Donald Trump: knocking a bully off the pulpit


While you can make the case that Donald Trump is a fascist or a racist, one thing is certain: he’s an aggressive, belittling bully. And bullies don’t stop until authority figures stop them.

Bullies recruit supporters and then use that power to establish an “us vs. them” narrative, demeaning and hurting others. Trump’s recruits are the people he perceives as “true” Americans — mainstream working-class people — and his victims are muslims, blacks, Mexicans, and rival presidential candidates. To show how Trump is a classic bully, I cite stopbullying.gov (excerpts and paraphrases shown here in italics) and compare the descriptions to Trump’s behavior.

Stopbullying.gov definition: Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. 

Trump threatens everyone from ISIS to the people running the Republican debates. He spreads rumors (like false crime statistics about African Americans and muslim celebrations on 9/11). He attacks his opponents verbally all the time and calls anyone who doesn’t support him a loser. And he just called for blocking all muslims from entering the US, which is about as exclusionary as you can get.

There are three types of bullying. Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships (for example, telling other children not to be friends with someone). Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions (including making mean or rude hand gestures).

trump mocks reporter
Photo: KABC via Yahoo

Verbal bullying: Jeb Bush is “low energy,” Mexicans are “rapists.” Social bullying: constantly citing polls to create an “us vs. them” mentality. Physical bullying: well, that’s a stretch, unless you want to count Trump’s pantomime mocking of a reporter with a physical disability.

Who is more likely to bully? Those who are are well-connected to their peers, have social power, are overly concerned about their popularity, and like to dominate or be in charge of others. Children who have these factors are also more likely to bully others: Are aggressive or easily frustrated, think badly of others, have difficulty following rules, view violence in a positive way, have friends who bully others.

Trump is socially connected and obsessed with his popularity in polls. He likes to be in charge of others (“You’re fired!“). He’s certainly easily frustrated, thinks badly of everyone who is not like him, feels rules are for everyone else, and recently said of a “Black Lives Matter” protestor at his rally, “maybe he should have been roughed up.” Sounds pretty textbook to me.

Signs a child is being bullied: Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness, declining grades, loss of interest in work, feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem, self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.

This describes the American population and our government: we have declining effectiveness and are increasingly manifesting self-destructive behaviors as a nation.

The Stop Bullying site has a number of recommendations, but most involve what parents and teachers should do. In the absence of parents and teachers, we’ll have to get help from responsible adults: the other candidates, the media, and each other. Here’s what the site recommends:

Talk about what bullying is and how to stand up to it safely. Tell kids bullying is unacceptable. . . . Model how to treat others with kindness and respect. By treating others with kindness and respect, adults show the kids in their lives that there is no place for bullying. Even if it seems like they are not paying attention, kids are watching how adults manage stress and conflict, as well as how they treat their friends, colleagues, and families.

I’m confident that most of America can tell the difference between bullying and treating each other with kindness and respect. Thankfully, all the other candidates and the media are beginning to call out Trump’s awful behavior.

Here in Massachusetts, we have a Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state. Somebody handed him a copy of Trump’s latest release about banning Muslims. I was proud of his response, reported in the Boston Globe. He had just come from a public celebration of Chanukah.

“I just sat here and celebrated the miracle of Chanukah, which is about religious freedom. And the fight of the people of Jerusalem to ward off a bully who was trying to take away their right to peacefully practice their faith,” he said.

baker trump
State House News Service via Boston Globe

“I’m standing in a State House that’s less than a mile from the Warren Tavern, which is where the patriots of this nation began their initial conversations about how to secure their freedom out from under the British crown,” the governor continued. “And I’m standing in the State House, which is probably the most significant symbol in this city of the original fight for freedom, which goes all the way back to why people came here in the first place, which was to have a chance to practice their faith and their religion.”

“And I can’t believe that I’m reading this [Trump’s policy to block muslims from entering the US], which is basically directly in contrast and in conflict with most of the most important values that people in this country hold most dear,” he said. “Among them, the right and the ability to practice your religion peacefully.”

The governor paused again and then said: “Yeah, I think this is a really bad idea.”

Thank you, Charlie Baker. Now it’s time for the rest of us to stand up to this bully as you have.

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  1. Josh, I agree with your assessment of Trump and his behaviors. Yet I cannot escape the pressing feeling that you perceive the man as a genuine threat, while I do not. Therein lies my dilemma.

    There is no chance that Trump will be president, because our form of government does not allow for statistical anomalies to overcome established norms. Frankly, the RNC will never allow it to happen, because they don’t back him. He’s outside of the established path, and that’s not allowed. He’ll never run as an independent either, because he’s a businessman and well aware of the power of the establishment. His behavior may be foolish, but the man is no fool.

    Consider that he’s quite possibly being a bully on purpose. Think of the chaos and excitement of the Obama campaigns. Mixing things up and tearing things down (along with mudslinging) are regular parts of a presidential race, and the “Hope and Change” rhetoric did those things. Trump’s campaign is on a different tack, but very much aligned with the same principle.

    My personal suspicion is that Trump is a poe, intended to shake things up in a field of wholly unspectacular offerings from the Republican field. What the intended outcome is is still unclear. Could be that Hillary knew that her personality would not glean her the numbers she needed to win fairly, so Trump is a way to help her overcome. I think Sanders suffers from the same establishment weakness as Trump and cannot overcome the odds, so she’s got the nomination on lock, just not the presidency. I realize that this sounds like conspiracy theory, but with all of the crazy presidential antics over the past twenty years, you gotta admit that it sounds plausible as well.

    With all of that said, conspiracy or no, your observations of Trump’s behavior are accurate. The man is a menace to gentile folk everywhere. My only question for you is this: Since when has a presidential race been fair and/or kind?

  2. Can’t argue with your assessment of Trump as a bully, Josh, and it’s good to air the discussion of bullying. But I keep thinking that Trump’s more important role is as a foil to make the rest of the Republican field look sane. Whether it’s a white-horse guy like Bloomberg or one of the existing field of clowns, the “NotTrump” Republican candidate will have benefitted from the distraction of a reality-show actor during the runup to the primaries.

  3. With Josh’s background, could you predict what may happen if Trump becomes President? Most dismiss the idea but stranger things have happened.

    For example, if Muslims are banned from America for a temporary period, how will Muslim countries react? What about Western European countries with Muslim populations? Will Americans in Muslim countries become targets? What happens to the tens of thousands of Muslims who work for American companies, mainly in high-tech around the world? Will Trump be welcomed to visit countries to meet their leaders? Will it be the point when China begins to eclipse America both economically and politically? Will investors rush to the Chinese renmibi which this year became a world currency?

    If Trump narrowly misses becoming POTUS, could armed insurrection take place? Will it happen anyway if Trump wins? Could some of Trump’s fanatical base begin shooting sprees against Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, Asians and other non-whites? Could there be a civil war?

    We live in a world that is vastly different from the 30’s to 60’s when racism and fascism was rife in so many countries including America. One of the ideas behind globalization was that it would make the world safer with inter-related economic interests. However, it has also led to disenfranchisement across the globe for large groups of young people including in America. Inequality has widened to dangerous levels. The politics of fear is directed at these groups which lead to dark places.

  4. The bully designation in this case is spot on. It seems that every poll gives a reason why their candidate is not winning. Most commentators insist that people do not vote for who they say they will, that in private they reverse their stance. Let’s hope in Trump’s case that the reverse will hold true: that people are saying that will vote for him so they are no longer bullied.