Whether you support him or think that he is unfit for office, no one will dispute that Donald Trump is a bully. Over the course of this election, Josh Marshall has honed in on this.
Trump lives in a psychic economy of aggression and domination. There are dominators and the dominated. No in between. Every attack he receives, every ego injury must be answered, rebalanced with some new aggression to reassert dominance. These efforts are often wildly self-destructive.
Over the course of the Republican primary we watched a whole series of men fail in response to Trump’s bullying. That is because, for the most part, they attempted to play this game on his turf. When Trump used aggression to dominate, they tried to up the ante on him. But after years of this as a way of life, Trump excels at being a bully. Candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio simply emasculated themselves in their attempts to don the bully persona and even a well-known aggressor like Chris Christie couldn’t outshine Trump on his own turf.
Perhaps that is why, during the general election, it has been up to women to show us how to deal with a bully like Trump. His opponent in this race, Hillary Clinton, has been an expert in showing how that’s done. Meeting a bully face-to-face in something like a debate is the most obvious challenge. In the three times we watched Clinton do that, she never took the bait to sink to his level. Most notably, she did that in the 2nd debate that was in the town hall format. Trump tried to intimidate her, not only with words, but with his physical presence. He literally stalked her around the stage. She never flinched. Instead, here is how Michael Cohen described her performance:
And yet, somehow, Hillary Clinton maintained her composure. She didn’t get angry; she didn’t get petulant; she didn’t give Trump a richly deserved slap in the face. Amazingly, she answered all the questions posed to her with a combination of wonkiness, empathy, and grace. She largely ignored Trump’s constant lies and somehow stuck to her game plan of not engaging with his bullying. Lost in the coverage of Trump’s crudeness, ignorance, and classless behavior, was Clinton’s debate performance — one of the most extraordinary in modern political history.
As a result, Clinton’s standing in the polls soared. In other words, she showed the American public how a responsible adult responds to bullying. THAT is presidential.
Over the course of this election I have become a huge fan of Samantha Bee. She is the second woman who has shown us how to deal with a bully like Trump…with humor. Many of her segments stand out – like this one after the third debate where the topic was abortion. But this week she also took on Trump and the alt-right.
Commenting on the way that humor works is the fastest way to make it unfunny. Suffice it to say that Samantha has helped us all maintain our sanity by exposing the insanity and making fun of it.
But of course the woman who surprised a lot of people with her extremely effective response to Donald Trump has been First Lady Michelle Obama. She laid out her approach in her speech at the DNC.
That is what Barack and I think about every day as we try to guide and protect our girls through the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight — how we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel, or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level -– no, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.
But it was in her speech in New Hampshire after the release of the Access Hollywood tapes of Trump bragging about his ability to commit sexual assault that she showed us how that’s done. First of all, she allowed us to expose the vulnerability of how someone like Donald Trump is hurtful. That takes courage! Then she donned her “mom pants” and scolded the man she refuses to name. Her basic message was, “come on America, you can do better.” And then she tapped into our aspirations about HOW to be better.
Because let’s be very clear: Strong men — men who are truly role models — don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together. And that is what we need in our next President. We need someone who is a uniting force in this country. We need someone who will heal the wounds that divide us, someone who truly cares about us and our children, someone with strength and compassion to lead this country forward.
There are times when the feminist approach to patriarchy is to try to be more like men. And then, there are times when women show us how to do it better. That is what Hillary Clinton, Samantha Bee and Michelle Obama have done for us in this election where patriarchy is literally on the ballot.