Bullies 101

Alan Zendell, January 26, 2019

Sometimes when I tutor kids, it’s clear that they never learned some of the basic skills they need in elementary school, so I have to go back to Arithmetic 101. The lesson is the same, no matter what your endeavor. Whether you’re an athlete, a politician, an engineer, or an entertainer, if you don’t put in the time, study your craft, and do your “reps,” you’re probably going to fail.

In 2015, Donald Trump said that was nonsense. He knew more about politics than the professional politicians, more about the military than our career generals, and more about dealing with other nations than our entire Diplomatic Corps. Yet, from his first day in office he demonstrated an appalling lack of knowledge about how government works, the Constitution, the Courts, diplomacy, and the responsibilities of the Congress and the free press.

He constantly behaved like a bully and an autocrat because that’s all he knows. From his father to his mentor, Roy Cohn, and the mobsters he hobnobbed with, he always got the same message. Always project strength, never concede or admit a mistake, say and do whatever is necessary to achieve your objective. When Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” Trump, in his childishly simplistic view of the world took that to heart. But Lombardi was talking about football and the obvious truth that when the game is over no one remembers anything but the final score.

Trump spent his life bullying people with his money and his lawyers, and his visceral sense that his ego and narcissism give him a competitive edge over those who value things like honesty, courtesy, and scruples. He used that edge relentlessly throughout his life. He was successful most of the time because his opponents, notably the entire Republican Party, cut class when they were supposed to be studying Bullies 101.

Need a refresher? Appeasement and concession never work. The rapid growth of the Nazi Axis, the Japanese Empire, and  Soviet Union in the last century should have taught us that lesson, but Trump understood that most people lack the stomach to face up to a tyrant.

I said most people. Fortunately, there are some like Nancy Pelosi who learned that lesson growing up in Baltimore’s Little Italy in the 1940s and 50s, when tough guys ruled the streets and the Democrats who controlled Baltimore had much in common with mobsters and protection rackets. She was schooled by a mother who was a political organizer and networker, a father who was a Congressman and a Mayor of Baltimore, and six brothers, one of whom also became mayor. Sweet young Nancy earned an “A” in Bullies 101.

When she was finally in a position of political strength after the 2018 midterm elections, the pundits thought the young Turks who had just been elected in an anti-Trump wave would defeat her bid to be re-elected Speaker. We don’t know what happened behind closed doors, but 77-year-old Pelosi came out on top.

The pundits then wondered if she could stand up to Trump and if her finger was on the pulse of what her Democratic base wanted. She stared Trump down through a number of staged television events that he assumed he would win because he had always won them before. We watched her stand firm, and were cautiously elated as one after another, Trump’s threats and boasts proved to be empty.

The government shutdown dragged on for five weeks, and Pelosi reacted to Trump’s barbs and insults by smiling calmly, confident as only someone highly skilled in her craft can be. She knew her opponent well, and knew that public opinion was on her side and eventually would erode Trump’s support. Nancy held firm, publicly predicting that the tipping point would come when the shutdown compromised airline safety. Again, she was right on.

Throughout, Trump was revealed as the outmatched political novice he is. Despite his bluster and his claim that re-opening the government was “in no way a concession,” yesterday marked the end of his Imperial Presidency. The Emperor’s guns are loaded with blanks and he’s not wearing anything but his fake hair and makeup.

Thanks, Speaker Pelosi. I admit that I didn’t have enough faith in you before, but you’ve won me over.

***

Washington was hit hard by the shutdown in more ways than one. It began at the height of the baseball free agency season. Nowhere was that more apparent than Washington, where superstar Bryce Harper spent his first seven years in the major leagues. Harper is loved by Washington fans, who were all on the edge of their seats in mid-December, waiting to see if their Nationals would win the bidding war to keep him.

The government shutdown stopped the free agency process in its tracks. Harper would have signed weeks ago, if not for the spectacle his huge ($350 million) contract would have been with so many fans not getting paid.

On behalf of all Washington baseball fans, I thank Nancy for getting things going again. We should know where Bryce will be playing in a few days.

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