Donald Trump, bully, sign
Sign at a protest in New York City. Photo credit: Alec Perkins / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Donald Trump showed us that when the president of the United States is a bully, being a bully becomes fashionable.

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), an infamous bully who once chased then-17-year-old Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg down the street screaming epithets at him, bullied her pooch, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), into threatening New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg with a congressional investigation if he didn’t back off from prosecuting her role model, Donald Trump. 

Following up, Rep. “Gym” Jordan (R-OH), notorious for bullying any witness who appears before his committees or brings up his alleged cover-up history, has now been joined by Rep. James Comer (R-KY; accused of abusing a girlfriend and then getting her an abortion), and House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil (R-WI) in demanding Bragg give their committees all the information he’s gathered on Trump’s crimes relating to his paying off porn star Stormy Daniels.

For his part, Bragg is having none of it, pushing back with a statement though a spokesman:

We will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process, nor will we let baseless accusations deter us from fairly applying the law.

Bullying has now become the trademark behavior of the GOP, the result of Donald Trump’s entrance on the scene in 2015, when he successfully bullied and cowed every other candidate for the Republican nomination for president.

This parallels the rise of fascism as the political system now most vigorously embraced by the GOP, from rigging courts and elections to resorting to violence and threats of murder to try to stop the peaceful transfer of the presidency from Trump to Biden on January 6, 2021.

As Madeleine Albright wrote in her book Fascism: A Warning:

Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was “bully.”

If we don’t take on bullies — particularly fascist bullies — they keep going further and further until either they win or you fight back and defeat them. The best political example of this writ large was Hitler. He pushed around most of Europe and they kept giving in or trying to appease him, thinking at some point he’d have gotten enough. 

Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain thought he could negotiate with a bully and came back from his meetings with Hitler believing he’d achieved “peace in our time.” But, of course, you can never actually negotiate with a bully; you can only contain or defeat them. Which is what FDR, Churchill, and Stalin ended up having to do. 

From that experience, Europe learned a lesson about dealing with fascist bullies, which is why the governments of the continent are united in their support of Ukraine against the murderous bullying of Russia’s fascist leader.

Bullies never stop. And, most importantly, every time they win they set their sights on the next conquest. Giving in to their demands only creates a newer and more elaborate set of demands. 

People in the business world know this well because some of the most successful and powerful people in that realm are themselves successful bullies, and everybody in business has dealt with them at one time or another. We typically learn only late in their careers what tyrants they were, as in the biographies of John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Donald Trump. 

But because they’ve acquired wealth and power through bullying their colleagues, competitors, suppliers, and employees, those business bullies who move into politics (whether as elected officials or as those who buy off elected officials) bring their bullying tactics with them. 

We have so many of these bullies polluting our political waters today that it’s nearly impossible to get anything done that benefits anybody except the morbidly rich bullies themselves and their friends. 

As lawyer and therapist Bill Eddy writes for Psychology Today:

Bullies don’t negotiate; they make demands, they make threats, and they fight for them. They generally lack the modern skills of win-win. … So don’t think of their demands as a form of true negotiation. It’s more like warfare. And you don’t want to give in to that.

Right now, America is suffering from an epidemic of political bullying. 

Billionaires started bullying us in the 1980s at the suggestion of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, demanding that the top 74 percent income tax rate be collapsed to 25 percent; Ronald Reagan enthusiastically gave in (as did a few Democrats) and now the billionaires who are paying 3 percent tax rates (not a typo) are using their political muscle to try to eliminate funding to the IRS as part of their “negotiation” around the debt ceiling.

Trump, like all fascist bullies, delights in this. 

He gets pleasure from stripping power away from others while 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 with pleasure.

This is a crisis for America now because presidents tend to establish both the tone, tenor, and fashions of the day. John F. 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 drunk into a warrior. 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 becomes fashionable. 

Political bullies, from the soft-spoken Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to the outrageous Gym Jordan, all surfed the wave of Trump’s bullying style. Right-wing media has become filled with outrage-puffed bullies, each reveling in being more brutal, oafish, and outrageously fascistic than the last.

Over the past few years, Trump followers delighted in bullying store owners and people in public spaces by refusing to wear masks. Now they’re bullying trans people, pregnant women, public school teachers, librarians, and drag queens. Bullies, being cowards deep down inside, always pick on those they see as the least able to defend themselves.

Bullying is contagious, which makes the GOP’s fascist bullying a whole-of-society crisis.

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” led to a huge spike in attacks on Asian Americans.

Trump set the tone for all these bullies: Truth doesn’t matter, so long as you can hurt and intimidate somebody for your own benefit or even just for fun. As Glenn Altschuler wrote for The Hill:

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.

Remember 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?’” Classic bullying.

The people whose bullying tendencies drew them to guns and violence have joined the bullies in the GOP as well, with the ultimate bullying event being their assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6.

Convicted foreign agent, bully, and Trump toady Mike Flynn, who suggested that a wholesale slaughter of minority Americans a la Myanmar “should happen” here, upped the ante by saying, when presented with a new AR15, “Maybe I’ll find someone in Washington, DC.” Spoken like a lifelong bully.

Our world is in flames, as climate scientists have been warning us would happen for at least five decades, but fossil-fuel billionaires here and abroad continue to bully civilized nations into a suicide pact. Just let them get richer and richer selling their poisons, they say… until everything collapses.

Psychologist Shawn T. Smith, author of Surviving Aggressive People, notes that bullies almost always back down when they’re confronted. Bullies, he notes, are both lazy and cowards; preying on people who fight back is too much trouble and risk. “Bullies and predators,” Smith writes, “test, … prod, and … scan for vulnerability. When they do, responding quickly is more important than responding perfectly.” 

The vast majority of Americans don’t want the world these GOP bullies are trying to impose on us.

Most Americans, for example, would like to have the same kind of health care and educational system that Canadians, Europeans, Australians, and South Koreans have. Everybody covered, not a single medical bankruptcy, and undergraduate student debt largely nonexistent. They’d like good union jobs, a stable environment, quality public transportation, and top-notch primary schools.

So, why don’t we have what Europe got in the 1940s and Canada got in the 1960s? Because wealthy bullies who don’t want to pay their taxes buy off Republicans who themselves are willing to bully the American people and the press. 

We have “January 6” bullies, anti-mask bullies, anti-vax bullies, an entire health insurance industry that bullies us, bank bullies who rip us off, Wall Street bullies stealing everything that’s not nailed down, anti-abortion bullies threatening women, and religious bullies threatening our courts.

Pushing back hard is imperative, otherwise we lose. It’s way past time for average Americans to fight back: We’ve been bullied enough. Democrats and average Americans must follow Alvin Bragg’s example: Stand up and put a stop to it.

Reprinted from The Hartmann Report with the author’s permission.

Thom Hartmann is a four-time Project Censored-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of 34 books in print and the #1 progressive talk show host in America for more than a decade.


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