In gauging bullying behaviors, perhaps some slack should be extended to the rough and tumble world of electioneering. After all, politics is a blood sport, right?
That said, the use of malicious, relentless, abusive behavior to humiliate and destroy targets is inexcusable, even on the campaign trail.
Which brings me to Donald Trump, whose version of political campaigning not only embraces bullying on such a scale, but also employs eliminationist, scapegoating rhetoric designed to stir up mobs. It is a playbook seemingly copied from 1930s Europe, with help from 21st century technology. It is scary and we should be scared. He embraces the bully role and, for now at least, he is getting away with it. In fact, some people are flocking to him and his virulent narcissism because of it.
Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, in a recent piece for the New York Times, describe what happened to Republican political strategist Cheri Jacobus when she had the temerity to criticize Trump’s debating skills:
…Mr. Trump took to Twitter, repeatedly branding Ms. Jacobus as a disappointed job seeker who had begged to work for his campaign and had been rejected. “We said no and she went hostile,” he wrote. “A real dummy!” Mr. Trump’s campaign manager told the same story on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Mr. Trump’s Twitter followers, who number about six million, piled on. For days, they replied to his posts with demeaning, often sexually charged insults aimed at Ms. Jacobus, including several with altered, vulgar photographs of her face.
Such behaviors, Burns and Haberman observe, are common for Trump:
With his enormous online platform, Mr. Trump has badgered and humiliated those who have dared to cross him during the presidential race. He has latched onto their vulnerabilities, mocking their physical characteristics, personality quirks and, sometimes, their professional setbacks. He has made statements, like his claims about Ms. Jacobus, that have later been exposed as false or deceptive — only after they have ricocheted across the Internet.
Increasingly, it appears, many Republican Party operatives are too frightened of Trump to oppose him or to criticize his methods. (South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is a notable exception.) And some, like New Jersey Governor, fellow bully, and recent Trump endorser Chris Christie, agree with his platform and his tactics.
Mr. Trump loves to toss verbal grenades at others from the podium, but his favorite bully pulpit appears to be Twitter. While Twitter certainly has its positive qualities, it has become prime territory for launching virtual attacks on others, with vicious exchanges that make old fashioned Facebook flame wars seem mild by comparison. Trump uses Twitter to engage in what I call puppet master bullying, using outlandish, outrageous statements to stir up his base. He knows full well that they will carry his message forward, often by descending upon his target — however virtually — and creating what must feel like a mob attack on the receiving end.
In my several decades of following American politics, campaigns, and elections, I have never seen anything quite like this. The echoes of the jackboots are getting louder. Hopefully the American public will have the sense to say no to his Presidential ambitions. The stakes are too dire to let him have his way.
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