Bullying in politics: be worried

This may be a ridiculously idealistic thing to say, but I’ll say it anyway: schoolyard bullshit has no place in politics or policy. It should be nipped in the bud the moment it emerges. Who will have the moral courage and clarity to do the nipping? Your guess is as good as mine, unfortunately. A country is damned if it isn’t governed by morally grounded adults, and the United States has precious few of these in its national politics today. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders stands out; on the Republican side, Rand Paul is more discreetly decent, although it’s an easy thing to forget at a time when half a dozen blowhards are drowning him out every time he sets foot on a debate stage.

The musth-crazed elephant in the room, of course, is Donald Trump. The man has singlehandedly taken presidential politics to a coarse lowness not seen in decades, maybe even a century or more. The problem, though, is that he’s the only Republican candidate who clearly does not have his head up his ass on immigration and labor policy. Paul is ambiguous, and most of the rest are dog’s asses shilling for big business. Trump is also the only competitive Republican candidate who shares Paul’s refreshing sanity on foreign policy to some extent, i.e., that we ought to stop sticking our national dick into every hornet’s nest from Benghazi to Moscow to Abbottabad.

As coarse as Trump is, this is still policy leadership. Marginalizing Trump means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Ditch him and the Republican field loses its only candidate who may possibly give a shit about ordinary Americans and be willing to do something on their behalf. This is a shitty state of affairs, but look at what the others have actually done in their prior careers or are proposing to do if they win the presidency. Rand Paul at least seems to have his heart in the right place and not be a wacko or a crook. Otherwise, the Republican field is a nest of unionbusters, importers and manipulators of foreign scab labor, corporate looters, retirement fund shills looking to trash Social Security, general-service mercenaries for multinational corporations, jingoistic chickenhawks, and bottomfeeding religious cranks. In spite of Trump’s ventures into hang-’em-high jingoism (on which he can be pretty subdued compared to Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee), he’s substantively an improvement over the rest of these fuckers. It bears repeating, too, that while he looks and acts like a bully, most of his opponents have either governed, administered companies, or promised to govern as bullies, while Trump is promising to stop kicking workaday Americans in the gut while they’re down for a change.

Nobody in any position of power has forthrightly stood up to Trump and told him to shut the fuck up until he has something morally decent to say (not necessarily nice, just other than belligerently coarsening) because the power centers in and around US politics are devoid of moral leadership. As someone who was consciously vulnerable to bullying as a child and a teen, and who remains a bit vulnerable to this day, I know firsthand how immensely helpful it can be for a single clearheaded, credible adult or older child to set firm rules of decency and fair play on miscreants. It can make the difference between constant low-level trauma and a healthy, edifying environment. I was never particularly susceptible to bullying, just sporadically, but even so I’m always relieved when there’s someone present with the force of personality or the moral courage to either set an overwhelmingly positive example for the social aggressors or force them to stand down.

The mainstream media won’t show this leadership because they cherish the conceit of objectivity and (let’s be real) the ratings. Trump’s challengers won’t show this leadership because they’re equally craven and self-dealing, with no regard for fair play and decency as a matter of principle (again, likely excluding Rand Paul, who looks fed up with all the drama and uninterested in refereeing it). So we have this truly unbecoming spectable, and probably dangerous precedent, of the class bully using a presidential election, including televised debates, to openly harass the class dork. This is happening in an undisguised moral vacuum. Of course this kind of shit goes down in classrooms all the time, and all too often in workplaces, but at least in those cases there’s sometimes a leader, either official or emergent, who recognizes trouble and puts a stop to it. In the current campaign, anything goes. Nothing that Trump has said, not matter how over-the-top provocative and ill, has earned him an order to sit down and shut up from another candidate or an order from moderators to immediately leave the debate. This is akin to a professional sports game in which referees refuse to eject players for starting brawls. Trump is the verbal answer to Ron Artest.

Jeb! is a pitiful, troubled character. It’s embarrassing and tragic for someone from such privilege and power to reduce himself to trying to work out a lifetime of psychosexual resentment with a Johnny-come-lately asshole who keeps yanking his chain. It’s easy to tell what he’s thinking: “Daddy and Brother George got to be President, and now I should be getting my turn, so who the bleep is this bleephead?” Of course he should have more maturity than that. At the same time, it’s appalling that everyone else at the debates leaves him to his own devices to respond to the sort of impertinent, vicious, off-topic language that Trump hurls at him. Trump is preferentially directing ad hominem attacks at the nearest weakling. That this sort of thing happens on poorly chaperoned playgrounds is no excuse for it in presidential politics.

I get the feeling that Jeb wouldn’t be acting so pathetically if he weren’t being bullied in real time. It’s revealing that he is so easily rattled, but this poor temperament during confrontations with a man who ought to have a rag stuffed in his mouth probably two or three times a day isn’t the most compelling reason why Bush isn’t fit for office. While the big man on campus and the dork yell at each other about personal beefs, the coverage of these two ignores that the dork is promising to pillage and loot the commonweal if elected and that the BMOC/AMOG has pillaged and looted the commonweal in a number of cities while making a show of being a great visionary. What we’re missing is someone credible who is willing and able to tell these two to stop trying to settle their beef on company time, and to tell Trump in particular to behave himself. Any alert, competent adult in the room focuses primarily on the aggressor if one can be identified, not the target.

All of this goes over the heads of the key parties to this donnybrook, who either find the drama a particularly entertaining day at the races (i.e., the kind who came to the rink for the brawls, not the game) or are morally deranged enough to find it edifying and just for Jeb Bush to repeatedly suffer the campaign equivalent of being stuffed into a locker. The mainstream press and #NRx alike don’t care enough about the civic sphere to tell shitheads to stop polluting it. This is an extremely degraded style of politics. The thought of, say, Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez squaring off like this is absurd. It’s barely imaginable. These guys haven’t even made public comments in poor taste about Bob Filner, and he’s low-hanging fruit. Instead they figure that it’s best to ignore the perv, unless he’s perving on you or yours.

Yes, Wow Much Mayors. For various reasons, this maturity doesn’t scale up nationally from Finest City. If you think Faulconer and Alvarez are failures of masculinity, you have your head up your ass. Real men don’t need to peacock like Trump does, except for the ones who do. Most of the rest of us have no use for them. They’re scourges. Sure, there are grown-ass men who consider it entertaining and morally upright to stuff weaklings into lockers and give them swirlies and otherwise abuse them, and there are probably some women among them, too, although not as many. We’re slaves to the sinful nature; that’s why. It’s another matter entirely for the attitudes of this coarse, ill-adjusted minority to be cultivated by major media and adopted as a core value by a political movement. At that point, things start feeling rather putschy.

It’s that old Springtime for Hitler feeling again. If any country’s due for it, it’s us. Sometimes it seems that this may not end well.

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