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The Bully

Frank Freeman writes: They have outlawed bullying in schools in Maine, but unfortunately have not outlawed them running for president. And so the dread I used to periodically feel walking to or from school at various times in my childhood has now become a sort of generalised dread saturating my emotional life. I have not been able to watch any of the televised presidential debates because I cannot stomach listening to a man unable to talk, even sporadically, in complete sentences, but I have become embroiled in a love-hate relationship with Twitter and if I spend too much time on it, I feel the dread of the bully.

I was never very good at handling them. My father told me to fight back and they would leave you alone, but I dreaded being punched myself (though I would wrestle anybody). Usually they would wait for you after school; they liked to catch you alone. They could pick you out a mile away because you were an introspective loner who liked to read a lot. They threw eraser-weighted needles at you in class, got you to laugh so you thought they liked you then told you to bend over and kicked you hard in the ass making you blind with tears, hating them but knowing they were bigger than you. One was named Jimmy Mack, a little guy, who said, “You’re ugly” as I walked by ‑ I had heard about him and tried to steer clear of him ‑ and I said, “I didn’t ask your opinion”, and then he threw rocks at me. That was a small triumph because I kept walking at the same pace and let the rocks fall where they would.

And so I find myself wanting to use words again to dispel the dread of the bully in the midst of our national life. He rips people off, he makes fun of handicapped people, he incites violence, he bewails disloyalty when he has never shown much of it to anyone except himself. It’s amazing how you can take what he accuses others of and turn it back on him. Now it turns out he is a serial abuser of women. I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive the Republican Party, of which I used to be a devoted member, for having nominated such a man.

It’s not that I have never been cruel myself, been a bully myself, in a sneaky underhanded way. But I have not made it a lifestyle or my modus operandi. And I have been guilty of watching bullies at work and keeping quiet. Once at a Little League baseball game in Amarillo, Texas, I sat and watched in silence a woman berate a teenager dressed in punk fashion, using incredibly abusive language, and I said nothing because I did not want her to turn the foul stream on me. That hatred was visceral and you can feel the same visceral hatred, I’ve read, in crowds attending the bully’s rallies.

And yet a part of me understands the anger of these crowds. They are people who are tired of the media telling them, with a smirk, that they are stupid bigots for going to church and thinking abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong. Tired of having no manufacturing jobs that have disappeared overseas because of free trade. Tired of being the only group, especially the ones in the South, that can be made fun of with impunity. Yes, they are prejudiced and often narrow-minded but if your car broke down, even if you were a person of colour, most of them would help you out.

My paternal grandfather, if he were alive, I’m sure would vote for the bully. Grandpa was a redneck welder, a union member, but he hated ... I could insert here a list of terms he called people but would rather not. And yet he was my Grandpa and I loved him; he fed me sardines and animal crackers and took me fishing. Looking back, I think behind all his anger was fear. So, what I’m saying is hatred of the people who follow the bully is not the answer; telling them they’re stupid and bigots is not the answer.

Behind the violence of the bully is fear too. But I don’t feel sorry for him. I get on Twitter and read about him and then, eventually, I have to get off Twitter to keep my sanity, to let go of the dread of what he would do to my country and the world if he were to become president. The best thing I have read about the bully never mentions him; it is a review by Michiko Kakutani of the first volume of a biography of Hitler.

Another relevant work is a book by René Girard entitled I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, which describes how societies at times of great distress seek a scapegoat. That desire for the scapegoat, Girard writes, is Satan. The bully has a convenient scapegoat in Muslim immigrants. I can only pray that he falls from our national life like lightning.

3/5/2016