I have thought about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s high school bullying since the in-depth article in the Washington Post appeared on May 11th. I have considered my own high school years. Would I want to be judged now, some 20-plus years later over things that I did as a teenager? No, I would not. I have also considered that brain development is not complete until individuals are in their 20s. Specifically, brain processes that manage impulse control and predicting consequences are some of the last to form. Still, Mormonism aside, Governor Romney does not truly understand what it is like to be marginalized in a country that purports that everyone is equal, unless you are gay.
Washington Post writers gathered independent accounts from participants and onlookers of the alleged incident. These accounts depicted Romney as the ringleader of the pack of teenage boys that attacked their classmate. Nevertheless, Romney claims he has no memory of the attack. For me, the most troubling part is that assaulting a classmate with a weapon (scissors) cannot be recalled.
We all have things in our past that we are not proud of. Hopefully, we have apologized or attempted to right those wrongs. However, every person who has ever been assaulted lives with that trauma for the rest of their lives. Assault can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can haunt individuals for years. A classmate, who was one of the attackers, recounted that he apologized to the victim after a chance meeting at an airport years after the incident. This gay man (the victim) remained traumatized by the incident more than 20 years later.
Other classmates recalled that the victim was presumed by classmates to be gay. Romney has claimed that he grew up in an age when being gay was not discussed, so he had no reason to believe that the victim of this assault was gay. Over and over again in these independent accounts, classmates recalled that Romney disliked this young man because he seemed different, because he had long hair, because Romney did not believe that the young man fit in with their private school image. I do not condone or defend any type of bullying, but this was not a verbal attack. It was an assault…with a weapon.
Romney has lived a life of privilege. In addition, his Mormon faith has further insulated him from understanding the needs of marginalized groups. Should engaging in bullying as a teenager disqualify someone from being president? I don’t think so. However, Romney cannot recall an assault that made such an impression on participants and onlookers that years later they recalled it in detail. Either Romney is a liar or a person so out of touch that he believed this assault was deserved in order to make the victim conform to social norms; therefore, it was non-memorable. I hope Romney is lying. If not, I hope that the latter characteristic proves to be a fatal flaw for his candidacy.