Friday, July 19, 2019

#200 / Political Temper Tantrums: What To Do?

Our president appeared to have a kind of political temper tantrum or meltdown the other day, venting his ire and frustration at four elected members of Congress (all women of color), saying that they should "go back to where they came from." Since all of them are United States citizens and represent specific Congressional Districts, "going back to where they came from" would send them off to New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and Detroit. I bet that each one of them shows up in her district on most weekends already!

Of course, while the president's attack on these four Members of Congress appeared to be a kind of temper tantrum, it might well be that this wasn't a genuine temper tantrum at all. As in so many other cases in which the president speaks or acts, his outburst at "the squad" could be explained as just one more effort to gain attention and to generate disarray among the Democrats. Whether intentionally or not, the president's attack certainly seemed to have had both those results. I think it would be prudent to suspect that the president's temper tantrum was done for political effect, and that the Fox News commentators who appear in the video linked above are right on target when they say that the president's tantrum was a successful political gambit.

Still, while the president's frequent "temper tantrums" aren't actually "real," but are simply a political technique, it could be helpful to think about how to react to them as if they were real. I consulted the Internet, source of all modern wisdom, asking it to tell me "how to handle tantrums and meltdowns." Here is what I learned about that topic from the Child Mind Institute

Learned behavior
Since parents often find tantrums impossible to tolerate—especially in public—the child may learn implicitly that throwing a tantrum can help him get his way. It becomes a conditioned response. “Even if it only works five out of 10 times that they tantrum, that intermittent reinforcement makes it a very solid learned behavior, so they’re going to continue that behavior in order to get what they want.” 
Responding to tantrums
When tantrums occur, the parent or caregiver’s response affects the likelihood of the behavior happening again. There are lots of very specific protocols to help parents respond consistently, in ways that will minimize tantrum behavior later ... They have in common the starting point that parents resist the temptation to end the tantrum by giving the child what he wants when he tantrums ... The goal is to ignore the behavior, to withdraw all parental attention, since even negative attention like reprimanding or trying to persuade the child to stop has been found positively reinforce the behavior. 
Attention is withheld from behavior you want to discourage, and lavished instead on behaviors you want to encourage: when a child makes an effort to calm down or, instead of tantruming, complies or proposes a compromise. “By positively reinforcing compliance and appropriate responses to frustration, you’re teaching skills and—since you can’t comply with a command and tantrum at the same time—simultaneously decreasing that aggressive noncompliant tantrum behavior.” [emphasis added]

Anyone who has been a parent with a "difficult" child, or who is a grandparent with such a grandchild, knows that this advice is easier to understand than to follow. I am pretty sure, though, that this advice for parents would work for politicians and others who have to confront one of the president's faux tantrums. Frank Bruni (a columnist who writes regularly for The New York Times) seems to agree!

Ignoring the president's outrageous statements, instead of confronting, condemning, and refuting them, might be the best way to take the wind out of our blowhard president's sails. 

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