I worked with a guy like Donald Trump. He wasn’t super rich and he didn’t run for President but he shared Trump’s love of the outrageous brag and Trump’s astonishing willingness to say terrible things about opponents.
It was the latter characteristic that made the guy I worked with a classic bully. There were no limits on his insults or accusations, the nasty seeds he would plant with other people, his glee in exploding a person’s tiniest weakness into a public display of incompetence and unworthiness.
I know that Donald Trump and this guy I worked with aren’t the only two people like this on earth. But I don’t think there are a lot of them – people who feel no sense of boundaries or rules in human interaction. Still, there are enough that we ought to think about our response to them.
I was taught early in my professional life to call out everything. My first job was in an anti-poverty agency where community residents and colleagues argued and postured, elbowed each other for the high road, and let fly accusations of racism and sexism before their second cup of coffee in the morning. It was kill or be killed, metaphorically speaking. So I learned there if there was the faint smell of trash talk anywhere in the vicinity, drop what you’re doing, find the trash, put it on the table and call everyone to come look.
Someone’s messing with you? Blow it up. Make them own it. Call them out.
So what I learned, I still do, although the occasions necessitating such a response are fewer and farther between. It always amazed me, then, how cowed other people are by a bully’s complete willingness to go over the top of appropriate discourse. I’ve watched people who have no reason to be intimidated change their behavior for fear of having the Trump treatment – being called a maniac or a loser or having a history of behavior that doesn’t change, you know, like pedophilia, as he insinuated about Ben Carson.
It’s taken the other Republican candidates how long to screw up their little courage and call Trump out? It’s amazing. Here are people who have been elected to public office, dealt with all manner of constituents, argued with opponents and until just recently, they were dumbstruck by Trump’s insults, clearly worried that if they protested too loudly, they’d only get hit harder. Oh, says Mr. Trump, you’re crying? Let me really give you something to cry about.
Finally, there’s push back but too little too late. The Republican candidates, like many of my local colleagues, let so much of the genie out of the bottle that it’s impossible to regain normal standards of discourse without drastic measures. The local Donald Trump eventually tangled himself up in his own bullying. The actual Donald Trump continues to be the reluctant darling of the news channels and the object of intense consternation by the Republican establishment. Too bad, guys, you reap what you sow.
I go back to what I learned forty years ago. You let a bully lob just one grenade and you call up the cavalry. You don’t dig a foxhole and hide, hoping the next twenty grenades miss you, or that the lobber will get distracted and attack someone else. Go after the damn motherfucker.