Donald Trump as the schoolyard bully

(Winston-Salem, NC) Recent events involving The Donald strike me as powerfully reminiscent of an unpleasant schoolyard. Wanting to be popular and the leader of the cool clique, he picks on the most marginal group–in real life, Mexican immigrants. The other would-be leaders don’t necessarily like his bullying, and they worry that everyone may get in trouble for it, but they see that the abuse is popular among the bystanders, so they keep their objections to a low mutter. As for the bystanders, they are looking for a bad boy who will make trouble for the teachers and the school. Plus a lot of them dislike the marginal kids in the first place, or they want to differentiate themselves from them.

Then the bully, who is stupid as well as mean, makes a mistake. Instead of just picking on the weakest kids in the schoolyard, he says something utterly offensive about one of the cool kids. In real life, The Donald insults a Republican senator, war hero, former presidential nominee of the party, and son of an admiral. Now all the other would-be alpha dogs see an opening. This is not cool. They can criticize him. And once the mood has shifted, they can start throwing all kinds of other objections at the bully. They still won’t say anything in defense of the weak and the marginalized, but they can start questioning the bully’s claims to be cool. In a schoolyard, they would ridicule his clothing or musical tastes. In real life, they can all start saying that Trump isn’t a conservative because he has been pro-choice, has donated to the Clintons, etc. And whoever does the best job taking down the bully has the best chance of replacing him. That is the phase that has now begun.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.