Yes, Mr. Trump, Words Have Consequences

With so much on the line, how can Trump possibly excuse his Twitter attacks as in any way normal or worthy of the dignity of the presidential office? Simply put, he can’t.

Donald J. Trump is not the first president to use Twitter. That distinction belongs to former President Barack Obama, whose 2010 tweet made history.

Trump, however, may just hold the distinction of being the first Cyberbully-in-Chief.

The Psychology and Psychological Impact of Cyberbullying

Recent studies by the American Psychiatric Association show that victims of cyberbullying have far higher rates of depression, anger, instability and an uncertain sense of self. In addition, victims of bullying, cyber or not, tend to have higher rates of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and tobacco usage than those who were not bullied.

Cyberbullying can have even more tragic consequences. Victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to commit suicide. Indeed, news feeds seem replete with tales of teens who have committed suicide as a result of bullying.

With so much on the line, how can Trump possibly excuse his Twitter attacks as in any way normal or worthy of the dignity of the presidential office? Simply put, he can’t.

Cyberbullies typically display the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, explains Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of Criminal Law at the University of Wisconsin. Other top experts in the psychiatric community note that Trump possesses all of these traits to some degree.

Trump differs from many cyberbullies in that the majority of cyberbullies hide their identities online. Trump, however, seems proud of his tweets no matter how offensive and painful they may be. Patchin explains his behavior thus: While a schoolyard bully relies on size and strength to maintain power, Trump essentially does the same thing by using the office of POTUS to assert his power over others. After all, you can’t have much more power than being the president.

Cyberbullying’s Negative Effects on Women and Youth

Regardless of Trump’s reasons for his behavior, the impact of his behavior cannot be understated. Victims of cyberbullying report moderate to severe impacts on their self-esteem, self-confidence and general sense of identity.

Particularly troublesome is the way Trump regularly attacks women through his tweets. In a study performed by Anglia Ruskin University, far more female study participants than male participants indicated that the effects of cyberbullying on their emotional and mental well-being was severe. Given that Trump is president and the women he attacks are in lesser positions of power, the impact of his virulent tweets is widespread.

Last June, Trump attacked Mika Brzezinski, a best-selling author and co-host of MSNBC’s hit show “Morning Joe,” stating in a series of tweets that she had come to Mar-a-Lago around New Year’s Eve “badly bleeding from a facelift.” He went on to state that he refused her entry into his posh private country club.

Brzezinski made light of his insults on the air, but it didn’t take long before she started to face an overwhelming amount of internet hate against her. Brzezinski stated that in the wake of Trump’s attack, she has had to unplug more. She also expressed that the psychological impact of the attacks and subsequent hatred left a bad taste in Brzezinski’s mouth regarding her enthusiasm for her work.

Brzezinski is not the first woman to fall victim to Trump’s Twitter storm — nor is she the first to have his vicious words affect other areas of her life. In addition to Brzezinski, Trump has publicly attacked such figures as Rosie O’Donnell, Megan Kelly, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and, most recently, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Gillibrand led the call for Sen. Al Franken’s resignation amid charges of sexual harassment, and has also called on Trump to step down due to multiple claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault against him. Trump lashed out against Gillibrand on Twitter, calling her a “flunky.”

While women accustomed to being in the public eye may have the requisite training to know how to respond to abusive comments as well as the financial means to seek help in dealing with psychological trauma, other women are not so lucky. Most insidious of all is Trump’s impact on young people, many of whom logically look to the office of POTUS to model proper behavior.

Today’s youth are impacted by cyberbullying more than any other demographic group. They are also the least psychologically equipped to deal with the trauma stemming from such bullying.

Adolescents who look to Trump as a role model may justify his behavior and find his cyberbullying acceptable. Those already predisposed to attacking others online due to low self-esteem issues or budding narcissism will undoubtedly find themselves encouraged by Trump’s behavior, and lash out even more viciously than they previously did behind the anonymity screen of the internet.

Young victims of cyberbullying, and adolescent girls in particular, don’t have the same defense mechanisms adult women do in dealing with the trauma they experience. They may take the increasingly cruel bullying tactics to heart. Many go on to develop eating disorders. Others seek refuge in alcohol or drugs. Some, sadly, resort to suicide when the bullying becomes too much to take.

As the president, Trump has a solemn sworn duty to act as a role model for the youth of America. His unspoken message that cyberbullying is OK creates more perpetrators of abuse, which creates more victims as well.

While it may seem disingenuous to hold Trump responsible for every teen suicide due to cyberbullying, it is irrefutable that hate crimes have surged in the wake of his election. Indeed, immediately following his election, as many as 10 transgender youth committed suicide due to the election results. As time and his presidency wears on, how many more people’s lives will be so negatively impacted?

With so much at stake, it is well past time for Trump to grow up and manage his Twitter account like a responsible adult instead of a petulant teenage schoolyard bully with an iPhone.

Kate Harveston enjoys writing about social justice and policy change. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking the mountains of Pennsylvania to find inspiration. If you like her work, feel free to visit her at

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