Certain types of behavior can be contagious. Seriously; adolescent suicide is probably the most well-known example of this. It’s like they reach into us and draw out of us that part which may have a slight tendency toward that particular behavior and then, by drawing it out, fill us with it.
A great example of this is bullying. We’ve watched this happen right in front of the entire nation over the previous four years.
Trump has no compassion or empathy whatsoever for anybody except himself, and ruthlessly bullied anybody he thought was in his way or was even moderately critical of him.
Most recently we’ve seen him bully George P Bush into kissing Trump’s feet. He’s cowed virtually the entire Republican party, and the few Republicans would dared speak up against him will find themselves facing Trump-like bullies in their next primaries.
Trump, like all bullies, delights in this.
He gets pleasure stripping power away from others, from causing fear and pain in his enemies’ lives, and the more successfully he can bully high-profile people the more he seems to puff up in delight.
This is a problem for America now because presidents tend to establish both the tone, tenor and fashions of the day.
John Kennedy, for example, established an optimistic and forward-looking tone for our country, while Jimmy Carter made it fashionable to be a thoughtful, compassionate Christian and an energy geek. Bill Clinton turned us all into policy wonks, and George W. Bush transformed himself from an AWOL draft-dodger into a warrior, bringing the country along with him. Barack Obama established a tone of thoughtful, elegant inclusion and diversity, celebrated around the world.
Tragically, what Donald Trump showed us is that when the President of the United States is a bully, being a bully suddenly becomes fashionable.
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Political bullies, from the soft-spoken Mitch McConnell to the outrageous Gym Jordan, all surfed the wave of Trump’s bullying style. Right wing media has become filled with outrageous bullies, each reveling in being more brutal, oafish and outrageously fascistic than the last. And Trump followers delight in bullying store owners and people in public spaces by refusing to wear masks.
Multiple studies showed, in the months after Trump was elected, an increase in school bullying. White “Karens” (female and male) around the country found new validation in their attempts to bully people of color, including children. And Trump’s bullying use of the phrase “China virus” has led to a huge spike in attacks on Asian Americans. Now Trans children are on the receiving end of Republican bullying.
Trump set the tone for all these bullies. As Glenn Altschuler wrote for The Hill:
And like all bullies, Trump traffics in personal insults and group stereotypes. He began calling immigrants “rapists,” complained about “shithole countries,” mocked a reporter with disabilities, said the Speaker of the House has “mental problems,” said four American congresswomen of color should “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came.” He’s peddled the racist idea that immigration is an “invasion,” and retweeted the claim that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” He responded to the #MeToo movement, by declaring“It’s a very scary time for young men in America.” He spread a phony conspiracy theory that Joe Scarborough murdered Lori Klausutis, a congressional aide, in 2001.
Or Mitch McConnell bragging, “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.’”
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The people whose bullying tendencies drew them to guns and violence have stepped up as well, with the ultimate bullying event being their assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6.
While I’d like President Joe Biden to be tougher with some of the more sold-out members of the Democratic caucus (particularly in the Senate), I also celebrate his utter lack of a tendency or apparent desire to behave like a bully.
President Biden has also largely surrounded himself with people who tend toward reason and discussion rather than bullying, a change in the White House that has much of America breathing more easily after collectively holding our breaths for the past four years.
As F. Diane Barth, LCSW, notes for Psychology Today, one of the most effective ways to deal with a bully is to simply set limits. If the bully exceeds those limits, the hammer comes down; if not, then life is good.
In child care this is sometimes referred to as “logical consequences.” You don’t have to become a bully to stop a bully: just impose consequences to their behaviors.
This limit-setting and consequence-imposing process is the biggest challenge for the Biden administration, having inherited a nation and Congress scarred by Trump bullying and filled with hopped-up Republican bullies. Particularly problematic, apparently, is a Justice Department that Trump filled with his own bullies.
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Bringing the January 6th traitors to account is a good start, and it appears the FBI and Justice Department are on the case (although Trump-appointed judges have a nasty habit of letting these people out of jail on bond or even their own recognizance).
But consider how the Justice Department:
- Chooses to defend Trump’s bullying of E. Jean Carroll over her “defamation” of him for calling out his raping her;
- Submits to the bullying of Bill Barr and refuses to release the unredacted Mueller Report in the form its authors intended and made sure was squeaky-clean ready-to-publicly-release;
- Prolongs the Trump administration’s bullying of reporters by wiretapping and surveiling them;
- Is “vigorously defending” the “right” of rightwing “Christian” schools to discriminate against LGBTQ people;
- And won’t stop Republicans in Arizona from continuing to violate federal felony law restricting how ballots can be handled within 22 months of an election.
Or Chuck Schumer’s Senate Democrats and President Biden spending months negotiating with Republicans who have are just playing them for suckers.
Or when Schumer and Biden are unwilling to bring as large a collection of carrots and sticks to Senators Manchin and Sinema as the Republican-aligned US Chamber of Commerce and Koch network did.
We have to ask: Have the bullies have won? Or is the Biden administration going to finally start setting limits and imposing logical consequences?
The fate of our republic hangs on the answer.
Originally posted at The Hartmann Report
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