Teachers and parents know that modeling behavior is a vitally important way to teach young people how to interact with others, accomplish their goals and behave productively in civil society. But in Washington, some people don’t seem to have received that message in 2017.
It’s no secret that Donald Trump, as a Republican primary candidate, then as the party’s presidential candidate, and now, as president, has been a challenge to educators and parents trying to teach young people to compromise and cooperate with others, show respect for women, tell the truth, be fair and empathetic.
But, to be fair, Trump isn’t alone on that score in official Washington.
Here are some of the basic lessons that educators and parents say are important for young people to learn — but that have been repeatedly violated by many legislators and policymakers in Washington, who are proving to be less than exemplary role models:
— Tell the truth. Don’t make up things. Don’t lie.
— If you make a mistake, own up to it. Apologize. Take responsibility.
— Don’t bully others in person or online. If you see someone else being bullied, find an adult and help.
— Learn to work well with others.
— Do your homework and meet deadlines.
— Follow the rules.
— Respect other people even if they don’t agree with you.
Here are some different lessons kids have learned this year from various members of the political establishment in Washington, with examples. Imagine what would happen to a student who does any of the following regularly at home or in school.
*Lie and pass falsehoods off as fact.
— President Trump, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, made 1,628 false and misleading claims in the first 298 days of his presidency. These were about issues small, large and very, very large. Conservative Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said in October about Trump that “much of what he says is untrue . . . provably untrue.”
Trump has said that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in the election. State officials monitoring the elections said it wasn’t true. He said his inauguration crowds were the biggest in history. They weren’t.
He has lied about NATO, American jobs he says he saved but didn’t, how the United States vets refugees, whether he changed his position on China. On Nov. 29, he said the tax code later passed by Republicans and signed by Trump into law would not benefit him. “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me. . . . I think my accountants are going crazy right now.” The Post’s Fact Checker said based on what is known about Trump’s taxes — given that he is the first president to refuse to release personal income tax statements — that claim is “poppycock.”
On Dec. 24, Trump tweeted:
Actually, there wasn’t an assault on saying “Merry Christmas.”
— Vice President Pence said this about a Senate health care bill: “President Trump and I believe the Senate health care bill strengthens and secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society.” Actually, the bill proposed spending $772 billion less on Medicaid over a decade, alarming advocates and recipients of Medicaid who said millions would suffer as a result.
— Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said repeatedly his department had a report showing that Republican-proposed changes to the tax code would pay for themselves. There was no such report.
*Make a mistake, blame someone else. Refuse to take responsibility.
— Trump promised during the presidential campaign to kill the health-care program known as Obamacare, and the year began with Republicans controlling the White House and Congress. Yet when it became clear that Senate Republicans could not craft a health-care bill that would get enough Republican votes to pass — and that Trump had not exercised leadership to help the process — the president said flatly: “I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you, the Republicans are not going to own it.” He said that despite this 2013 tweet:
— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly blamed Democrats for the failings or the behavior of Republicans. In April, he said it was the fault of the Democrats that the Republicans were changing Senate rules so that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, could be confirmed, because the Democrats weren’t nice enough to Gorsuch. In July, he said congressional Democrats were to blame for the failure of the health-care bill because they had not engaged “in a serious way” — even though Republicans did not allow Democrats to help write the bill.
*Bully people, or watch other people being bullied and do nothing about it.
— Trump is famous for bullying people online and during speeches, including Gold Star families, FBI agents, Republicans who criticize him and many others.
— Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a strong conservative, criticized Trump for his comments about violence in Charlottesville that erupted in August at a rally staged by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. The violence — which left one woman dead and other people injured — was between members of those hate groups and counterprotesters. Trump blamed both sides for the violence, and noted that there were “very fine people” on both sides. After Flake’s criticism, Trump went on the attack, tweeting this about Flake (who later announced he would retire):
— White House chief of Staff John Kelly defended Trump’s outbursts against Republicans in Congress who disagree with him, saying he is “a straightforward guy.”
*Refuse to work with others even if the project calls for teamwork.
— Republicans in Congress would not work with Democrats on health-care legislation or overhauling the tax code — even though crafting legislation is supposed to be bipartisan.
*Do no homework and blow deadlines.
— Republicans in Congress who wanted to kill Obamacare had seven years to come up with a plan to replace or revise the Affordable Care Act. But when it came time to actually do it, they hadn’t done their homework.
— In December, senators voted on a tax bill that very few had read (though it was hardly the first time legislators had cast votes for legislation they hadn’t read).
— McConnell had to postpone the Senate’s summer recess for several weeks because legislators couldn’t get their work done in time (though, again, it was hardly the first time Congress blew its own important deadlines).
*Don’t like the rules? Change them.
— Trump urged Senate Republicans to change the rules governing how the chamber passes legislation to make it easier for his agenda to get approved.
— In April, the Republican majority in the Senate did change the chamber’s filibuster rule — preventing Democrats from blocking a vote on the nomination of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court— so that the GOP could confirm him. In 2013, it was the Democrats, who then controlled the Senate, who changed the rules barring filibusters on judicial nominees.
— Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has worked hard to unravel many Obama administration efforts to protect the environment. He told Washington Post reporters that the word “environmentalism,” which in the past was broadly defined as protecting the environment from damage caused by human activity, had been misunderstood and he was redefining it as meaning “environmental stewardship.”
*Disrespect whomever you want and ignore others’ views if they don’t match your own.
— Trump has disrespected women, refugees, Muslims, minorities, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.
— A 2017 working group on health-care reform put together by Senate Republicans: all 13 of the initial members were men.
— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said people who don’t believe in her vision of “school choice” — alternatives to traditional public schools — are “flat-Earthers.”