The Democratic Party is struggling mightily to figure out how to confront President Trump’s staggering corruption. More and more of its members of Congress are getting behind the idea of an impeachment inquiry, but the party leadership is (somewhat mysteriously) trying desperately to avoid the issue. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has deployed one excuse after the next, most recently the absolutely preposterous theory that Trump is plotting to get himself impeached as part of a Snidely Whiplash-esque scheme. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has less power but greater freedom, is all but absent from the entire discussion.
Here’s a suggestion: Democrats need to remember how playground bullying works. Trump is an enormous crook, yes, but he is also an overgrown petulant child. To fight him, Democrats should imagine him as a spoiled, lazy, entitled, none-too-bright 9-year-old who likes to kick puppies and kittens.
The first rule of bullies is that they are drawn to perceived weakness. No bully wants to try to pick on someone bigger and stronger than they are — they want to terrorize weak and helpless people who won’t fight back. The point is the psychological satisfaction of easy domination, not brawling for its own sake. Indeed, most bullies are not actually very good at fighting, and will fold immediately if faced with a real physical confrontation.
This fits Trump’s record to a T. He talks big, but runs from a fight. He boasts about his physical prowess, but he’s an overweight, dainty slob who cheats at golf and can barely walk down stairs. He’s routinely ripped off small and helpless suppliers in his real estate projects, but quickly folded when presented with a powerful adversary, like a big bank or the mafia. The Mueller report details that when the investigation was announced, Trump whined, “Oh my god. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f–ked.”
But when it turned out Democrats were too scared of their own shadow to actually pursue the impeachment inquiry that Mueller teed up for them (in addition to Trump’s unprecedented and wildly unconstitutional profiteering off the presidency), Trump’s bully instincts surged right back. He sensed, correctly, that he could continue to push around Democrats — and so instructed his subordinates to disobey congressional subpoenas, told his treasury secretary to keep his tax returns secret, and submitted lawsuits arguing Congress has no right to investigate anything he does.
The lesson here is that timidity and handwringing only encourages Trump. If they don’t confront him with tactics just as aggressive as the ones he uses, he will conclude they are cowards who can be cowed easily. Now, attacking on all fronts might not stop Trump from trying to break the law — even a fearful bully can fight when cornered — but it’s a bare minimum requirement at least.
The second rule of bullies is that they are insecure. They often harm others to soothe their sense of inadequacy, like the potential police officer “whose paranoia and inferiority complex constantly haunt him, leading him to lash out at others in order to convince them he is in control.” Trump is one of the most spoiled people who has ever lived — a man whose every whim was indulged by his real estate tycoon father, who gave Trump hundreds of millions of dollars tax-free and constantly bailed out his failed real estate projects. When the wolves were finally at the door in the early 2000s, Trump was rescued once again by NBC to create The Apprentice. This divergence between self-image and constant failure no doubt breeds an ocean of insecurity.
As Deadspin’s David J. Roth writes, Trump’s “one deeply held belief that has been evident throughout his whole faithless disgrace of a life is people should be talking about Donald Trump more, on television, and he has just about seen that part through.” He’s so narcissistic and needy it would be pathetic, if it weren’t for the gruesome consequences of his holding power.
Trump is not some evil genius masterminding the overthrow of American democracy. As Albert Burneko writes, “he is a soft, breathless, foam-boned inheritance baby with a brain like a wet saltine cracker, because he has been crippled and made monstrous by money and endless permission and therefore cannot conceive of there being any truth or morality beyond what he wants right now[.]” He did not plan to win the presidency, and still has no idea what to do with it or even how it works.
But on the other hand, insecure bullies are pretty easy to bait into foot-stamping tantrums — especially if you drill into their sources of self-worth, which in Trump’s case would be his business record. Impeachment hearings would of necessity have to focus on his financial records, which would no doubt find a lot of appalling mismanagement and fraud.
At any rate, I’d guess there is almost no chance that the Democratic leadership will listen to any of this. They give every indication of actually being the cowards Trump thinks they are. They are enormously privileged themselves, and such people are often bewildered by outright personal confrontation (as opposed to traditional rich people passive-aggression or gossiping behind people’s backs). And that’s when they aren’t taking the opportunity to sneak through legislation their big donor supporters want, like a bizarre bill from Pelosi that would allow Trump to claim he is cutting drug prices but achieve little.
If Democrats actually want to protect American democracy from Trump, they’re going to have to remember how to throw a punch.
Read more: theweek.com