The Helplessness in Being Bullied

Bullying in our culture is a serious enemy, but with it we are fighting not just outsiders but ourselves. We may have quieted our more fervent emotions and dreams to conform to -- yes, often -- political correctness -- which does leave all of us vulnerable to imploding and in some form exploding in anger or righteousness.
08/10/2015 03:57 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2016

I am not a Republican, so I could indulge in making comedic remarks about the Donald Trump debacle/spectacle in the Republican presidential debate. Certainly I no longer feel I have an edge over any Italian who witnessed years of the reign of Silvio Berlusconi, who played clown, soccer owner/owner of media outlets and at times buffoon.

I could take a position of easy superiority, even hoping as many Democrats are doing, that he makes a bigger and bigger fool of himself and as such cancels the efficacy of a Republican bid for the White House. But alas, this scares me too much. I feel helpless, as much at the fact that Trump is clearly appealing to so many. And I feel a bit like a kid in a school bullying episode who is told by the principal to report the incident to my guidance counselor, while I and all the other kids know that the bully just got a bunch of points on the playground, and in terms of status.

Helplessness doesn't only come in the form of passivity. There is also a rush to fight back, to insult, to try to hit below the belt. But we're talking adrenalin now, like the prize fighter who takes a stance of begging for more attention and the more hysterical it is, the more pleasurable it seems to be. It's not that Donald Trump is the smartest of the candidates, of either party, but he knows how to play the bullying game, and he entices the maniacal energy of those people who may have well felt helpless while they adapted to what he is calling political correctness. Hurt people hurt people and people who have been bullied tend to bully other people. The cycle moves accordingly so there is ready energy to get back at those people who made us feel unimportant, weak, helpless and humiliated.

But right now, where do we put that energy of helplessness, those of us who would like to strike back or make a joke, while we can see that striking back will be a losing battle. A bully who inwardly is running on empty, loves the fight, because there is no empty space, no sense -- for Trump -- of his own immaturity, his own lack of dignity. He makes us feel that way, as bullies tend to do, making the other person feel frustrated beyond.

It does seem that we need to discuss the human climate that promotes the prizefighter stance, which promotes punching in the gut and face of any would be opponent. Is it the yearning for a good old-fashioned Western, our love no matter what for the Marlboro Man, for John Wayne? Is it trying for a John Wayne in a business suit, who is above the law?

Part of the problem is that in the heat of helplessness, we have a hard time stepping back and talking out loud with each other to get some perspective, and to gain some idea of potential strategies that might be helpful. It is hard for us to realize, at a time when Republicans want to sing hymns to the greatness of America at any cost, that a lot of our history has been laced with the cruelty of genocides, of slavery and of economic and social injustice. It is not as exciting, in a word, to step back from the melee and get sober.

The way I see it, bullying in our culture is a serious enemy, but with it we are fighting not just outsiders but ourselves. We may have quieted our more fervent emotions and dreams to conform to -- yes, often -- political correctness -- which does leave all of us vulnerable to imploding and in some form exploding in anger or righteousness.

What would it take to make thought and hesitation -- the time it takes to actually think even sometimes in public -- a sexier and generally a more attractive option than flinging insults? This is a real question, not a joke. And I find myself drifting to some image of what we consider attractive, and that person committing the suave and slow and steady and even fumbling act of daring to think, to make sense, to consider and to listen.

This historical background of rage, which has been coming to the fore within the realm of racism, more and more obviously, needs to be taken seriously as a context. For those of us who wanted Obama elected, it was with real regret that we heard Republicans swearing only to make his a one term presidency. It winds up that helplessness can be fueled and transformed into vendetta without much effort. The effort, then, would be in getting in touch, perhaps, with our own sadistic wishes, and insisting instead on the freedom to resist and to get together with people edging towards increasing sanity.

We have so many problems to solve: climate change, economic diversity, as well as creating a human climate that becomes a context where things are owned up to with an attempt at resolution. Beyond Trump, we have small organizations impeding our rights to information about what we eat, and how clean our air is, small groups of people making lots of money by distracting us away from an electoral system which is more and more dismissing voting as a true democratic freedom which involves educating ourselves in the process.

Trump is a distraction, away from the fact that we have insisted on fighting instead of resolving for way to long. Perhaps some of us want to ignore -- and how hard it is! -- the bullying game, and see if we can bring some bright, interesting, questioning, curious people together to see if we can have as much fun trying to be constructive. Okay, with some poking fun allowed. Jon Stewart, can you hold a meeting for a start? I know you're busy, but still...