometimes, I give them “one more chance,” but I am developing an understanding of when one more chance will be yet more opportunity for misbehavior.
Some students respond well to “one more chance”; other students respond better to the realization that this is the end of the line, and that it’s now on them to fix what they’ve broken.
There is a point at which reasonable, mature people must conclude: No more chances. The burden is on the abuser to change the behavior, consistently, deeply, and long-term.
We must stand firm. This does not mean meeting hate with hate: It means meeting callousness with confidence and strength of spirit. Call it tough love, for the true sense of the term. We stand firm, without giving him a chance, because we love ourselves, each other, and our country too much to let him abuse us yet again.
Because I, for one, am not ready to make nice.