Beginning on the campaign, and continuing now, Trump, his surrogates, and now his administration are testing us to see how far they can push us. “In The Art of the Deal, Trump says “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.” (source: The Atlantic). Once they encounter resistance they test to see how easily they can undermine it with tactics such as scapegoating and vilification, intimidation, lying, intentional misunderstanding, and generating confusion.
If that sounds familiar it’s because you’ve experienced it before, in middle school. Trump is bullying us. Trump, about as credibly as President Nixon, declared “I am not a bully” and USA today published a ludicrous piece quoting psychologists claiming Trump was not a bully because “bullying does not happen when you have two equals in a fight”. Ironically their analysis referred to examples when Trump was using a new level of open bigotry, racism and sexism (in other words, greater power through prejudice) to attack his workers, journalists and his female opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In typical out of context reporting, nothing is included about Trump’s lifetime of chronic abuse of power such as refusing to pay small businesses, bragging about touching women against their will, sexually harassing women, harassing women about their weight or appearance, and routinely suing or countersuing people who attempt to stand up to him.
In contrast Time Magazine published, Meet the Men Who Taught Donald Trump How to Bully, which highlights his mentors including Roy Cohn, the right hand man to Joe McCarthy. Trump’s modus operandi is summarized as: “Divide the world into winners and losers, and pour scorn on the latter. Sow doubt, stir outrage, fabricate conspiracies and cause national havoc if it leads to personal, political or commercial gain.”
To fail Trump’s test and usher in a new era of unDemocratic governance by and for the wealthy, white nationalists and Christian extremists, simply do nothing. Or urge your friends to “wait and see”. Be a bystander — and you’ll see, just like in middle school, the bully will keep pushing and pushing until he is stopped for good. When a bully is resisted, he often retaliates and/or finds another way to exert power. Especially so when those with authority to stop him fail to adequately restrain him, are not present — or are looking the other way.
In the new Trumpian normal and in light of GOP Undivided Government, neutrality is like putting your car in neutral — it will go wherever force pushes it.
There are many ways to pass this test, none of which were included in the curriculum of Trump University.
- Exercise your rights regularly. “Witness the growing number of countries where the right to free assembly exists on paper but not in practice.” says Masha Gessen in her essay Why We Must Protest on Lithub, “…exercise all rights regularly, but especially when they are threatened. Now, when the President continues his pattern of attacking media and curtailing access — and has criticized peaceful and legal protest as somehow illegitimate, is such a time.”
- Don’t believe the hype. A key part of bullying is defining how people understand or respond to a situation. A bully uses intimidation and unpredictability to scare people into doing what s/he wants or into looking the other way. Bullies often “gaslight” their victims, a phrase made popular by the 1944 MGM film Gaslight directed by George Cukor. “To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country….As a candidate, Trump’s gas lighting was manipulative, as President-elect it is a deliberate attempt to destabilize journalism as a check on the power of government.” argues Donald Trump is Gaslighting America in Teen Vogue. That is bullying writ large. The linguist George Lakoff writes extensively on Trump’s communications techniques, and his “Taxonomy of Trump Tweets” is instructive.
- Resist Propaganda and Model Nuanced Views. In response we must maintain our own nuanced worldview, a coherent narrative that explains why things are happening. It is critical to use diverse reliable sources of information to resist manipulation. Strategies can include: 1. Cross-checking stories through multiple credible outlets 2. Following outlets to see if they are reliable over time. 3. Learning about the background, biases (everyone has them) and potential conflicts of interest of the outlets and writers you follow. Then use what you know about the author’s experience and values to better understand what’s written.
- Be visible to embolden others. With the rise of social media, peer pressure is stronger than ever, and social media can rapidly propagate and shift norms. For example, the internet and social media have provided opportunities for alternative communities, both good and bad to become much more visible and influential. Social media was key to both the Sanders and Trump campaigns rallying the public further to the left and right than was previously part of the social discourse. When everyone is shouting the same thing on social media it may be a coordinated campaign or an effort to intimidate people with different views rather than an authentic upwelling of passion on the issue. Practice articulating nuanced views and calling out things that are wrong while still engaging those that disagree with respect. In this way we can model appropriate behavior, expose inappropriate behavior to observers, and foster a more intelligent and inclusive culture.
- Call Trump’s (and his surrogates’) bluff. In Poker the winner is often the best at bluffing or poker face. The same is often true in business. We must loudly and frequently provide evidence of his lies and betrayals and refuse to be fooled or intimidated. Given his repetitive, perhaps compulsive and strategic lying, we should assume he is lying, spinning or trying to manipulate us in all his communications.
- Call it when you see it, regardless of where. Bullies thrive when they can attack and belittle people with impunity, even their own friends. By kicking Chris Christie and Mitt Romney to the curb, Trump is letting us know that no one is safe from his ruthlessness and that once you cross him you can’t come back.
- Track and speak out about the big picture. Trump frequently distracts from one issue or evades scrutiny on another by tweeting or saying something outrageous. We have to keep our eyes on the pattern rather than just the parts. If we track positions over time and on all the issues, we won’t get fooled by something that sounds reasonable on the surface, and we can anticipate their next moves.
- Acknowledge the GOP has gone off the rails: When we look at the big picture we can see that despite tensions Republicans in Congress are either enthusiastic about the new and proposed policies or willing to accept attacks on our Constitutional rights and freedoms in order to get what they want. We have to face that the shared GOP endgame is complete control of the courts and to eliminate or privatize most of the government (including but not limited to public education, limits on pollution, safety regulations, oversight of police actions, protection of voting rights, science and fact-based decision-making and much more.) Republicans are closing in on the ability to make changes to the Constitution unilaterally. Therefore even if we successfully impeach Trump, we will be facing Pence who is just as committed to inequality and unConstitutional ideas and much more commited to Christian supremacy. Then there is Paul Ryan and the Tea Party who laid the groundwork for this extremism, and the rest of the GOP which is either enthusiastic or enabling it. This is not to let the Democratic Party off the hook but the extremism of the GOP is at another level.
- Don’t be afraid of the truth. Kudos to everyone who is speaking out about how fascism takes hold, who is calling lies lies, and who is speaking up about voter suppression, gerrymandering, unfair and unlimited campaign contributions and contributor influence on politics, Voter ID laws, Russian manipulation, and the unfairness of the Electoral College, which have imposed the will of Trump, Pence and GOP extremists on the significant and growing majority of this country. Extremism thrives when we are afraid to speak out or when we simply can’t overcome the cognitive dissonance to see what is happening in the same way we would if it were happening in another Democracy or at another time in history.
- Multiply your power. In contrast to his campaign promises, through his administration picks and policy plans, Trump has demonstrated that he will rule by and for the wealthiest and most powerful interests in the US and the world for the benefit of himself and his family. Part of how he, his cronies, and his trolls will win is by intimidating us as individuals. Which is why we must band together and coordinate our efforts with hundreds and thousands of others. Here are some ways you can do that: 1. Identify and join national advocacy groups and resistance groups you agree with and support them by making calls, with donations and/or with volunteer time. For example, 5Calls, Daily Action, Moveon to name just a few (please add your suggestions in the comments) 2. Create a rapid response team that makes calls and plans visits to Congressional, state and local representatives. 3. Connect with your neighbors and organizations on the local level to stand up to attacks on community institutions and individuals. Be prepared to peacefully resist government-led attacks on immigrants, Muslims and others. 4. Post on social media using trending hashtags.
The Trump administration knows that with GOP extremists in control of Congress, it will be very difficult for Democrats, Progressives, traditional Conservatives and all others who disagree to resist. They hope we will become demoralized and cynical and fail to fight. Or better yet, blame each other. People in power exploit the natural subconscious impulse to fight someone you feel you can beat. That is why scapegoating is so effective. We must constantly ask ourselves — “who has the power to cause these problems?” — and direct our energy accordingly.
We can win. Throughout history, most social movements have labored with little or no representation or champion in government. Nevertheless women, African-Americans, LGBTs and others were able to secure rights based on protest, advocacy, lobbying, boycotts, and communications efforts that shifted public opinions. We should remember that Martin Luther King was controversial in his own time as Black Lives Matter and 350 are today. The difficulty of the tasks ahead may yield innovative and effective approaches and reclaim past effective strategies.
As my good friend Brian says, “Be brave and courageous. Democracy has been easy for decades and people have become complacent. It is time to stand up, earn your freedom and own your democracy!”
For more of my blogs and opinions please follow me on Medium and Twitter. This piece represents my own opinion and does not reflect the views or policies of organizations for which I play an official role.
Bio: Hannah Doress is Vice President of The Breaking News Network, curating the best media and blog news feeds in 400 cities, integrating under-reported local, regional and national stories and managing social good campaigns for an aggregate 1,200,000+ local followers on social media. She is Producer / Director of BETA stage Climate News Network for BNN. As the Principal of Hannah Doress Events, she develops and produces events and campaigns for social and environmental progress. Learn more about Hannah Doress via LinkedIn.