Is Donald Trump a bully?

President picks a fight with Senator Bob Corker

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Is Donald Trump a bully? And will this child-like taunting succeed?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

There are many words to describe Donald Trump – some of which we cannot publish out of decency and respect – but the American people appear to have reached a consensus on one of them: bully.

According to a Fox News poll, surveying how voters would describe the president, a majority of Americans describe him as "a bully" who "says what he thinks". Nearly three quarters believe the descriptor at least somewhat describes the president – with 53 per cent agreeing that it describes how Trump runs the White House "extremely" or "very" well.

Other criticisms include describing the president as "unstable" and "outsider" (both 44 per cent). Only around a third of voters assign the clearly positive terms, such as "competent", "strong leader", and "problem solver" to Trump.

This should hardly be surprising, according to the Financial Times, as Trump is doing exactly what he promised, including his bullying behaviour. He has always been an open book, and he is not about to change how he does business now that he has reached the White House. Trump's first rule is never admit a mistake, followed by the second: make critics pay. "If you cross Mr Trump," they add, "he will hit back 10 times harder."

What he will hit you back with, MSNBC argues, is "effectively a file of bullying index cards in his mind, to be used in response to every slight". They note that this is vastly easier for the president rather than actually thinking of dealing with the substance of arguments; "which says more about him than those he targets with knee-jerk attacks".

By relying on these bullying index cards and knee-jerk attacks, Trump is displaying typical bullying behaviours found among children, including name-calling and belittling of others. Psychologist Jaana Juvonen compares how the president acts to research undertaken about bullying among youth, examining the paradox of being a bully yet being supported by a large segment of America. She observes that this popularity wears off after a transition period, in the same way it does for middle-schoolers and bullies; and looking at the latest polls, this seems to be the case for Trump. His behaviours fit the data on "immature and aggressive children", Juvonen concludes, and if this pattern holds, he will not remain popular for very long.

This child-like bullying is very appealing, however, and in particular, to children themselves. Kids are quoting Trump to taunt their classmates and teachers do not know what to do about it, after Buzzfeed reviewed more than 50 reports of school bullying since the election.

They report: "The first school year of the Donald Trump presidency left educators struggling to navigate a climate where misogyny, religious intolerance, name-calling, and racial exclusion have become part of mainstream political speech."

There have been incidences of white students chanting "Trump! Trump! Trump!" at black students, children telling classmates that they are going to be deported, and Hispanic students having "Build the wall!" shouted at them in the schoolyard.

There is hope, thankfully, as Trump's bullying tactics are "specularly backfiring", Newsweek argues. He is managing something remarkable, albeit inadvertently: the president is slowly uniting the American people against him and his bullying. Nobody likes a bully, and they upset the social order, whether of a federal government or a fourth-grade classroom. They conclude: "Trump may have ushered in a "new normal", but he has also reminded us how we miss the old normal, when a petulant bully wasn't lording it over the vast and wonderful playground called America".

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