Melania Trump, wife of the presidential candidate, has spoken out on the issue of online bullying. On CNN, and on Twitter, she has stated that online bullying has to be combatted. Some, however, may find this news ironic considering the manner in which her husband has conducted his campaign for the presidency. With people of all ages, both in the USA and globally, paying close attention to these elections, what kind of example is Donald Trump setting?
Since the release of the now-infamous video of Donald Trump discussing acts that amount to sexual harassment he has seen a dip in the polls. However, many have suggested that the signs of his bullying personality have been visible all along. The Washington Post called for Republicans to stand up against Trump’s bullying ways, back in 2015, saying:
We have seen the likes of him before, in the United States and elsewhere: narcissistic bullies who rise to prominence by spreading lies, appealing to fears and stoking hatred.
One sign of Trump’s bullying tendencies may be in his body language. Groff Beattle, a professor of Psychology and specialist in gestures at Edge Hill University, has discussed how Trump uses the body language and mannerisms of a bully. For example, the way he rocks on his feet while Hillary Clinton speaks during debates reveals his unease at being called-out, and the exaggerated way he gesticulates while discussing his own wealth is also telling. However it is while launching personal attacks on other that his gestures become most dramatic and complex, according to Beattle. The manner in which he frowns and pulls faces during Clinton’s turns to speak show a desire to create a running commentary and dominate the narrative. This is Trump’s manner: to control, bully and intimidate his opponents.
Other evidence of Trump’s tendency to bully comes from his words on Twitter and elsewhere. Comments such as “mentally sick”, “dummy”, “looser” or “looked disgusting” are all examples bullying language on Trump’s Twitter. Trump’s bullying tactics include calling President Obama the founder of a terrorist organisation and insinuating that Clinton took drugs prior to a debate. Furthermore, he has mocked the disability of reporter Serge Kovaleski, portrayed immigrants and foreigners as dangerous people, rapists or “criminal aliens”, and demonstrated a significant lack of respect for women generally.
The Clinton campaign has seen a way to use this to their advantage. A recent campaign ad from her team aligns Trump with classic Hollywood bullies from movies such as Teen Wolf, The Karate Kid, A Christmas Story and many others. Hillary Clinton spoke on the matter, saying:
“…it’s important to stand up to bullies wherever they are […] we shouldn’t let anybody bully his way into the presidency.”
However, not everyone agrees with this opinion of Trump. The New York Post berated political commentators and other media outlets for flippantly casting Trump as a bully:
Either Democrats and the national media know they’re being melodramatic when they call Donald Trump a “bully” or they have no clue what bullying actually looks like.
The New York Post’s defence of Trump is as partisan as the news articles that accuse him of being a bully, but it does raise a relevant point: In many cases Trump is simply doing what presidential candidates do. Sure, it’s grubby and mean sometimes, but politics is an ugly game. Does casting Clinton as the victim and Trump as the bully trivialise the serious and life affecting nature of “real life” bullying? The NWP article goes on to argue:
Real victims of bullying are physically harmed, emotionally paralyzed and worse. When Clinton is “bullied,” she solicits donations to help get her into the White House.
This deals with his debating style, but fails to address the sexual harassment, discriminatory comments and twitter abuse. While Clinton should not be cast as victim, there is no doubt that Trump is, at least in some respects, a bully.
The problem may lie with the way the news media and election processes work in the US just as much as it does with Trump himself, but what sort of a message does this send to children or young teens who are paying attention to politics for the first time? How, as adults, can we sincerely turn to our children and students and try to educate them about bullying when, at the same time, we allow bullying characteristics to dominate the top echelons of society? If Trump were elected, the message would be that bullish dominating tactics are the way to get to the top.