Anyway, I don't think I can move on unless I go ahead and post this somewhere. But I totally I understand if you skip it.
A Bully Too Far
One of the most puzzling aspects of the Donald Trump phenomenon, at least to me, is the extent to which my opinion has diverged from that of people with whom I typically have a great deal in common. There are many in my friend and family circles who see him as I do, as a dangerously volatile individual lacking in the personal characteristics I seek in a President. But there are also those who take a different view, seeing in Trump someone who offers the hope they so desperately seek. These are smart, conservative, patriotic and God-fearing people who largely share my values and world view. How did we end up so far apart?
It's a question that many have tried to address, and certainly there is no single answer. A few months ago in The Federalist A.D.P. Efferson took a stab at it with an analysis based on crisis theory. Efferson likens Trump supporters to those who have reached such a profound level of desperation that they experience a kind of breakdown, acting in ways they might otherwise not. Yet I think I have reached that same point of desperation, and Trump makes me feel more, not less, desperate.
Another theory focuses on Trump’s supposed appeal to the “authoritarian personality.” But the definition of authoritarian as someone who values order, the upholding of tradition, good manners and respect for authority fits me, and I am frightened by, not attracted to, “authoritarian” candidate Trump. I think the definition of authoritarian utilized by these pieces is faulty, too closely equating it with conservative Christianity, and I agree with this piece in the Washington Post that suggests it is less authoritarianism than populism driving Trump.
Instead, the psychological explanation to which I find myself repeatedly returning (because it’s gotta be psychological, since it is most assuredly not logical for conservatives to be supporting Trump) is Laura Ingraham's identification of Trump as the anti-bully. Here is the gist of Ingraham's argument:
"But the truth is that most, if not all, of the folks supporting Trump don’t care who he offends, as long as he’s standing up for them. They feel like they’ve been bullied for years. For them, Trump is like the savior kid in the schoolyard who takes on the bully by popping him right in the eye. The kids who have been ridiculed or roughed up suddenly have a champion."
Ingraham goes on to enumerate some of the ways Americans have been bullied in recent years. She is spot on that Americans, especially those of my ilk, are increasingly frightened of and angry at the reach of big government and deeply troubled by our seeming inability to combat it via the system that is in place. Why, then, do some of my like-minded friends look at Trump with hope while others such as myself recoil in fear? I think one determiner of how people react to Trump could be the bully factor: an individual's past experience, or relative lack thereof, with bullies.
There was a time in my adolescence when I was regularly bullied by schoolmates. It wasn't just a few scattered instances of teasing. It was day in, day out systematic targeting for several years. That sort of thing does a number on a person, affecting the way he looks at others, and the world, for the rest of his life. Among other things, it can result in making one 1) more skeptical and less trusting of others, 2) more sensitized to the marks of a bullying personality, and, ironically, 3) more vulnerable to falling under the spell of a bully in a misguided effort to align oneself with the axis of power.
In addition to my childhood experience of being bullied, I have several times gotten tangled up with an adult bully. The bullying done by an adult is much more covert than that done by a child. Whereas a child will bully another child in a very obvious way via physical abuse or overt verbal attacks, adult bullies are sneaky, utilizing psychological games and passive-aggressive behaviors. Sometimes the one who is bullied may not even realize what is going on until the pattern is well established. Adult bullying goes hand-in-hand with narcissism, since adult bullies are those whose arrested development leads them to never get beyond looking at others as objects to be used for their purposes. We all essentially begin life as narcissists, seeing ourselves as the center of the universe and others as extensions of ourselves, but the healthy person grows beyond that, developing empathy and an awareness of the inherent worth and otherness of those around him. The narcissist never makes that leap.
Interestingly, in Megyn Kelly’s recent make-nice interview with Trump, The Donald himself brought up the topic of adult bullying but then dismissed it as something people just need to get over. It might seem surprising that the one at whom so many have leveled charges of bullying would raise the topic, but it is actually characteristic of narcissists to criticize others for the very behavior in which they are engaging. It’s an element of the technique known as gaslighting, by which an abuser keeps a victim constantly off-balance by employing a number of strategies to make the victim doubt his own perceptions and thinking process. (Trump’s facility with gaslighting has been highlighted by more than one observer.)
Today as I find myself faced with the choice of whether to once again put my trust in someone who has so many of the marks of a bully, I have sometimes wished I could ignore all the alarm bells ringing in my ears and join my friends who have already jumped on the Trump train. His paternal, “trust me and I’ll take care of it” approach is admittedly tempting. Yeah, he’s a bully, but he’s on my side. It would be so easy to just give in and quit worrying about everything and leave it all up to Papa Trump to fix. But I am always caught up short by the little voice inside me screaming with all of its might, “No. Stop. You have been there, done that, and you have gotten burned. You can’t count on the bigger bully to take care of it for you, because some day the bigger bully will take the power you gave him and use it against you.”
It is for this reason that as much as my present self might be attracted to the defender-hero Trump says he will be, my past self is not falling for it this time around. I have seen too many Trumps in my day. I have, I am ashamed to say, sometimes stood by silently while they have wreaked their havoc on others. As a result I have learned a few things. When it comes to bullies, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. A bully is not in it for anyone but himself. His promises all come with an expiration date. You are either for him or against him, and if you question him in any way or give any indication that you are not 100 percent loyal to the “cause,” whatever it is, you are punished or summarily banished. Having been there, done that one time too many, I refuse to willingly open myself up to it again, and I refuse to be a party to the bullying of anyone else, in this case, the country I love. In the words of Huck Finn: "I can't stand it. I been there before."