How do you solve a problem like Donald Trump?

Donald Trump has us just where he wants us: by the scrotum. Trump’s faults are many, but he does have some assets. He knows how to get attention and keep it on himself. He’s leading a three-ring circus and like it or not we are all dancing to his tune. Trump pervades our thoughts from morning until night, and often haunts our dreams too.

Which to my mind raises the larger question: how do we get out of this dance? The presidency is a unique office in that its occupant cannot help but make news every day. For an egomaniac like Trump, it’s the perfect position. Even so the default attention that comes with being president is obviously not quite enough for him. Which is why our carnival barker-in-chief always keeps a half dozen issues in reserve certain to inflame his enemies and cheer his supporters.

It’s abundantly clear that he is a compulsive liar but to somewhere between 40 and 44 percent of Americans that approve of him at the moment it’s apparently not an issue. Or perhaps it’s not enough of an issue to stop supporting him. If you are looking for entertainment, Trump certainly delivers a nonstop show. To his supporters it is mesmerizing; to the rest of us it leaves us queasy, feeling unmoored and sick. The USA we thought we knew that at least aimed toward fairness and justice seems to be gone. What’s left is the ugliest seam of America: forces long largely kept bottled up, with a president who loves to flout all rules and conventions.

If the entertainment is good enough, it’s hard to be aware that your pocket is being picked while it’s happening. With the exception of Trump’s richest supporters, the rest of us are getting shafted. He is pretty much doing exactly the opposite of the things he said he would do during the campaign. One small example: he was going to deliver us the best and most affordable health care ever. Instead, he constantly works to undermine the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid leading to millions more uninsured and higher premiums for those of us still ensured. He does this while whipping up a “Celebration of America” event because the Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, apparently didn’t want to visit him in the White House. It’s so much easier to watch these theatrics than to notice our financial mooring slip from under our feet.

While there have been populist presidents before, Trump is clearly is a category we have never seen before: contemptuous of the rule of law, openly racist with every action designed to feed his insatiable ego. How do we break his spell?

Usually elections are pretty effective. We’ll see what happens in November, but Trump’s slowly rising poll numbers suggests he has plenty more tricks in his bag as the election nears. He’s operating intuitively, convinced that by ever more inflaming his base he’ll also bring them to the polls to counteract an expected Democratic wave. So it’s not hard to predict he’ll get wilder, crazier and wilier as November approaches.

I have two thoughts on how to break the Trump spell that are sort of opposite of each other for your consideration.

Stand up to the bully

The one thing you can count on with Trump is his insatiable ego. It’s quite possible that Democrats can use his ego can be used to walk him right off a cliff. There is plenty of evidence so far that ultimately this approach won’t work because Trump is intuitively one step ahead of everyone else. I’ve written about standing up to bullies before, and Trump is the perfect example. Bullies draw energy from a crowd of bullies surrounding them, and Trump seems to have a limitless supply of these. Democrats need just the right person to engage Trump. It’s hard to know exactly who this person would be, but the key is for Trump to be challenged and ultimately to lose face in the eyes of his supporters.

Ideally it would be a woman, which is why my senator Elizabeth Warren comes to mind. She’s already been quite eloquent speaking against Trump but for the most part Trump has ignored her. But she could challenge him to a town hall debate. CNN is doing more of these. Some months ago it held one between Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz and it sure was interesting to watch. Warren takes no prisoners and is exceptionally eloquent. There is one way almost guaranteed to get him to show up: repeatedly say he’s too chicken to show up. I’m quite confident that in front of a national audience she could cut him down to size.

An even better confrontation would be a physical one. A prominent Democrat could challenge him to a wrestling or boxing match. According to Trump’s physician, he’s exceptionally healthy and has the body of a man half his age (cough cough). If he has to go up against a peer, perhaps former Vice President Joe Biden would do.

Ignore him and concentrate on pocketbook issues

This is probably what most smart Democrats will do instead. Trump is a self-activating egomaniac. If he cannot be controlled, then the next best thing is simply to ignore him. Egomaniacs feed on attention, so why give him any more? Most likely the only way he can get gotten rid of is through the ballot box, that is if we can keep our elections free enough to elect more Democrats.

By ignoring him and concentrating on pocketbook issues instead, Democrats can gain the political power needed to control the policy agenda again. This is done through winning back not just Congress but statehouses and governorships. National elections happen only every four years anyhow. Democrats need to point out how our standard of living is being systematically lowered except for the wealthiest. They need to promise to take pragmatic steps to address these concerns if given the power of holding office again. It’s unlikely that Trump’s approval rating will ever above the low 40s anyhow. If Trump must be addressed, simply run on “ending Republican corruption” and putting the American people first.

Anyhow those are my ideas. I’m open to better ones if you have any.

2016 Presidential Debate #1

I won’t lie and claim I wasn’t nervous about yesterday’s first presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Perhaps on some level I believed that Trump could pull a Houdini act: act reasonably, look professional and presidential, and sound informed. Granted that it had never happened before but in the pit of my stomach was this fear that even calmly examining the facts could not assuage.

Why was I so nervous? Because of the stakes. This election has no parallel that I can think of in American politics. Trump’s election would likely be catastrophic for the country due to his constant lies, frequently shifting positions, stunning ignorance on global and national affairs and his infamous temperament. This is a man who when he got a national security briefing about our nuclear weapons wanted to know whey we didn’t use them proactively. This should make any sane person start to sweat, and it certainly made me sweat. Not being the praying sort, I confess I briefly prayed for Hillary to find a way to decisively trounce Trump. It’s not necessarily that our country deserves this gift of grace from the Almighty. The United States is long overdue for a cosmic kick in the ass, and Trump seemed the ideal vehicle to get it.

So I fiddled with a toy during the debate, willing to hear it but finding it hard to watch it. I needed distraction. However it quickly became clear to me that my worries were specious. By the time it was over I had chilled and found myself grinning as Hillary Clinton deftly and expertly pressed all of Donald Trump’s buttons, leading to his self implosion.

Does this mean the debate changed the shape of the election? No. As I noted in my last post, the dynamics of this election are baked into our polarized country. I do expect Clinton to win, hope for a landslide, but expect it will be a win by a few percentage points. If there is one vanishing species in our country, it’s the undecided voter. While there are plenty of erstwhile independents, in fact most of them usually vote for the same party. Our states have naturally polarized over these last few decades between the “me” (red) states and the “we” (blue) states. Demographics favor “we” states in national elections, providing Democrats come out to vote.

It turned out that Hillary’s decades of being reviled provided her with plenty of experience to neuter and frustrate Donald Trump. This is not exactly unfamiliar territory for Hillary so she has learned how to turn it to her advantage. It meant smiling confidently while continuously pushing Trump’s buttons. This predictably allowed Trump to showcase his worst side, and it got worse as the debate progressed due to all the friendly fire. In most of the attacks, Trump joined in digging himself into a deeper hole. For example, he alluded that he really hadn’t paid much in the way of income taxes, as if this was a good thing.

Hillary pointed to numerous positions that Trump repeatedly pointlessly denied. Even his supporters didn’t believe him; they knew him too well and certainly didn’t care. Her attacks on his character were deftly done, but none more so than calling him on his misogyny and fat shaming of women, made more hilarious because Trump is obese. Trump being Trump doubled down on this again today, simply proving Hillary’s point.

It was pretty much a perfect strike for Hillary, with at best a wayward pin wobbling for a bit before eventually tumbling. It changed few minds, but it certainly cemented opinions about Trump. Those who were wavering on voting for Trump had no grounds to now support him. Moreover, Hillary rallied her own base, particularly women who are strongly behind her. Since this is a turnout election, she gave tepid Trump supporters plenty of reasons to stay home instead of vote, and plenty of red meat for Democrats to vote come hell or high water.

The funniest thing is that Trump, the master bully, really didn’t understand that he had been masterfully played. Bullies suffer from cognitive dissonance. Those of you that have read my 2012 essay on political bullying will see that Clinton followed the playbook for dealing with them. Bullies can’t be silenced but their forces can be redirected in counterproductive ways that can cause them to trip over their own feet. That is what Clinton accomplished last night: showing that this would be emperor had no clothes and that he was incoherent at best and dangerous at worst. Her smiling showed that nothing he could say would stick. Her unwillingness to respond to every interruption he caused showed she was civilized and statesmanlike.

So maybe my prayer was answered but more likely I was simply too nervous. The lies, misstatements and sheer incoherence of Trump’s statements were breathtaking. Much of it made no sense whatsoever, and even his claims changed within the same sentences. Hillary raised the red flag, let the bully act true to form and he fell into the lion’s den.

Let’s hope she can keep this up for the next two debates. Perhaps Trump will learn from his mistakes, but for someone who admits to no mistakes it’s likely his personal carnage will continue in the next debates. Stay tuned.

Trump is toast

The air has been letting out of the Trump balloon for about a month now, i.e. since he won his party’s nomination. Polls have been showing about a five-point gap (sometimes more) favoring Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup. It’s not because Hillary Clinton has become more popular, it’s because Donald Trump has gotten less popular. This in turn is because Trump has a habit of opening his mouth and it continues to sound meaner and make less sense. Trump apparently has decided to let Donald be Donald. This does not mean “acting presidential” because apparently he figures he already is presidential.

In any event, it appears to me that The Donald has finally jumped the shark, which means that rather than seem interesting and different he now looks buffoonish, which was clear to many of us from the start. One problem with being a bully is that when you need to, you are unable to pivot. All Trump knows is how to be a bully. It’s served him well in business and in marketing himself. But as I noted years ago in an essay on bullying it only works until it does not. At some point the bully is stood up to and they can’t effectively counterpunch. Then the once feared bully suddenly looks impotent. In extreme cases they become objects of scorn or (worse) pity. Trump is already at the scorned phase.

It’s hard to say when Trump’s jump the shark moment occurred, but it will probably be reckoned when he attacked the federal judge overseeing the Trump University case. Finally we had an outrage so outrageous it could not be excused anymore by his own party. Republicans, at least those in the establishment, widely condemned his remarks. I can’t recall any Republican that stood by him on this. Judge Curiel after all did not take up the case; he was assigned the case, and had no axe to grind. But since this case could open Trump to racketeering charges, Trump saw the judge as a threat, so of course he went after him. Howls of protests from just about everywhere simply made him double down, then double-double down. That’s the bully’s modus operandi. There is a bull in a bully, and a bull is single-minded, making it hard to perceive threats.

It was followed by a self-congratulating tweet after the Orlando massacre that too was widely panned for its total lack of empathy toward the victims and families. But why should anyone be surprised? Trump does not know how to be empathetic. It likely wasn’t modeled in his father, who coached him on how great he was going to be (and gave him millions of dollars to try). There is no record of him volunteering in soup kitchens or homeless shelters. If he is a Presbyterian no one can recall the last time he was in church. Of course his brand is meanness, hardly the sort of attributes ascribed to Jesus.

There are lots of people that claim to be religious and are not, so Trump is hardly unique there. From the perspective of this non-Christian, most Christians in this country are not Christians, at least not ones that Jesus would recognize. Capitalism is our real state religion so at least Trump is its poster child there. After all, a good capitalist does not need to have a conscience. It certainly appears that Trump has none, considering how many investors of his affiliated companies and contractors that have done work for him that he has screwed over the years. But if you are a capitalist, it’s all okay if you can get away with it. And with the possible exception of the Trump University case, he’s proof that money can buy the justice you want.

If Trump can attract a majority of like-minded voters then he will be our next president. It seems unlikely that he can. A majority of voters polled (54%) said they would not vote for Trump versus 43% for Clinton. It’s hard to win an election with these kinds of numbers, unless you can suppress the numbers who plan to vote for Clinton. Only about a third of the country actually likes Trump. Even Republicans are souring on Trump. Paul Ryan is signaling it’s okay for Republican delegates to vote their consciences. It’s unclear if a Never Trump movement will gain traction but likely more than a few Republican candidates are quietly waiting in the wings for him to implode. (Maybe it’s just me, but as bad as Trump is Ted Cruz would actually be worse.) The Bush family won’t vote for him, which makes me wonder what their alternative is: to not vote at all or hold their noses and vote for Clinton? Some of the more liberal Republican governors (Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland) have publicly said they won’t vote for him. To me the optics is pretty clear: you can’t win an election if you are so widely disliked and/or despised.

Lurking in the back of my mind are the obvious concerns. It’s more than four months to the election and lots of events (like yesterday’s Brexit vote in Great Britain) can swing the minds of voters. And perhaps Trump can pull a Houdini and completely reinvent himself, at least through the election, although I don’t see how he can convince enough people. When I divorce my fears and concentrate on the facts, I simply can’t see how Trump can be elected. There is no viable path and even if one suggested itself the Electoral College is pretty baked in. It would take a phenomenal Republican candidate and a dismal Democratic one to change them. Trump’s best hope is simply precedent: the last Democrat to succeed a Democratic president who left office after two full terms was Harry S Truman, and this was after the more than three terms that Franklin Roosevelt served.

So stepping out on a limb, I think Trump is toast already. What will prove more interesting is the how his degree of his unfavorability affects House and Senate races. Trump may be so toxic that the Trump effect may sweep not just the Senate but also the House into Democratic control. He might even end the Republican Party.

How to take down Trump

One of my nightmares is waking up the first Wednesday of November and finding out that Donald Trump is our president elect. There are lots of sane reasons to think that this simply can’t happen. The Donald’s negatives are through the roof. Last July a Washington Post/ABC News poll reported 61 percent of voters would never vote for Trump, but that was before he started running in earnest. In December, according to a Quinnipiac survey, fifty percent of registered voters last month said they would be embarrassed if he were our president. One thing that makes me leery is that people were saying the same things about Ronald Reagan but mainly by force of his personality plus that certain intangible something that people saw in his eyes he became president anyhow. We are still stuck in the Reagan wreckage, and arguably Donald Trump is the latest creature to crawl out of it.

There is no question that Trump has charisma, although lots of people see past it. So many factors affect who will be our next president. Much could hinge on the economy, but a lot of it will simply have to do with who gets nominated and how enthusiastic each party is about their candidate. Republicans probably won’t be enthusiastic if Trump is nominated, at least not establishment Republicans. But Trump though is going for a bigger audience and he is attracting principally disaffected whites, many of which haven’t voted in recent elections. They like his brash style and take charge attitude and see it as authentic, but mostly he plays on their fears, an unstated fear of losing white privilege. While Trump has high negatives, so does Hillary Clinton. Trump is a master persuader, Clinton not so much considering how President Obama managed to win the 2008 Democratic nomination. So yes, it’s possible, although I would like to take comfort in polls that suggest it just won’t happen.

Back in 2012 as that process went forward I offered my thoughts on how to deal with political bullies. Four years later the post still gets regular hits. The Republican presidential field has many bullies. Trump certainly is one but (among those still in the running) others include Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina. All are used to getting their way and will use tactics fair or foul to achieve it.

Trump though combines bullying with other non-bullying tactics including humor, demagoguery, flippant remarks and a well-practiced technique of staying in the news. Pretty much every day he will say or do something controversial specifically so he will stay at the top of the news. Most recently was a deprecating remark about Ted Cruz being born in Canada and how that could be a problem. While a lot of what he spews is crazy, it’s actually quite well thought out. Rest assured that Trump has lots of lines and tactics in reserve that he will use to cut down the competition. He has a keen sense of when to release a quip or barb so that it will be most wounding.

Trump is a different kind of bully, most of who have only a couple of tactics they repeat ad nauseam. With Trump, you never know what will come out of his mouth next, but you do know it will be something and it will be controversial and entertaining. Surprise is one of his unique weapons. Hillary Clinton, if she wins the Democratic Party nomination, is likely to be too civilized to go for the jugular like Donald. Trump excels at getting people off their gait and you know he has some waiting for her when their time is optimal. Ideally Clinton needs to get Trump off his gait, which no one seems to be able to do. She (or Bernie Sanders should he win the nomination) needs to channel their inner Molly Ivins. Also, she to plant a meme in the voters mine now that will grow and win. Identifying that meme and planting it early may be crucial to winning in November.

In 2012 the winning meme was that Mitt Romney didn’t understand ordinary working people. The surreptitious recordings that he thought 47% of us were moochers made it stick like superglue. Due to Trump’s wealth and disdain for all sorts of groups, this can potentially work again. However, it will be harder because Trump is drawing many of these people. Trump is running a Fox News election by creating a theme and hammering it in relentlessly. You must have been asleep for the last six months not to know it: Make America Great Again.

What could be Clinton’s meme? Perhaps she could borrow portions of Trump’s theme. Here is my suggestion for an election meme for the Democratic candidate: Make America Whole Again. She could appeal to the disaffected by promising to be the president not to push a liberal agenda but to bring America together again. She could say that if elected she will champion the cause of moderates. She could promise to end gerrymandering, which simply removes moderates from the political process. For example, she could promise to pass a law that requires states to draw districts that are politically neutral and are overseen by impartial federal judges. She could run a campaign for the people, not just those with wealth.

She could say that our current poisonous partisanship is a cancer on our society and our government, and that Trump is exploiting it. (In fairness, Bernie Sanders has been saying this throughout his campaign.) In fact, she could say that Trump embodies this cancer and is making it metastasize. Fortunately Trump has quite a record that would be easy to exploit, for example his statement earlier in the campaign that Americans were being paid too much and aren’t working hard enough. This is laughable to anyone actually in the workforce today.

“Make America Whole Again” is the perfect rejoinder to Trump’s slogan. It plays on his slogan but makes it positive and sounds like something your mother would say. It acknowledges that things have gotten seriously off track but that she is the right one to fix it. She could even say that as a woman and mother, she knows it is true. She can play on the lessons that she learned, from her failure by being too insular in her health care legislation that she championed as First Lady, to her work as Secretary of State to help bind the wounds of a complex world. She can recall the real America she grew up with, that was hopeful and where America’s leadership was earned and based on respect and our beneficence. Trump’s entire demeanor is disrespectful. It could be a campaign about restoring our respect by making our government representative of everyone.

A campaign message of wholeness and integrity I think would have real legs, because it is authentic, not weaselly. One thing that is totally clear about Donald Trump is he lacks integrity. If the 2016 campaign becomes an integrity meme, then I think Trump can be neutered.

Christie: change you cannot believe in

Some time ago I wrote about political bullies. I wasn’t thinking of Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie in particular when I wrote it. In part this was because there were so many other fine examples in the Republican Party he hardly stood out. In fact, almost all the prominent Republican politicians are bullies. It’s part of their trademark, at least in recent years. The civilized and mannered ones have all pretty much retired, died or joined the Democrats.

Christie this week is an example of a political bully that got his comeuppance. In a long, tedious and frequently bizarre news conference on Thursday, Christie worked hard and unconvincingly to limit his political damage from Bridgegate. I don’t think the scandal has an official name yet, but this will do. It involved restricting the number of lanes allowed to residents of Fort Lee, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey from Manhattan to a toll plaza to get into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge. For a full week, ironically during the week of September 11 last year, local citizens of Fort Lee were tied up needlessly in traffic because their access to the toll plaza had been restricted from three lanes to one. This caused monumental traffic jams and likely contributed to one death. Reputedly this closure was ordered, if not by Christie himself, then by his close aides, as retribution. Why? Reputedly, it was because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor refused to endorse Christie for reelection. Christie handily won reelection anyhow by an impressive sixty plus percent margin.

At the news conference, Christie portrayed himself as something of a victim. He said he was lied to by his staffers, and said that he was shocked that people he trusted lied him to. To hold people accountable he fired an aide, Deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Port Authority executive David Wildstein resigned last month reputedly due to the scandal. Curiously though for a bully, at least when it came to his friends, he was not up to doing it personally. Kelly was fired by email. During the news conference, Christie said he was sorry, of course, but also said he was not a bully, and that people who know him would not characterize him as one.

Really? This easily passes the smirk test.  Being loud, obnoxious and in your face are key ingredients to Christie’s style. It’s what got him elected then reelected. In New Jersey, these are something akin to assets. The state has a history of corrupt officials, typically Democratic officials because it is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. The state also has a history of mob influence, and has lots of Italians in general. In short, being obnoxious and corrupt is part of the culture. What gave Christie allure to New Jersey voters is that he was a Republican not afraid to take on the powers in his state. Given the state’s history, it’s not surprising that his bullying and obnoxiousness was considered an asset.

Christie is a caricature of a bully. He is not afraid to get up close and personal, yell loudly, put his finger in your chest and violate your personal space to make his point. He takes the initiative rather than wait on events. As I noted in my earlier essay, bullying generally works. It is considered bizarre behavior. Most of us are trained to be civilized so we are taken aback when we encounter a bully. We simply don’t know how to behave. While we feel incoherent and flustered, the bully has asserted himself and changed the dynamics. And so far it has worked well for Christie. Arguably, in a state with such a corrupt history as New Jersey, you need a bully in charge.

If you are going to be a bully though, at least have the decency to admit it. Don’t spend much of your news conference proclaiming that you are not the person you made yourself out to be as part of your trademark. It’s not surprising in the least that he would attract and hire people with a similar temperament; indeed it would be surprising if he had not. Given that their boss was into retribution and political payback, his subordinates probably felt they were being faithful to their boss by imitating his behavior. And if the Democratic mayor of a New Jersey city isn’t going to endorse their boss for reelection, well, then there is a price to pay. It’s time to show who’s really in charge. And so they did because they could. It’s how bullies operate. You are liberal in dishing out punishment because you are trying to make an emotional impact. You do this on the assumption an emotional impact will change future actions. The message to residents of Fort Lee was pretty obvious: if you elect people not in tune with the governor then you are going to pay a price. For most it was the price of inconvenience, but inconvenience is costly and in this case allegedly deadly as well.

Bullies are rendered powerless when they are stood up to. Ideally this courage inspires others to do the same, soon rendering the bully impotent. Restricting traffic to a major thoroughfare into Manhattan is an example of a bully going too far over the line. With the help of grassroots Democratic activists, eventually the press took notice and started digging. That Christie’s subordinates ordered this is simply all we need to know about the character of the guy. Christie is in the moving cheese business. While voters appreciated most of the cheese that Christie managed to move, you can move too much too quickly. And when that happens, as in Bridgegate, you learn which boundaries can be transgressed and which cannot.

Given that the incident was widely publicized at the time, Christie’s ability to tune it out suggests his insular, incurious and haughty nature. Publically, he suggested that such local issues were beneath him. Most likely privately he was aware that his minions were pulling some strings on his behalf, and he enjoyed seeing his enemies squirm.  I doubt his staff involved in this affair gave it much thought. It was consistent with their boss’s management style.

Time will tell if this will have a lasting effect on Christie’s political ambitions. It certainly gives Americans, who probably haven’t tuned that much into Christie, some concerns to chaw over. For Christie, successful damage control will mean tempering his temper, the very asset that brought him political fame. Once tempered, it’s unlikely that he will shine out above the crowd of other Republicans with eyes on the White House in 2016.

The bullying trademark of the Republican Party has been wearing thin for a long time. Americans are disgusted with the Tea Party in particular, for their obnoxious and uncompromising attitudes and the damage it caused. Rush Limbaugh’s show is in tatters. Political compromise is in; political extremism is out. Part of Christie’s trademark was that sometimes he would work across the aisle, or take a position anathema to most Republicans, thereby demonstrating the courage of his convictions. Without bullying as his shtick though, there is little to recommend him. Instead, now there are lots of red flags.

Christie has become the symbol of change we cannot believe in.

Republicans win through intimidation

My post Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane still gets plenty of reads. “Plenty” is a relative word for a blog of modest traffic like mine but it was read 597 times in the last year and is the fifteenth most popular entry on my site. According to Facebook it has been “liked” 29 times since I added the “like” widget some months back, even though it was written two years ago. With a certain group, the post really resonates. Glad to hear it.

In thinking about it though, certainly not all Republicans are insane. There are generally two types of Republicans: the insane and the mendacious. The insane Republicans are the ones that swallow hook, line and sinker the propaganda broadcast continuously by Fox News and other conservative outlets. These folks are insane for the exact reasons I outlined in the post: because they lead the sort of life where evidence, if it contradicts their political philosophy, simply has no bearing. They are sheep. The mendacious ones are some subset of the leadership. They understand that most of what they believe is not evidenced-based but they simply don’t care. Moreover, they are completely comfortable with lying shamelessly. These are “the end justifies the means” folks. The means is whatever gets them in charge. Mostly they hold those who actually believe their lies in contempt. All that matters is that they vote for them. What they want is power, which they plan to use to garner more of it for themselves and their moneyed class. They really don’t give a crap about a Republican family getting by on $50,000 a year, just as they obviously don’t give a crap about the poor.

Yes, they are mendacious and as I also pointed out in 2009 they are also sadists. Why are they sadists? It’s because in most of these cases they have risen in the world because they have read this book by Robert J. Ringer, or came by it naturally. These intimidators generally fall under the category of bully, now featured in a topical and (I understand) extremely hard to watch movie of the same name, at least if you have any compassion in your soul. The mendacious Republicans simply lack compassion for anyone except those in their high social and income class.

Bullies succeed because they can smell someone who is emotionally vulnerable the same way a dog can smell its master a football field away. They love to exercise power through intimidation and they are well practiced in its discipline. Bullies excel in being assertive and at challenging people. They know the secret to exercising intimidation: argument does not matter so much as the ability to make someone physically or emotionally vulnerable (ideally both). The rules include: always take the initiative, always go for the jugular, always assert that you know best, and always use a tone of voice that includes as many of the above as possible: scorn, righteousness, certainty and authority with the overall need to dominate.  The corollary: never let any who disagrees with you get a word in edgewise.

Few of us are trained to deal with bullies, which is why we typically give way. In school, it’s a particularly good idea because many of these bullies are not afraid to put their fists and feet where their mouth is. I still have searing images of some of these bullies during my childhood. Like most of us partially civilized people, I learned to avoid them. We tried to practice the golden rule. Violating it even against a bully seemed deeply wrong somehow because we are not living up to our values.

There are the overt Republican bullies, the Rush Limbaughs and Newt Gingriches of the world, and then there are the less obvious bullies. It’s hard for even me to look at the likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and think he’s a bully. Gosh, Mitt seems so nice. But in fact, Mitt is just a different breed of bully. He’s the slight of hand bully. Mitt did not get rich by chance; he schmoozed and bullied his way into riches by moving money from one pocket to the other while taking the lion’s share. Moreover, he did a remarkably masterful job of it.

Romney basically convinced the greedy to give him and Bain Capital money. He took their money (putting none of his own money at risk, naturally) and bought companies with them. He then proceeded to make them more “efficient”, which generally meant looting the company. This was done by taking their free cash, of course, but also dramatically reducing wages and benefits for employees and, if he could get away with it, squeezing suppliers as well. Sometimes the company was just liquidated for the cash. For this he and his buddies took their share and if the company still remained then tried to resell the company. Aside from the employees who often took the shaft, a lot of money was also gained by billing Uncle Sam. Pension funds were raided and went to the control of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation instead. Pensioners received cents on the dollar for what had been secure pensions courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. To the extent they were left a safety net, it was provided by taxpayers. To add insult to injury, taxpayers were fleeced but it just added to Romney’s bottom line. Moreover, for his innovation the tax code gave him a special discount of a 15% tax rate on unearned income.

Romney is one of the weasely bullies, but a bully nonetheless. His agenda though is crystal clear, in spite of his ability to talk out both sides of the mouth. He wants to give a lot more money to people like him: the one percent but especially the top .1%. The talk about cutting government is mostly just that, because if elected Social Security and Medicare will still be largely untouchable, although Medicaid will not be. Which means plenty of deficit spending is guaranteed. And who will benefit disproportionately from all this borrowed money? As usual, it will be the richest of the rich: through paying fewer taxes, lowered capital gains and by making sure the industries they care about, principally defense and energy, are showered with government largess. It is a formula that worked well for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. All that remains is to talk you into it once again, and once again you, fellow taxpayer and especially you taxpayer to be, are the one who will pay the price. Your future will be robbed all under the guise of stopping socialism.

Robert Reich does an excellent job of summing all this up in a two minute video.

We can’t kill Republicans, so they are always going to be around. Intimidation is the game that they play so well. Expect more of it. They will be going straight for the American jugular, using these familiar but still uncomfortable tactics of intimidation but by also playing to your fears and to your patriotic instincts. To beat them, we have to do a better at standing up to these bullies. I will discuss tactics in a future post.

Meanwhile America, are you going to let yourself be bullied and intimidated into voting against your best interests yet again? Or will you join me and do something unnatural and uncomfortable, and stand up to these bullies by putting them in their place?

When it happens yet again to you, will you have the courage of Joseph Nye Welch, who famously stood down one of the greatest bullies of all time: Joseph McCarthy? Get ready with the words that will kill. Practice them until they roll effortlessly out of your mouth. Be prepared to stand up forcefully, look them in the eyes and simply say: “Have you no decency, sir, at long last?”