This Is How You Respond to a Bully

Yesterday, I suggested that Donald Trump’s decision to remove former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance was nothing but an attempt to silence his critics with the classic technique of a bully. I also said that it wouldn’t work.

Who better to demonstrate the perfect response to a bully than the Navy admiral who oversaw the 2011 SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. His name is William H. McRaven and he penned an open letter to the president, which was published in the Washington Post.

Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him.

Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

Notice that McRaven wrote that he would “consider it an honor” to have his security clearance revoked. I doubt very much that Trump will respond because the admiral has just removed any semblance of threat from the possibility. The president needs his bullying to provoke either a fearful response or a tit-for-tat word battle. McRaven didn’t leave the door open to either one. He did, however, have some other choice words for the president when he wrote that Trump has “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, I noted that, while Trump tweeted response attacks during the speeches of Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, he had nothing but nice things to say about Michelle Obama’s.

It’s not as if Michelle Obama didn’t challenge Trump during her speech this week. It’s true that she never uttered his name. But she took direct aim at his behavior and character. And everyone who listened to her knew exactly who she was talking about.

So the question becomes, why is Michelle Obama the one person who throws Trump off his game? I’m not sure I can satisfactorily answer that. But what strikes me is that she doesn’t engage on his level. As she said Monday night, her motto is “when they go low, we go high.”

There are those who misunderstand what Michelle Obama was saying and think that “going high” means not fighting back. Anyone who came to that conclusion should go back and listen to her convention speech. As I wrote then, she took direct aim at Trump’s behavior and character, but she was absolutely fearless and didn’t sink to his guttural level. Men like Trump honestly don’t know how to deal with that—especially when it comes from a woman.

If I had a security clearance, I’d join McRaven in telling him that I would consider it an honor if he revoked mine, too. That is precisely how you respond to a bully and demonstrate to the world just how weak he really is.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.