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Bullies, Bureaucracies, and Socialism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP

Nicolas Maduro, socialist dictator of Venezuela, exhibits three classic traits of a bully: an insatiable appetite for power, an impulse to control the lives of others, and a lack of accountability. Like all bullies, Maduro continues to cling to raw power. He does so in defiance of election results, and despite the starvation and misery his policies have inflicted upon millions of Venezuelans.

So, we might reasonably ask: Is there a natural connection between bullying and socialism? After all, socialism requires the centralization of power so that those running the state can control the lives of others.

Nevertheless, more Americans seem to be giving pollsters an armchair vote of confidence in socialism, despite the socialist-imposed chaos and starvation that has caused millions to flee once prosperous Venezuela. This is puzzling, especially given Americans’ general distaste for bullies.

Americans are also increasingly concerned about school bullying and the rising tide of depression and suicide rates among youth.

Beneath the heated political rhetoric around socialism exists a real problem with the corrosive environments that result when centralized bureaucracies are prioritized over individual needs. It is where bullies thrive, where responsibility is eluded, and where, sadly, lives are actually lost.

The culprit in both socialism and school bullying is that of ever-growing bureaucracy invested only in sustaining its own power.

Bureaucracies and bullies share a lot of traits. Both are authoritarian in nature. Both rely on deception, pecking orders, fiefdoms, and mob psychology. Both avoid accountability. No amount of wishful thinking can change the nature of the beast of bureaucracy.

In March, USA Today carried the Louisville Courier Journal’s in-depth reporting about the alarming rise of youth suicides. In every heartbreaking case, we are left with a mixed bag of reasons behind these tragedies. Bullying, however, is consistently raised as a key factor.

The investigation into the recent death of a 10-year-old girl following a fight inside a South Carolina classroom is also shrouded in claims of bullying. State lawmakers responded by filing legislation to “require bullying reporting and outline procedures for investigations.” This addresses the symptoms perhaps, but not the underlying cause. Worse, such bureaucratese can even serve as cover that shields a school system that remains silent and unaccountable.

The problem has worsened, even with high level attention to bullying, such as First Lady Melania Trump’s Be Best campaign and the 2011 call by President Obama and Michelle Obama for a united effort against bullying.

That’s because the underlying culture of public schools is usually run by non-responsive, self-serving bureaucracies ill-equipped to address severe trauma from a school shooting, much less day-to-day bullying.

Recently USA Today published an op-ed by Ryan Petty, father of one of the victims of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Petty noted that the recent suicides of two Parkland students indicate that the school system never effectively addressed the trauma of the surviving students: “The politicization and media-frenzied response to the murders overwhelmed and eclipsed the real, personal needs of the survivors and their loved ones.” 

Parkland math teacher Kimberly Krawczyk wrote in the same vein:  “The only things the school district did effectively after the tragedy was, as our local newspaper showed, “hide, spin, deny and threaten.”   

Yet we keep expecting the machinery of bureaucracy – run by a power elite -- to meet the needs of flesh-and-blood human beings. That’s the same mistake Venezuelans made when they voted socialism in.

Too much power in the hands of too few 

Socialism always promises wider distribution of goods and services but relies on too much power in the hands of too few people. Any such system is susceptible to developing a culture of bullying in order to perpetuate that power. As Paul Coughlin, author of Free us From Bullying (2018) writes:  “The rules within almost every institution are stretched by bullies to favor bullies.”

Socialism (and massive school bureaucracies might as well be modelled on socialism) can never contribute to deep-seated human needs for well-being. Only the de-centralization of power can do that. But the reverse has been happening.

Consider, for example, that there were 248,000 public schools in the United States in 1929 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2014 that number had shrunk to 98,000 schools even though the population had tripled. So today we see a massive centralization and corralling of children in bureaucratic holding pens like the Parkland High School which houses 3500+ kids.

If we went back to smaller schools on a more human scale, that would help reduce bullying as well as increase accountability. So, as we think through the fallout of school bullying, we should also think through the underlying bureaucratic culture that helps it persist.

At the same time, we should think through socialism which requires the same underlying culture.

Stella Morabito is a senior contributor to The Federalist.

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