Back when I was in the 8th grade the de facto leader of the boys in my class was a good athlete named Donny G. Donny was the shortstop when we played softball (or hardball), and he was the quarterback when we played football. We didn’t play basketball.
Donny was a so-so student and not much for civic enterprises. He was an autocratic leader with an angry mean streak, and from time to time with no apparent reason he would order us all to subject someone in our group to the silent treatment. That could go on for days, and during that period no one would speak to the victim, at least not while Donny was around. We were all afraid of crossing him, lest we become the target of his quiet rage. His chief weapon was fear.
I was the victim once, again not for anything I had done or not done but simply because Donny decided that no one should speak to me. I can say that it was an unpleasant experience, especially because I knew I hadn’t done anything to offend.
One evening some time later, one of the other boys in my class, Bob Arnold, and I snuck out of our Boy Scout meeting and went to the Steinway drug store on the corner. We were sitting nursing our Cokes when Arnold announced, “I’m sick of Donny. We should give him the silent treatment.”
I agreed instantly, aware as Arnold was, that the other boys would need no persuading.
And so it was the next day that no one spoke to Donny G. I don’t remember how long that lasted, but that was the effective end of Donny’s reign of terror. All that it took was a simple act of rebellious courage, which I credit Bob Arnold with, to break the siege.
And now, some sixty plus years later, we are confronted by a 73-year-old juvenile tyrant who lashes out with paranoid rage at anyone who criticizes or crosses him, who acts out of spite for his predecessor, who has instilled fear in elected officials that if they fail to support him, he will exact his revenge.
This is a sad, sobering and pathetic state of affairs. A bully occupies the White House. Senators and members of Congress dare not cross him for fear of retribution. We are re-living our adolescence, except that the consequences are so much graver. We are being given an insight into how weak the foundation of our democracy is, how meaningless the oaths are that our elected officials take when they are willing, out of fear or greed, to tolerate behavior and actions that are not only contrary to the public interest but also illegal and unconstitutional.
It’s too soon to know how high a price we will pay for the lack of courage shown by his enablers, but it is certain that there will be a price, and it will be greater than any good that will have been accomplished.
When Donny G. intimidated us into unquestioning obedience, we were just boys who were afraid. We learned a valuable lesson, though, when Bob Arnold said we should stand up to him: Bullies back down when you stand up to them.
We’re waiting for the men and women of the Senate to stand up.