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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bully in Chief

Donald Trump’s day was going so well.

The bomb-throwing, fire-breathing Republican nominee flew down Mexico way and acted presidential, clearing a bar set so low as to be unremarkable for other presidential candidates. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto offered Trump precisely what he needed: the opportunity to stand side-by-side with a world leader discussing substantive policy. What’s more, Peña Nieto offered no harsh words for Trump—demanded no apologies. The takeaway from their joint press conference was the astonishing suggestion that the two men could work together. Even the assertion made hours later via Twitter by Peña Nieto—after the Mexican press had pilloried their president for looking weak next to Trump—that the Republican candidate lied when he said the men did not discuss paying for the border wall was easily dismissed because the president had elected to stay silent in the joint press conference when Trump made his claim. In an election that’s become a race to the bottom on popularity and fitness for the job, Trump struck a critical blow against Hillary Clinton’s argument that he’s temperamentally unfit for the job.

Hours later Trump stood before a group of ardent supporters, outlying his ten point immigration plan in a speech full of red meat, and compared America to the big bully who keeps getting beat up.

Goodbye goodwill. Trump’s intent with the comment was to describe how undocumented immigrants are taking advantage of and abusing the country by living in America illegally; as Trump tells it the country is weak now but will be strong once he is in charge. Unfortunately Trump picked possibly the worst metaphor possible. Bullies are widely equated with cruelty and weakness—preying on those who can’t defend themselves and withdrawing at the first sign of challenge. How many of the undecided voters that Trump needs were bullied in school? How many have had to listen to stories of being bullied from their children?

Even at their most dire, complaints about America are largely aspirational; people want the country to be better than it is. Most people would agree there is nothing in a bully to aspire to—least of all the tradition of attacking the weak. I suspect most of the undecideds in Trump’s audience will recognize that he thinks otherwise—recognize and disapprove. Compared to everything else Trump has done the statement is rather innocuous, but the honest revelation that he proudly thinks of America—and by extension himself—as a bully will likely cost him all the progress he’d made just eight hours earlier.

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