Trump’s culture of punishment and reward

As I watch the men in the US Senate revel in the spoils of the victory they handed to Brett Kavanaugh, I have to wonder exactly what it is that they are celebrating. Did they celebrate victory over women? Victory over “the left wing mob” without a word about the real mob that is sending death threats to their antagonist, Christine Blasey Ford? Are they celebrating the virtues of a document more than 200 years old written by men that cannot even imagine the technology that we have today? Men that weren’t even sure if people of color are really people?

I see how Trump mocks Ford and I wonder, why he would have any need to punish her before that precious vote? What exactly does that punishment teach Ford? Don’t mess with the Christian right? Don’t speak up about your abuser?

Taylor Swift just posted about how she can no longer stand silent, and had made it clear that she’s voting Democrat in November. From The Guardian:

Swift focused her post on the Senate race in Tennessee, where she is registered to vote. She stated that although she had previously voted for women in office, she felt unable to support the Republican Senate candidate, Marsha Blackburn. “Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” she said, adding that she would be voting for the Democrat candidates Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives.

She’s carefully articulated why, and she has enormous influence with a loyal following. It is highly probable that Trump would like to do to her, what people did to the Dixie Chicks years ago when they stepped into politics.

Trump now says that he likes her music 25% less than before. As if liking something less could even be quantified. Everything is a transaction to Trump, isn’t it? Again, we see that Trump would like to punish Taylor Swift, as if somehow, Swift will learn from the punishment. What exactly will she learn? That Trump has the power to punish her? If so, what is that punishment for? Freedom of expression? So the 1st Amendment is less important to Trump than scoring a political point. I get it.

But in both instances, I see that Trump is scoring points against women. He is punishing women. But he is not teaching those women the skills he thinks are required to meet his expectations. He probably expects them to just know how to act, to be obedient. He doesn’t appear to want people to think. He does appear to want them to react. And he gets the reaction he wants from his mob.

I notice that Republicans were keen to say that they were not intimidated by the “mob” outside of the chambers within which they cast their vote. Well, when you pass laws that serve the purpose of disenfranchising your opposition, you can expect to see mobs at the gate. That is what Trump is doing.

I find it interesting that Trump and the Republicans seek to mock and agitate their opponents even after scoring a victory. It isn’t enough to win when you have the power? You still have to rub your opponents face in their defeat, don’t you? If there is a standard that you expect your opponent to meet, are you teaching your opponent the skills they need to meet your standards? If you’re punishing people, you’re not teaching anything but punishment.

I know this first hand because I’ve never, ever seen punishment work. And I’ve never seen reward work, either. But this is how most of us were raised. Everything is a transaction. Every misdeed deserves punishment. Every achievement deserves a reward. But neither punishment or reward teaches skills. Both punishment and reward have the potential to reinforce behavior. We know that reward will reinforce behavior, because we all get a little “high” when we get the reward. But who knew that punishment reinforced unwanted behavior?

The lesson will be repeated until it is learned.

This is a fact of life often missing from the minds of the abusers and punishers of the world. They confuse the punishment for the lesson, when the punishment doesn’t teach any skills, other than how to avoid punishment. If you want obedience, use punishment. If you want cooperation, then teach the skills needed to meet the standard you’re setting. Don’t just mock people and say, “Ha ha. You lose!”, because that is abuse. That doesn’t teach any interpersonal skills of value, unless you value obedience abuse as a skill.

Punishment reinforces challenging behavior because without teaching a better way, people will keep doing what they’re doing, but modifying it so that they’re not detected doing it. Then when they get caught, they get punished. So they will try again until they’re taught to use an alternative to the unwanted behavior.

Let me give you a personal example. I have two daughters. One of them is a bit of a daredevil. She likes to climb high and stand on things. So when she is standing on a chair that looks like it could topple, I get a little nervous. Yet I have a choice. I could grab her and spank her and tell her not to do that again. But then she would just find a way to do that again when I’m not there. Or I could just say, “Please be careful. You are high and the floor is very hard. If you fall, you will feel pain.” There I’m teaching a natural consequence, and sure enough, she does get down to safety. I want her to think for herself because I cannot be there all the time to think for her. So if you’re confronted with a punisher, don’t be expected to think.

I can also demonstrate the behavior I wish to see in my kids and they will follow me. I can say, “Whatever you do, don’t do what I do”, stick out my tongue and they will stick out their tongues. I repeat my instruction and do something else, and they do what I do, and this appears to be an involuntary response. It’s like they never even heard the word, “don’t”.

So if you pick your nose in front of your kids, and your kids pick their nose, and you punish them for picking their nose, you have only yourself to blame. You were teaching them the skill of picking noses all along. Kids learn from imitation, because humans learn from imitation.

Trump is on TV. He is on YouTube. He is everywhere we care to look in the media, and our kids are watching. They don’t hear the word, “don’t”. When Trump mocks someone, what does that teach our kids? He’s teaching our kids to taunt other people.

Hey Republicans, does Trump demonstrate the kind of behavior you want to teach your kids? No? I didn’t think so. Why did you elect him again?

But lets have some compassion for Trump. He must have learned this behavior from someone important to him. I’m pretty sure he learned that from his parents or even his siblings. But for a grown man who also happens to be president, to mock the disabled, women, and or belittle them, well, that’s a sight to see. That says everything about who we’re dealing with. Trump is not teachable because he already knows everything there is to know. Unfortunately, our kids are going to suffer if they try to do what Trump does.

After watching 7 hours of that hearing with Ford and Kavanaugh, and seeing how each were treated, I will be teaching my kids all about this moment in history. And I will teach them all about how the Republicans really don’t care about women and their rights.

I will point to Trump for my kids and show them that he was one of our presidents and what an awful detour he has turned us on. As a parent, I will show them that punishment and reward don’t teach any skills. I will also teach them that cooperation is a skill, and that we can make the world a better place teaching the skills people need to be civilized.

Write on.

Originally published at on October 9, 2018.