The hazards of bullies

RICHMOND >> Quite a long time ago, we were invited to sit around a big table at a Pittsfield public school and listen to teachers, counselors and school administrators talk about bullying and what they were doing to stop it. That was in the era and age group where physically big kids shoved smaller ones around and quick-witted, sarcastic kids abused their peers with verbal insults. Bloody noses and/or tears were often involved.

Two things at that session were particularly impressive. One was the pile of books the kids were encouraged to read, most of them with subtle messages against bullying and some more preachy in their approach. The humorous one starred a boy who couldn’t say his R’s, so he was ridiculed for calling a rabbit a “wabbit,” for instance. His classmates, predictably, thought of one way after another to get him to answer with one of the treacherous R words. And then they laughed.

The other impressive thing was a real boy, invited out of his classroom to join the anti-bully committee. He was chunky, probably outweighed many of his peers, and was proud to inform the visitors that he was an ex-bully. After some years of plaguing weaker kids, he was an eager reformer and provided the adults present with his own expert perspective.

Since that time, we’ve evolved into cyber abuse, although the playground level of bullying no doubt continues. Like it or not, kids pick on each other, shun each other, form cliques that consider themselves the “in” group, sometimes punch each other. As humans, we seem from an early age to grab at power by threatening the weak, and now kids can do it electronically and often anonymously.
Bullies often grow up uncured and still anxious to prove they have power over someone or a lot of someones. They are common in the workplace, where more than one employee has learned it’s better to go along with a bullying boss than to lose the job entirely and possibly simpler to walk past the abuse of a peer than to fight it.

It’s interesting to wonder whether Donald Trump was a bully as a child or one of the bullied. Did he make other kids cower or was he one of the bloody noses? In any case, he’s a bully now, an adult who must constantly talk about win, win, win and also me, me, me, while he takes advantage of his candidacy to heap insults on all kinds of people. Division, race, hate and fear simmer in his wake — and always have the potential to boil over.

It’s also interesting to wonder what the bullying histories of his avid followers might be. Many of his 35 percent are supposedly angry, left out, tired of their world, perhaps, in an adult way, bullied by their very lot in life. Oddly, they have chosen to salute a billionaire who has achieved a monetary success that, deep down, they must envy.

This is certainly not the first (nor the last) time that mean, nasty, possibly true, possibly false abuse has been spouted by candidates for public office. But it’s certainly the most offensive on a national level in our lifetimes, and any acceptance of this crude, rude approach to government is alarming.

It’s not nearly as scary, however, as Donald Trump’s failure to give direct answers to questions, his habit of answering a question that wasn’t asked instead of the one he won’t face and his inability, apparently, to think on his feet. Perhaps he’s quicker when he’s “making a deal.”