On Bullies

I was perusing my twitter feed (I took an extended break post-election and it felt GREAT) and came across a story about the leader of CKI (Conservative Kleptocrat Insurrection) leader Donald Trump’s tweet regarding LL Bean.

Apparently, Linda Bean was/is a big Trump supporter. That’s a bit of a bummer, but whatever. I find it kind of curious how some people can’t seem to make educated guesses about certain public figures. I mean, the CEO of a corporation that sells high-quality camping gear/apparel that is based out of Maine is really conservative? COLOR ME SURPRISED.

That said, the article was about Trump publicly thanking her on his twitter feed, and urging his followers to buy her stuff. The bulk of the article dissected why this is unusual and inappropriate behavior for a President–public officials, let alone the President of the United States, shouldn’t be endorsing privately owned corporations. A small aside: I weirdly can immediately identify Trump’s train of thought. He’s such a greedbag, that in his mind telling anybody to give money to anyone other than him is about as warm a gesture he can offer.

But the thing that struck me was a quoted comment from Linda Bean, one in which she referred to critics of the whole fiasco as “bullies.”

That word’s being thrown around a lot these days. It’s a big social issue, and thus, it’s becoming a political one. School bullying, bigoted bullying, political bullying. There’s lots of talk of punching down, and the like. Can comedians be bullies? Some people seem to think so.

Weirdly, now that the balance of power in this country seems to have swung back to rampant conservatism, the Trump-bots absolutely love to claim that they are the ones being bullied. Those mean liberals and progressives are demanding that they change how they talk, think, and act. They’re BULLIES! Anybody who offers criticism these days, even when the criticism is something as simple as “maybe you shouldn’t donate money to a guy who is proud of sexual assault,” is referred to as a bully.

I don’t doubt that a lot of the rank-and-file GOP voters do, in fact, feel bullied. I’m pretty dismayed to see a lot of pushback from the left against accusations of living in a bubble (everyone lives in a bubble, the problem is that nobody wants to try empathy, and politicians manipulate these culture wars to their advantage), because it’s easy for me to understand why solid red-staters of a certain socioeconomic station feel as though they are under attack. To be clear, they’re confused about who it is that’s attacking them, and who it is that’s acting in their best interests, but that’s for another article. My point is, I think some conservatives do feel as though they’re being ganged up on, right or wrong.

What’s more concerning are the bullies that are hiding in plain sight. These are the folks that know how to manipulate public perception and an electorate that thrives on emotional appeals. People like Paul Ryan, Linda Bean, Steve Bannon, and any other millionaire conservative who wants to pretend that they’re being unfairly treated by progressives making minimum wage who think their health is more important than a CEO having slightly lower taxes.

I hit puberty somewhat early, in the 5th grade. I remember a kid in gym class innocently commenting that my legs were hairier than his dad’s. I was one of the first kids to shave. I was always a tall kid, but I towered over my classmates until high school, when people finally started catching up.

There was a kid in my class–let’s call him Jimmy–who picked on me. He was an obnoxious little shit, and a runt, to boot. One of the smaller kids in physical stature, but someone who knew how to corral friendships, who knew how to make or break a fellow student’s popularity, who could seize upon anybody’s weakness and lead them around by the nose with it. I wasn’t the only person he picked on, but I was an especially easy target because I was so easy to spot.

Jimmy never physically picked on me. At least, not in any way that was remotely serious. Again, I was much bigger than him (though I was a beanpole at the time) and my school community was tight-knit and conservative enough that people didn’t really get into fights. Jimmy used psychological warfare. He loved to spread rumors as a way of exposing just how lame somebody was. He had the guts to needle people publicly, which had the vampiric effect of making him appear larger as he made others look smaller. And here’s the kicker: Jimmy knew that he was relatively safe from repercussions because he was small.

I know a lot of people who got picked on in high school by the big, hulking jocks don’t want to hear this, but there is a certain breed of kid who knows full well that he can play the victim card the minute anybody who’s bigger than him starts to fight back. Jimmy did this all the time. He blatantly lied to teachers, coaches, parents. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to “pick on somebody my own size” because I had dared to shove Jimmy back, or hit him with a verbal retort, or basically do anything besides sit there and take it.

This is how conservatives operate these days. Because the social tide has begun to turn against greed and might-make-right, a weird parallel universe has sprung up: one in which wealthy white people are somehow being victimized by people who don’t want to die, or have their rights trampled, or be harassed alone. The same people who send anonymous jpegs of Jewish caricatures being executed to reporters and activists screech that their rights are being trampled when somebody suggests that they should be banned from Twitter, a privately owned company (see also: Duck Dynasty guy, Donald Sterling, et al). Anyone who opines that American have a right to be outraged by a reality star turned politician screaming at reporters who dare to question him is, in one breath, referred to as a “special snowflake” and also a “bully”. Someone I went to high school with, whose company I enjoy, and whom I like to talk football with, has twice flagged me down on social media to complain that people like my friends and I are “shoving our liberalism down his throat,” yet then declined to have a discussion about any issues being raised because it “would be pointless.” In this fairy-tale conservative wet-dream, progressives are at fascists for merely existing, yet also whiny cowards capable of achieving nothing.

Americans love a victim, and the more cynical among us, on both the right and the left, know how to manipulate this into political gain. Rhetoric has become jiu-jitsu. The person on the offensive always has the potential to be thrown on their back, even if the “attack” is coming from something that used to be shared value, eg: The President-elect shouldn’t mock disabled people publicly and then lie about it. Donald Trump and his cronies are small, small people, just like Jimmy was, and probably still is. But just because you’re smaller than your opponent doesn’t mean that you aren’t the bully.

The Jimmy story has a happy ending, though. Once, while changing for PE class, Jimmy was up to his usual mean-spirited pageantry of calling me names, trying to shove me, etc. I was mostly ignoring him, but at one point he pushed me into the locker, and I pushed him back, hard. He fell down on the floor, and a few people laughed. There was enough of a row at this point that one of the coaches came out from his office to see what was going on. PE was one of the few places that pricks like Jimmy didn’t have the full run of the school, and this particular coach clearly didn’t like Jimmy and didn’t buy his “I didn’t even do anything” shtick. He looked at both of us, and then calmly said: “Y’know Jimmy, I’m not going to stop John when he decides he’s had enough of your shit and kicks your ass.”

Jimmy didn’t bother me much after that. There’s no real “coach” to step in and lend a voice of authority to the Americans who are fighting back against a bunch of bigots and cowards who are claiming that they’re being victimized anytime someone calls a spade a spade, but sooner or later, small people like Jimmy and Donald get theirs.

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