While I vehemently and fundamentally disagree with President Trump on policy with respect to immigration, trade, America’s approach to international relations, environmental protection and fiscal responsibility, the one overriding reason why I appeal to all American voters to reject Trumpism in all of its aspects is DJT’s bullying behavior towards anyone who stands in his way, questions him and his motives, accuses him of inappropriate conduct or simply disagrees with him.
I find it ironic (and symbolic at the same time) that the First Lady has picked the fight against bullying as her primary public mission, because she lives it every day, if not at her own expense then at the expense of anyone her husband otherwise contends with.
Over a lifetime, I have experienced and witnessed bullying enough to smell it from a distance when it rears its ugly head. I remember walking a different route to my grade school about every day in order to avoid the older boys out to give us youngsters a hard time. I remember from my fraternity pledging the hazing rituals in which the same sadistic upperclassmen resorted to physical and mental abuse to satisfy their superiority complex, take advantage of their dominance and get even for the humiliation they once experienced going through the same pledge process. I remember my military training days, when some of the commissioned subaltern officers took delight in using their command and control not for the purpose of making soldiers out of us but to exhaust and humiliate us while they could. And I remember the many business situations in which bosses or counterparts were trying to get their way by intimidation, threats and falsehoods. These memories are vivid and all of them come back when I hear DJT deal with anyone who is not immediately subservient to his views, his version of the truth and his majesty.
Bullying always finds its expression in profane language, in intimidation and denigration, and in unbridled use of lies and half-truths. We have to endure all of these expressions on a daily basis in the communications from our President, never more so than in his tweets and campaign appearances. I cringe every time DJT ad-libs in his cable news appearances and I wonder all the time: ‘Is this truly our President and world leader? Are you serious?’
Bullies often get their way by the sheer fact that they have the upper hand in the relationship with their targets, which is more often than not a function of power or authority. This bullying is, in fact, an abuse of power and it will, in the end, inevitably prove to be counterproductive.
DJT resorts to bullying in his foreign policy relations as much as in his domestic governance role, perpetuating a pattern of behavior that served him very well in his 2016 presidential election campaign when he had to contend with 17 GOP challengers. He denigrates and belittles members of his own staff and cabinet and any member of the judiciary or the legislative branch who openly stands in his way or disagrees with him. More disturbingly, and detrimental to the interest of the country that he is sworn to protect, is his bullying of foreign nations and their leaders, friend or foe. His preferred tactic appears to be to accuse foreign powers of threatening the security interests of the USA or taking advantage of the USA in their alliances and then, under the threat of sanctions, intervention or withdrawal, have his administration negotiate a new deal. As if a deal arranged under duress and based on false premises will ever hold!
Just like every journey starts with the first step, bullying by verbal abuse and threats (veiled or not) is the first step in attempts to dominate and control the relationship with targeted individuals. And if these individuals don’t back down and submit, the bully will inevitably consider more drastic measures to drive the target into submission. Extreme examples of this are provided by the torture and abuse of prisoners by their guards, like in the infamous Abu Ghraib incident, but they abound in autocracies like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, North Korea, China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Myanmar and the Philippines under Duterte; and frequently they end in murder, like we have sadly been forced to witness with the Jamal Khashoggi tragedy. Birds of a feather flock together. It is disturbing to find our President so often siding with these bullies or condoning their human rights abuses. The sense that he is quietly envious of the perpetrators of these abuses, bringing bullying to the ultimate expression that he is denied, is palpable.
If you give a bully a position of authority, you risk to implicitly create an abuse of power situation. We witness that every day in the treatment of refugees at our borders, undocumented immigrants at the mercy of overzealous ICE personnel, and with all the sex abuse cases now surfacing. A bully at the top of the pyramid will pull legions of covert bullies out from the shadows and so the bullying pervades and becomes par for the course.
Bill Kristol articulates, in a recent tweet, exactly what we get from putting a bully at the top of our pyramid: “The rhetorical extremism, the winking at violence, the reveling in vulgarity, and the embrace of amoralism are not bugs but features of Trumpism. Intellectual and moral coarsening is both a condition and a consequence of the demagogue’s success. Trumpism really does corrupt.”
We can legitimately argue about policy differences, but we should not have to argue about the need to preserve America’s moral authority and value-based governance. That is why, above all else, character should matter in elections. All eligible voters have a chance in November of this year, and again in 2020, to make clear to those seeking elected office that bullies are not allowed. Let’s hope that they come out in droves to validate that message.