In the abstract the idea that bullies have friends and followers seems counter-intuitive. Why would anybody want to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary with someone whose core personality trait is intimidation? After all, who looks up from the rugby scrum of everyday existence and thinks, “I don’t have nearly enough menace in my life. Who couldn’t use a little more harassment? Am I right?”
I’ve been puzzling over this question for a while as I read about the alarming number of people who seem to be making peace with a potential Donald Trump presidency. How can people, who presumably have the freedom to choose otherwise, fall in line behind a guy who’s pretty sure that Mussolini was tragically misunderstood? There aren’t any governmental thought police enforcing a political orthodoxy on behalf of his Donaldness (yet). So, what’s the attraction?
Just think about his take on women, on minorities, on immigrants, on Muslims, on disabled journalists, and on and on … Trump gives the impression that he’s never met a disadvantaged group he didn’t feel free to take a rhetorical swing at. When your drunk uncle Eddy says the same things around the Thanksgiving table, the whole family knows he’s a small-minded philistine from whom the kiddies and those with weak constitutions deserve to be protected. Everybody feels the tension, just hoping that some intrepid soul will step in and say, “Eddy! For the love of everything that’s holy, just shut up!”
Nobody witnesses drunk uncle Eddy and walks away saying, “Yes! Just telling it like it is. We need more uncle Eddys to make to make this family great again!” Even those family members sympathetic to uncle Eddy’s personal take on “what’s wrong with the world,” roll their eyes and think, “Damn! I wish Eddy’d take more opportunities to shut his pie-hole.”
Because drunk uncle Eddy is a narcissistic bully who’s made it all too clear that his primary interest involves trampling everybody’s patience and goodwill just because he likes the sound of his own voice. In fact, even those who might otherwise agree with him are generally convinced he picked up what counts for his political knowledge from some slobbering wingnut on a low powered AM station out of Des Moines who makes Rush Limbaugh look like the intellectual love child of Thomas Jefferson and Dorothy Day.
So, the family tunes uncle Eddy out, or they distract him, or aunt Gladys has finally had enough and tells him to “Please, for the love of everything that’s holy, just go home.” But they know they have to do something, lest uncle Eddy ruin everybody’s sweet potato pie.
All of which is one thing when you’re dealing with an obnoxious relative. But it’s an entirely different thing when an unrelated, yet still loathsome bigot shows up uninvited in your living room every day when you turn on the TV. Apparently, the media believe the political stylings of your drunk uncle Eddy make for good television.
Welcome to the Donald Trump presidential campaign, where every Thanksgiving nightmare, every unfiltered insult gets played out on a continuous loop! And sitting in your own Lazyboy, you feel guilty repeatedly having to tell your youngest children to go in the other room because “Uncle Donald, though he claims to have them, isn’t using his best words.”
But even more than his loutishness, what I can’t get over is the fact that millions of people in this country find him to be the answer to what ails us. The only thing I can figure is that people are comfortable with bullies … as long as we feel superior to the people being bullied. Yes, he’s a jerk; but he’s our jerk; he’s just telling it like it is, saying things we’d like to say.
Interestingly, the folks who seem immune to the violence in the bully’s rhetoric are generally the same people who also decry the appalling rise in “political correctness.” I think it’s important to point out the relationship between the two. In fact, I would like to suggest that a longing for the good old days when society was much more patient with political incorrectness implicitly signals an approval, if not outright celebration, of bullying.
“Now, wait a minute, smart guy. I think people are too politically correct nowadays, but I don’t like bullies. I just like people who tell it like it is.”
Oh, really? Political incorrectness on this account sounds like nothing more than the power to belittle people you don’t respect, without suffering any consequences. African Americans. Women. LGBTQ people. Immigrants. The disabled. To everybody else, railing against political correctness comes off as nostalgia for a time when white guys ran the world and everybody else knew their place--when guys like me could say (and oftentimes do) what we wanted, and everybody else just had to take it. But saying and doing stuff to people you don’t like just because they can’t do anything to defend themselves sounds curiously like bullying to me.
If you bleed after Mike Tyson punches you in the mouth, nobody says, “Quit being so sensitive.” But if Donald Trump calls you a “rapist” or a “disgusting animal” or a “bimbo,” he’s merely articulating the frustration of those whom the politically correct modern world has left behind.
I suspect that the prospect of Donald Trump being our bully, saying the things we really wish history hadn’t stripped us of the power to say, is the real reason for his appeal. Because, as far as I can tell, Trump’s base is mostly disaffected white guys convinced that anyone who’s not a disaffected white guy is part of a shady cabal committed to ruining the lives of disaffected white guys.
So here’s the thing: If you want to follow a bully because he’s your bully, a guy who says all the things you think but can’t figure out how to say out loud without getting in trouble, then just admit that you think bullying is cool and you wish we had more of it. But don’t whine about political correctness. (You sound like uncle Eddy.)