Bullies, because they have never felt safe, loved, or cherished, grow up supremely defensive, perpetually hurt, ashamed of their weakness and inconsolably angry. They were emotionally neglected, humiliated for ordinary human needs, bullied by someone they depended on when they were very young. These tiny victims grow up to see life through the eyes of a hurt child, a zero-sum game pitting the strong against the weak, a contest fated to end only in dominance or submission.
To berate and dismiss, or otherwise beat you, is to dominate you. To sincerely apologize to you when I see I have hurt you is to bend the knee in humiliated weakness. Bullies see a simplified black and white world, a series of grim transactions to be fought to victory or defeat. Victory feels fleetingly great, the agony of defeat is well-known and terrible to behold, particularly in a bully.
This inconsolable rage in the heart starts in the bully’s earliest life, continues year after year, making the young person harden himself against pain until finally he succumbs to sadism. The ability to dominate and bully people is not without its rewards in the world of business and politics, but it is a shit thing just the same. When a bully in control of others creates a culture of bullying, where only brutality in service to the bully is rewarded, it is a shit thing and often a deadly thing.
I just finished listening to the fascinating The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. Though the book, in its first edition, was published in 1978, it ends with a seemingly prescient insight, though it addresses a perpetual human failing — the falling into angry mobs because the unbearable anguish of your life compels you to take out your rage on strangers, in the name of a belief system. Here is the very end of Alice Miller’s popular book:
A person who can honestly, and without self-deception, deal with his feelings has no need to disguise them with the help of ideologies. The basic similarity of the various nationalistic movements flourishing today reveals that their motives have nothing to do with the real interests of the people who are fighting and hating, but instead have very much to do with those people’s childhood histories.
The mistreatment, humiliation and exploitation of children is the same worldwide as is the means of avoiding the memory of it. Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole, looking for a common enemy on whom to act out their repressed rage. But as the inhabitants of this shrinking planet near the end of the twentieth century the danger inherent in self-deception is growing exponentially, and we can afford it less than ever. Fortunately, at the same time, we now have the tools we need to truly understand ourselves as we were and as we are.
For most bullies, the path away from sadism is too painful. What they have suffered as vulnerable children is too painful to seek insight into. They feel in control only when dominating others, as they were brutally dominated.
We learn, to nobody’s surprise, that as children Donald Trump and Charles Koch (born 1946 and 1935 respectively), both had driven, largely absent fathers who were brutal, intolerant and demanding, people who might fairly be called unloving pieces of shit. They were raised to believe that only the ruthless pursuit of money and power made them worthy of love (which it is unlikely either of them ever found in later life.)
Fred Koch was an admirer of the Nazis, he was introduced to Hitler before the war and Koch Industries built the oil refineries that the Luftwaffe would need for their high octane fuel to lead Hitler’s blitzkreig. Fred Trump was arrested as a young man at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens. Fred Koch was one of the founders of the John Birch Society, the lunatic fascist fringe of the far-right in the years after Brown v. Board of Education made public school segregation illegal in the U.S., the Birchers responded by calling for the Chief Justice’s impeachment. Fred Trump took millions in tax subsidies to build post-war working class housing, passed most of it on to his children tax-free through various frauds (read the New York Times investigative story about Frederick Christ Trump’s elaborate tax fraud and tax evasion schemes, a factual article never challenged in court ) and kept his housing developments racially segregated (no Puerto Ricans either, thank you) until the Fair Housing Act and the federal court forced him to stop discriminating. Characteristically, Fred Trump, and his second choice protegée. Donald , admitted no wrongdoing and claimed victory in the case, although “minorities” were now able to rent Trump apartments.
Charles was the second oldest of four Koch brothers (he and David beat the other two in a bitter, decades-long court battle for the right to Koch Industries), Donald was the third of four Trump children. Fred Koch believed his sons should fight it out, to see who was fit to be the boss. When they were toddlers Fred Koch, who was rarely at home, hired a strict German nanny to make sure the boys all used the toilet at the same time every day, and she raised young Charles, his older brother Fred Jr. and the babies, until the Nazis took France and she returned to the homeland to celebrate with the Fuhrer. Fred Trump openly favored his older, brighter son, a golden boy named Fred Jr., beloved of everybody. Young Donald didn’t know what to do with himself until he got a little brother to bully. It beat the hell out of his life before he had a weak baby brother to practice sadism on.
Bullies see the world as a desperate fight not to be injured and their main weapon is attack. They find people weaker than themselves to prey on, if someone shows fear, they attack. The way not to be bullied is to stand up to a bully, though few of us consistently have this ability. In the case of Donald Trump, any time he has been forcefully opposed he has backed down. We saw this at several key moments during his time in office, even at the very end, while vehemently denying his electoral loss, when he backed down from replacing the Attorney General with a man who would lie to confirm Trump’s lie about a stolen election, after a three hour shouting match, in the face of a unified threat from leaders of the Department of Justice and his loyal White House Counsel.
The bully as an individual is one thing, and sickening enough. The bully as a mob, a thousand, or a million strong, gathered to take out their limitless hurt and rage on those who can’t defend themselves, an ongoing tragedy of human history. Insight might be extremely painful for a bully to attain, but it is probably less painful than being tortured, with your neck in a noose, at the mercy of your fellow enraged bullies.
In spite of this threat, a brilliant example of the fiercest legal puffery money can buy, inserted in a very droll matter by the Grey Lady, between two paragraphs detailing the fraud with great specificity:
Freddie, Fred Trump Jr., (Mary Trump’s father) had disappointed his father with a lack of ruthlessness, demonstrated dramatically when he replaced drafty windows in freezing Trump apartments in a complex he was managing without forcing the tenants to take their powerful landlord to court. It cost Frederick Christ Trump millions to replace the windows, (for no reason!} and was the decisive blow against his chosen son, Fred Jr. as his successor.
Fred Sr. realized he’d have to train the vain little juvenile delinquent to run the Trump empire, once the kid proved that, even though he had little business smarts, he was a ruthless killer who’d do whatever was necessary to increase the family fortune. Fred Jr. ended his days drinking himself to death as a custodian in one of the Trump buildings. His family would be cheated by the other Trumps when the patriarch finally died, naturally. Donald would finally be able to defy his father by selling off all his properties, in express violation of his stated wishes. He sold his father’s real estate empire for well under its appraised value, naturally.