The government-run website StopBullying.gov helpfully defines the act as "unwanted, aggressive behavior … that involves a real or perceived power imbalance."
And over on the website’s margin, there’s a picture of a young man in glasses looking rather sour as a multi-cultural group of young ladies taunts him. Thanks for that helpful illustration, Federal Bureaucrat In Charge Of Staging Stock Photos.
Normally, this taxpayer-funded website sponsored by some taxpayer-funded office deep within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would be well-worthy of our derision. I mean, how could we learn valuable facts like "Bullying can happen anywhere — cities, suburbs, or rural towns," if the government didn’t tell us so?
But unlike Big Brother’s other nanny campaigns — the shamefully dishonest "Click it or Ticket" effort is always one of my favorites — StopBullying.gov could be a really valuable source of information. After all, who better to tell us how to stop bullying than the biggest bully of them all?
The events at the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy in recent weeks were a classic example of what happens when the power balance between the government and the little guy moves from "perceived" to "real." Following a decades-long battle over grazing fees, the Bureau of Land Management showed up in the Silver State to seize the rancher’s herd, riding in on their Hummers, guns drawn and presumably cocked to the side gangster-style, for added effect.
If an armed response to truant grazing fees seems excessive, it’s because it is, prima facie. But it’s a classic move out of the bully playbook — who’s going to turn over their lunch money without the threat of "or else…?"
And while the Bundy case falls on the extreme end of spectrum, subtle intimidation in order to extract money from citizens happens every day, and it’s all morally bankrupt.
If your local town hall or state regulator sends you a bill saying you owe them money and you disagree, you’re instantly put in a predicament. On one side of the fight is little ol’ you, who has to pay for your own lawyer to fight the charges and take time off work to go to court. On the other side is the government, with their own stable of attorneys on retainer and a staff of employees who can spend 9-to-5 ensuring you pay up. And if push comes to shove, they have their own paid enforcers — either the police or some other type of armed government agent.
While the burden of proof ostensibly remains with the government, the opportunity costs associated with any battle make such a fight nearly always cost prohibitive. It’s the power imbalance to end all power imbalances.
So what can a citizenry do when government overreaches into our pockets or the pockets of our neighbors? Well, your helpful, publicly-paid advisers over at StopBullying.gov have a pretty good strategy: "Be more than a bystander."
"Bystanders, the people who see what’s going on but let it happen, actually give power to the bully by sending this very silent, difficult message that nothing’s going to happen; no one’s going to help," chirps Dr. Eliza Byard in the website’s taxpayer-funded video.
It’s advice that was taken to heart in Nevada, as patriots of questionable employment and sanity came to Bundy’s defense, standing-up to the government crack-down and providing a wonderful embodiment of why the founders saw fit to include the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. If nothing else, it was cool to see fed-up individuals defending a man under siege.
And it was a great reminder that en masse, the people still hold the power in this country. Because anyone who’s ever been bullied or seen someone else bullied knows the one surefire way to "StopBullying" is to stand up for yourself and punch the kid in the teeth.
Nate Strauch is a reporter and columnist at the Sherman-Denison (TX) Herald Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.