America is not a nation of bullies, though bullies exist among us, and always have. America is a nation that stands up to bullies. That is the heart of our national character. It’s the American way.

The bullies among us have often made us falter. The bullies among us refused to sign a Declaration of Independence that condemned the slave trade at our nation’s founding, instead striking out the paragraph. Those who stood up to the bullies were the Quakers and the Moravians, and the statesmen who founded the Pennsylvania Abolition and the New York Manumission societies shortly thereafter.

For every bully like John C. Calhoun (who argued in favor of slavery in the name of ‘minority rights’ no less) there was a Wm. Lloyd Garrison and a Frederick Douglass. For every bully like James K. Polk, who sold slaves from the White House (the only president to do so) and started an illegal war with Mexico, there was a Henry David Thoreau (On Civil Disobedience) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

For every Jefferson Davis, an Abraham Lincoln. For every John D. Rockefeller, a Eugene V. Debs. For every Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, a Samuel Gompers and Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones. For every Melville Fuller, a Robert La Follette. For every George C. Wallace, a Martin Luther King, Jr.

For every time we have bullies engaging the worst in our national character, we have the righteous standing up to them. For every inauguration of Donald J. Trump, we have a Women’s March on Washington.

I was reminded starkly of President Trump’s nature as a bully yesterday, while watching WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first actual press conference. The first one, on Saturday, doesn’t count – no questions. It wasn’t a press conference, it was a temper tantrum.

The two Spicer events can be taken together to illustrate the behavior of a bully: First, try to victimize.

It was the oddest performance I’ve ever seen inside the James S. Bradley Press Briefing Room. In an ill-fitting suit, Spicer stormed in, gave a blustery, angry lecture to the media about the size of inauguration crowds, stated multiple falsehoods, huffed, puffed, and stormed out. This was the administration’s attempt to bully the press. It backfired.

When a bully fails to victimize, he turns to the second tactic: Playing the victim.

On Monday afternoon, Spicer returned to the James S. Bradley Press Briefing Room. Standing at the podium, Spicer told us all about how President Trump’s tender fee-fee is bruised by all the criticism.

“It’s unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough; it’s not good enough. You can’t win,” Spicer whined. “I’ve never seen it like this. The default narrative is always negative, and it’s demoralizing.”

Poor baby.

Now, the press is tough, they can take it. This is all side-show garbage. Because President Trump is hard at work bullying real-world people with real-world policies, that will hurt the little guy for the betterment of big money interests.

The examples are coming fast and furious: In his first act, President Trump eliminated a rule that helped first-time home buyers to the tune of $500 per year. Guess who will benefit? The big banks.

Today, the selection of Ajit Pai, a favorite of corporations and industry groups, and a staunch opponent of net neutrality, to lead the FCC. Getting rid of net neutrality means that speed of internet access can be bought and prioritized. This is great if you’re a rich company. If you’re not, you’re fk’d.

President Trump’s promise to “cut regulations by 75 percent.” Cutting regulations means cutting protections for regular people in the interest of corporate profits.

They say “burdensome regulations.” I call them “life-saving protections.” They call it bureaucratic red tape. I call it rules to protect citizens from the poisoning of our air and water. They say it hurts business. I say it protects consumers from exploitation by corporate moguls.

Or how about this? From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Julie Kirchner, the former executive director of the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), has been named chief of staff at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the largest federal law enforcement agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Since its founding in 1979, FAIR has push an agenda centered on a complete moratorium on all immigration to the United States and defined by vicious attacks on non-white immigrants. Its founder was white nationalist John Tanton, an avowed eugenicist who created the modern anti-immigrant movement in the United States.

The list is nearly endless. Repealing the Affordable Care Act will do nothing to help consumers, and will rob 18 million people of health insurance according to the Congressional Budget Office, but it will help insurance companies’ bottom lines.

Restarting the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines – as President Trump did today – will help oil and gas companies, but will hurt the people whose grounds and water will be contaminated by inevitable leaks.

Appointing a Labor Secretary to enforce labor laws whose previous company has a history of violating them doesn’t bode well for laborers. Appointing an Attorney General to enforce civil rights laws who has a history of antipathy toward the civil rights movement doesn’t bode well for civil rights. Appointing an Education Secretary to oversee public education who has a history of attempting to privatize public education doesn’t bode well for public education.

Time after time, despite his rhetoric, President Trump can be found punching down, working on behalf of the moneyed interests and against regular folk.

Luckily, it is in our national character to punch back, to punch up. And if that demoralizes President Trump, all the better.

D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

 
  • Red Rover

    Your contrasts strike me as optimistic, but they work with the tone of your article. They focus on internal politics only though. Saying that we stand up to bullies abroad instead of being the bully is revisionism though. The U.S. has been bullying other sovereign nations and their people since day one, all in the name of protecting “our” interests.

  • David DeWitt

    I think that’s a fair criticism, and it is something I considered. I believe I could make an argument America “stood up to bullies abroad” in the Revolutionary War, Jefferson’s handling of the Barbary Shore pirates, the War of 1812, and the two World Wars. I believe that since World War II, unfortunately, we have more often than not been the bullies abroad.

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