WASHINGTON -- "They're kids! Leave them alone!"
I can still see my mother, all 5 feet of her, standing on our front porch and yelling those words whenever she saw bullies ganging up on the little kids in the Pennsylvania tannery town where I grew up.
If she were alive today, she'd be screaming those same words into her television screen -- because there she would see that in the brutal zero-sum game of modern American politics, some politically obsessed adults don't reflexively protect kids the way she did.
Instead, to some people today, kids are just more meat to be fed to the lion-like partisans on both ends of the political spectrum.
Just about now, of course, my mother would be yelling about the kids of Parkland, Fla.
Only days after witnessing a mass murder in their high school, the Parkland kids took up the gun control issue and demanded change.
As my former boss Margaret Sullivan noted, that prompted the far-right haters to spring into action. Some said student activist David Hogg could not be trusted because his father was a retired FBI agent. A YouTube video suggesting that Hogg was a "crisis actor," not a murder witness, briefly topped the trending videos on YouTube Wednesday morning. An aide to a Florida state legislator echoed that sentiment. And not surprisingly, Russian bots spread the slime.
If you spread the slime, too, please read this. It's a summary of research into what happens to kids who witness violence like the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School witnessed. To summarize, those kids are far more likely to experience anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than most Americans are. Many will be haunted for years, if not forever.
And if you decided to spread lies about them online to further your political agenda, you are part of an army of idiots that made their lives worse. David Hogg's family, for example, is now getting death threats.
Sure, the Parkland kids stepped into the media spotlight, and if you disagree with them on gun control, go right ahead; that's your right and the American way. But don't deny their very existence. Don't mock people who will likely suffer for the rest of their lives for what they saw last week. And don't be part of an online horde that's likely raising their level of angst from code red to something unimaginable.
Sadly, people I know and respect -- including a retired teacher of mine -- were among those I saw trolling the Parkland teens this week. In doing so, they dove headlong into the "swamp" they rail against.
Of course it is not just conservatives who do this sort of thing. The loony left lacks the radical right's vast hate-making machinery (talk radio, Infowars, the Russian Federation, etc.), but plenty of Trump haters hate with every bit as much fury as the kookiest conservatives do.
Proof can be found, of course, online. Since President Trump's term began, not a month has gone by without someone on Twitter saying his young son Barron is autistic. And if you Google "Barron Trump" and "autistic," you'll get about 416,000 results.
A Saturday Night Live writer, Katie Rich, was suspended last year after she tweeted that Barron Trump will be "this country's first homeschool shooter."
Barron Trump was 10 years old at the time.
Most Americans, of course, would never think of trolling an 10-year-old. But in the world of online temptation, where a happy moment of validation from the dittoheads is always just a click away, more and more people do such things.
To which my mother would say: "Stop!"
And to which I say just what she said.
They're kids. Leave them alone.
President Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. ... World Bank President Jim Yong Kim discusses "Human Capital and the Future of Economic Growth and Security,'' at a forum hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York ... The Washington International Trade Association sponsors a discussion between U.S. governors and Canadian provincial premiers regarding the future of NAFTA ... Congress continues its weeklong recess.
The Washington Post looks at President Trump's shifting stance on gun control ... The New York Times looks at the mixed results of earlier gun control laws ... Reuters says another White House staff shakeup could happen soon ... CNN notes that the Russia investigation appears to have gotten in the way of Jared Kushner's security clearance ... And Politico says Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, appears to be gearing up to possibly challenge President Trump in 2020.