In the summer I lead wilderness trips for young men. During our trips, we ask our teenage guys one fundamental question: What does it mean to be a good man?
This is a challenge for many of our young men who are saturated with images of hyper-masculinity: violence, greed, and misogyny. For some, their understanding of being a man revolves around self-aggrandizement, revenge, and flashy wealth. Manliness means exerting your power over other people to show your toughness. In other words, it looks a lot like Donald Trump.
We teach our young men there is a different path. On our trips, we value kindness, honesty, and a strong work ethic. We encourage our young guys to be emotionally brave, physically nurturing, and open to new ideas and experiences. We have challenging conversations about our differences, develop empathy, and instill a moral and ethical compass. Ultimately, our goal is to develop young men who understand basic goodness and share a sense of responsibility for something bigger than themselves. After a week in the wilderness, many of our young men are transformed.
Unfortunately, Donald never came on one of our trips. He is the exact type of young man that would find our trips incredibly challenging: his bravado would not have gotten him anywhere.
If Donald joined one of our trips maybe his moral reasoning would have surpassed that of a young boy. Lawrence Kohlberg, a famous developmental psychologist, created a theory of moral development with six distinct levels. Most adolescents and adults are in categories three and four: they have a sense of responsibility for others, developed some level of empathy, and understand how to nurture positive relationships. Categories one and two are relegated for children. My guess is that Kohlberg would peg the Donald at a solid level two: a boy who makes decisions with a “what’s in it for me” mindset.
This terrifies me on a number of levels.
Firstly, I am alarmed by Trump’s authoritarian tendencies (not to mention his reckless foreign policy). I spent five years working to advance human rights in democracy in Burma. I do not want our country to slip towards facism as Burma ambles towards democracy. Strikingly, Trump shares many characteristics with Burma’s former dictators: a steely-eyed focus on revenge, a dissociative self-aggrandizement, and a fundamental inability to empathize with others. Having watched Aung San Suu Kyi languish under house arrest for years I do not take Trump’s threat of locking up Hillary Clinton lightly. It’s what dictatorships do — and the world already has enough male-run dictatorships.
The second is Donald’s lack of knowledge of anything other than himself. He pontificates constantly — but everyone in the room knows he is full of it. Donald apparently knows more than anyone else about “fill-in-the-blank” subject. How does Donald Trump know more about ISIS than military generals and veteran journalists living on the Syrian border? Even a savvy high school freshman would ask the smart person behind him what the answer is when the teacher is not looking (why Presidents have advisers). Instead Donald continues to run his mouth without having anything substantive to say.
Third, I fear Donald’s intolerance. Already we have seen the effects of his racism and intolerance on young people. At a high school basketball game in Indiana, white students invoked Trump’s name during racist chants targeted at the opposing teams largely Hispanic population. Donald has already normalized levels of racial intolerance and bigotry that I have never experienced in my lifetime. He is willing to pour fire gas on racial divides as a means of stoking his own fire. This is what ignorant young boys sometimes do who are trying to make friends: They say racist things in order to “be cool” with the other bigoted kids. It is something that it is rectifiable for a young boy but inexcusable for a 70-year-old man that wants to lead our country in times of racial strife.
Finally, I have great fear for how the next generation of young men in this country would develop with Donald Trump as a Presidential role model. Would all young men think it is okay to “grab’em by the pussy”? Would young men believe that unapologetic self-promotion, unmitigated greed, and screwing over the next person are what it is all about? Would rampant lying be lionized?
As a male educator who wants better male role models in this world, I pray that Donald does not do any more damage than he already has for our country, especially for the development of our young men.