How Can We Hold Accountable Those Who Lack Shame?
I’ve talked about my childhood experiences with bullies pretty often on this blog; especially about how it felt like any attempt to battle them proved futile. Ignoring them didn’t work, fighting back didn’t work, even when I “won,” they seemed to only take it as a sign they had continued power and influence over me. That just reacting to them meant they lived rent-free in my heads, and ignoring them meant they had intimated me. It was years before I figured out the one thing that worked was something I had no control over – starve them of the attention other kids gave them. It wasn’t me or how I respond that fueled their bad behavior, it was how other people did. The more my classmates rooted for them and egged them on, the more they bullied.
In the past few years I’ve seen Trumpism evolve into something similar. There seems to be no real way to quell the bad behavior, meanness and cruelty of Trump and his allies. Accountability doesn’t work – Trump has been impeached and acquitted once and will likely be again imminently. Removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), a QAnon-aligned freshman congresswoman, didn’t work. It only led to her boasting about being marginalized and doubling down on her incendiary comments. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), who famously objected to counting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes EVEN AFTER a riot stormed the Capitol, has preemptively complained about being cancelled before any attempt to hold him accountable is even made.
Whenever a Trumper is held accountable for anything – or whenever the possibility of holding him or her accountable is entertained – he or she quickly finds a safe space at Fox News to complain about being cancelled, while also bragging about how he or she has “triggered” his or her opponents. Trump would find solace at his rallies, letting thousands of adoring fans cheer on his bullying tactics as validation against ongoing attempts to hold him to account. There is no winning scenario. If you ignore them, they take it as a sign you’re too feckless or scared to stand up to them; if try fight back and hold them accountable, they claim victory for having “triggered” you in the first place.
Depriving them of an audience works. Look at how deplatforming Trump from social media has silenced him since the January 6th Capitol attack. We haven’t heard from him since he left Washington more than three weeks ago. Without his Twitter soapbox – and the dopamine that comes from the likes and retweets – and his adoring mob accused of trying to stage a coup, Trump is no longer able to receive the reward of popularity for his cruel and bullying ways. Having lost the election and having been repudiated by the American people, along with his own supporters hanging him out to dry to save their hides, he is no longer able to leverage a victory as a defense against criticism of his opponents. He and his supporters are not longer able to respond with dismissive catchphrases like “u mad bro?” and “fuck your feelings.” It is no longer liberals and Democrats who are screaming and crying, it is Trump and his supporters themselves. It is QAnon groups who are losing followers, disenchanted in having been hosed by the conspirators. Republicans are losing members by the thousands, Trump’s popularity has never been lower. The political movement that made a name for itself dismissing their opponents as crybabies and whiners, threw the ultimate temper tantrum.
There was one other thing that I discovered worked, largely because it seemed to turn other students against them – bully back. Tony Navarro stopped bullying me when I pointed out his father abandoned him; Mike DeMarro left me alone when I mocked him for having a learning disability; Alex Price never said another word to me after I made fun of his weight problems.
That’s the thing about bullies, they do what they do because of their own insecurities. It’s a pecking order. They don’t feel strong, so they need to appear strong. Bullies can dish it, but they cannot eat it. Once you point out their flaws and air their insecurities, bullying you becomes like touching a hot steam pipe or exposed electrical wire; the pain reminds them not to do it again.
But what kind of society are we building when we are responding to bullies with more bullying? That is not the ideal scenario, and not one I necessarily advocate for or endorse. I am not proud of having done these things. But when you have exhausted all other options and are left with no other means of recourse, it becomes the only one. You cling to it out of desperation.
And that’s an ugly place for us to be. We may have no other path but to end up there, however, if accountability fails.