While we instruct our kids to intercede when they see bullying, we ourselves fear bullies. Donald Trump's success with even the best of the media corps making preposterous claims against President Obama shows just how well bullying works.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 28, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Bullying Works: Why People Cower Before Donald Trump
We expect kids to stand up to bullies at school - they don't. Why should they? We're afraid of bullies. Even media people are, especially when they face off against super bullies like Donald Trump.
On March 7 NBC's Kate Snow produced a show for "Dateline" titled "My Kid Would Never Bully" involving students, hidden cameras, and actors playing bullies and victims. The teens were told they were participating in a fashion (girls) or athletic (boys) exercise, while the cool-kid actors bullied the vulnerable-kid actors.
Oh, and the parents of the kids watched the proceedings with Snow. All of the parents thought that their kids wouldn't allow any bullying, because the parents had admonished their kids not to permit it.
That didn't happen. Virtually none of the kids stood up against the bullies. Just like us!
Donald Trump has been making the media rounds in his supposed warm-up for a run for president. His interviews are keynoted by vague claims against President Obama from unnamed sources. When journalists ask Trump to back his claims up, he aggressively interrupts them - "Excuse me" - and makes additional unfounded claims or says he'll be producing evidence down the road.
And if you really stand up to Trump, he cuts you to the heart viciously, repeatedly, incessantly - just ask Rosie O'Donnell.
For weeks, Trump has said that he had investigators looking into Obama's birthplace, and that he was finding remarkable discrepancies - none of which he produced (other than warmed over accusations previously made against the president). To top it off, Trump regularly claimed that Obama was spending millions to avoid showing his birth certificate. No journalist ever pinned Trump down about who exactly he had investigating, what they were doing, anything they had found, or how exactly Obama had spent millions to suppress this information.
And so Trump repeated these claims with impunity, without fear of contradiction. Sure enough, just prior to President Obama's taking the steps to produce his full birth certificate (which Hawaii ordinarily refuses to release), speaking to CNN's Anderson Cooper, Trump declared he had discovered there was no such document!
"Well I've been told very recently, Anderson, that the birth certificate is missing. I've been told that it's not there or it doesn't exist. And if that's the case it's a big problem."
Who told him? Where's the evidence? You would think making such a bald claim against the president of the United States on a national broadcast would demand some scrutiny and counterpoint. But it seems that the American press corps isn't up to that challenge.
Typically, when the president finally troubled to produce his long-form birth certificate, in an orgy of self-congratulation (Chris Matthews counted ten separate chest-pounding boasts), Trump claimed the credit:
"Today I am very proud of myself because I have accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish."
And who had the fortitude to gainsay this preposterous claim? Meanwhile, Trump has also been claiming that "I heard [Obama] was a terrible student, terrible" (not just one "terrible" -- two). Then he rhetorically asks, "How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" What would you guess is the correct answer, dear reader?
Trump offered no proof of his claims in this area either, but said he was -- sure enough -- investigating the matter. Right after Obama's birth certificate press conference, a reporter asked who had told him Obama was a bad student -- and Trump, displaying his usual chutzpah, said he had heard this from some reporters in the group facing him. No one asked Trump to name one!
Do you remember tail-gunner Joe McCarthy, the rabid anti-communist Senator from Wisconsin who would paw supposed lists of traitors and communists he had uncovered, insinuating that anyone who opposed him might be on this list? Exactly like Trump, McCarthy never actually cited his sources or evidence. Eventually, Edward R. Murrow and a few others (including, finally, President Dwight D. Eisenhower) stood up to McCarthy, and he crashed and burned. McCarthy was censured by the Senate and died of alcoholism at age 48.
Most people are too unsure of themselves and worried about their own status to take on the likes of Trump and McCarthy. Finally, sometimes, a well-positioned individual -- whether it be a teen or a public figure -- will confront the bully. Remember, however, that even Murrow and Eisenhower -- the most powerful newscaster and the most powerful politican in the country -- waited until McCarthy was wounded to strike.
You see, bullying works.