Jewish Journal

Progressive Bullies

The first time I encountered a “progressive bully” he was scaling the kitchen cabinets at his parents’ dinner party. While other moms and I shot worried glances at one another, his mother blithely explained, “Oh, we don’t want to create an antagonistic relationship with him. So we never use the word ‘no.’ ”

At the time, I hadn’t connected the fact that he was no longer a happy, sweet kid to  his parents’ “progressive” way of raising him. But as more of these examples have turned up, especially on college campuses and in what is called the millennial generation, the dots are getting easier to connect.

We are all quite familiar with traditional bullies. Traditional bullies have typically endured some abuse in their lives and take that pain and anger out on someone else, or everyone else.

Parkland, Fla., high school shooter Nikolas Cruz was a traditional bully. But so is Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who felt the need to mock Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg’s rejection from some colleges. You don’t have to like Hogg’s personality to see how cruel that was. In response, 15 sponsors have pulled their ads from Ingraham’s program.

The fact that we now have a new category of bully was made clear to me, sadly, the other day. One of my son’s friends had turned mean, not because of abuse but because his father believed that the job of a good progressive parent was to shield his son from every slight and perceived slight to the point where the son: a) had zero ability to engage with the world; and b) now believed that he could say or do anything because all that mattered were his own feelings.

This “empathy stops with me” attitude can be found on college campuses, where kids must be shielded from ideas they didn’t learn about in class but they have no problem, for instance, editing a keffiyeh onto an image of Anne Frank, as students did recently at a South Africa university.

One of the things that makes terrorists who they are is that they no longer respond to positive reinforcement.

Then there are the everyday encounters one has with millennials. Millennials were at the forefront of progressive parenting and progressive colleges and oh they show it off well. The words “entitled” and “privileged” don’t do justice to many millennials’ attitudes. Manners and respect don’t seem to be their thing, and at the slightest opportunity many will try to eviscerate you.

Recently, I saw progressive bullying descending to a new low. After the terrorist group Hamas was involved in the deadly clash on March 30, when thousands rushed the Gaza border, progressive apologists shouted on Facebook: If only the Jews had tried to humanize the terrorists, none of this would be happening. It is up to the Jews to make sure that Hamas doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem; if they continue to act like terrorists, then we didn’t do our job.

As the mother of a strong-willed boy, I am the first to say that positive reinforcement is far more effective than punishment. And as the victim of bullying, I am the first to say that constructive criticism is always more effective than tearing down someone’s self-esteem. But when you are dealing with terrorists, the paradigm shifts dramatically. One of the things that makes terrorists who they are is that they no longer respond to positive reinforcement or constructive criticism. In fact, they will use both against you.

Suggesting that Jews are in part to blame for the evil of Hamas or Hezbollah because we have not boosted their self-esteem sufficiently is engaging in anti-Semitism, exactly what Hamas — Iran — seeks.

It’s not hard to see why Hamas acts as it does: Its members hate Jews and want to destroy Israel. Would empathizing with them make them stop hating us? Well, Israel tried that by giving them Gaza. What was their response? To turn Gaza into a rocket launching pad, using human shields.

Bullies, progressive or traditional, should never be indulged or excused. But while we should do as much as possible for child bullies — knowing that someone or something turned them into bullies — terrorists have moved beyond the point of empathy. Should we try to focus on why some groups turn into terrorists? Absolutely.

But once their souls have been destroyed, there is little that empathy will change. All it will do is create more tragedy, as we have seen time and time again.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.