CHARLES DERBER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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President Trump is a bully -- and anti-Trumpists denounce him for it. But their critique only endears Trump to his base because many of them love his bullying.
More surprising, though, is that hidden bullying norms pervade our society and ruling institutions. They explain why many of Trump's base embrace his bullying, but also illuminate the unrecognized bullying of millions of other voters, including prominent anti-Trumpists in the media and leaders of our society.
How do we know that Trump voters are bullish on his bullying? On January 17, 2018, The New York Times asked their readers who were Trump supporters why they still backed him. Here are typical responses:
Steven Landis from Hampton Bays, New York: "…it's better to be feared than loved. My hope is for our enemies to fear Donald Trump and for his domestic opponents to realize he's on their side." This reveals a cultural belief in success through intimidation rather than love, and a normalization of bullying values. This man likes Trump because he makes people afraid.
Anne Minich from Milford, Connecticut: "… his tough take-no-prisoners manner ... cause[s] offending persons and countries to sit up, consider us seriously, and think twice about taking advantage of us financially and otherwise."This also celebrates our norm of "take-no-prisoner" toughness as the way to get respect and meet our interests. This woman admires Trump precisely because he bullies to "make America great."
Jason Peck from Holtsville, New York: "To be honest, I'm not sure he would have accomplished what he has so far without being an unrelenting public bully." This man is explicit: Trump is successful because he bullies relentlessly.
Steven Sanabria from Oakdale, California: "Who knew that all it would take to make progress was vision, chutzpah and some testosterone?" This man makes the bullying culture explicit, colorfully celebrating its core macho philosophy.
It is not news that Trump is a bully, but it is important to highlight that he wins supporters precisely because he bullies. He does it without apologies and as a life-philosophy that attracts his base.
Moreover, these are New York Times readers who are living in blue states. There is one from Texas, but she is from Austin, the most educated Texas city. The geography suggests that the bullying ethos is not confined to red states or rural areas as polls often suggest.
In fact, while many people denounce and hate interpersonal bullying, we live in a society that makes it difficult to succeed without bullying. Bullying arises out of abuse of power inequalities, and the military and big corporations are institutional bullies because they use immense power for profit and more power. Trump's career makes clear that success in business is intertwined with bullying -- and that, indeed, as the Times respondents suggests, it's hard to get ahead and make a lot of money or win respect without sometimes being a bully.
This suggests the inconvenient truth that some influential Americans who denounce Trump for his bullying engage in it flagrantly themselves. Consider that many of the most prominent anti-Trumpists on cable television come from the bullying world of the military, the CIA or the FBI. The same is true of the generals in Trump's White House regarded as the "adults" restraining the child-bully president.
The national security world is perhaps the most bullying institutional complex in the nation. The military seeks US interests and global dominance through intimidation, threats and violence. When generals and CIA leaders denounce Trump's bullying character on CNN or MSNBC, they are not recognizing that their own institutions have helped create the culture that leads millions of Americans to support Trump and our larger bullying ethos.
The bottom line is that the majority of Americans, while they may truly abhor the extreme bullying Trump exhibits, learn to accept or uncomfortably tolerate bullying in our competitive society as a an ingredient of security and success. Trump may be a bad child in many ways. But he has become president partly because he embodies the politically incorrect seductions of power and bullying in our bully nation.
Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College, is co-author, with Yale Magrass, of the just released paperback edition of Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates A Bullying Society.