In the last scene I witness firsthand, my mother is leaning back in her rocker about to take a breathing treatment. Her husband stomps past me on his way through the kitchen. He hurls a carton of Marlboro 100’s into my mother’s gut. “Go ahead,” he screams, “do it. Smoke them all. You know you want to.”
My mother will be dead of emphysema in four months. We know to go quiet, to let her husband rant on because, after 20 years of this, we’ve learned our lesson, and after a good hour of abuse we are at the kitchen table spooning up casserole, pretending nothing happened as he tap-tap-taps my mother playfully with his elbow. “Aw boober,” he says, using the nickname she hates, “I know you’re sorry, you can say it.”
This is what it’s like to live with a bully.
This all came to mind as I watched the president-elect’s tweet-storm unfold over “Hamilton” and Saturday Night Live this weekend. It was textbook. The unreasonable rant. The hyper-focus. The inability to let it go. A powerful man who goes off the rail over nothing and then demands apologies from the very people he’s insulted and demeaned.
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So much for feeling the weight of the oval office. So much for becoming presidential.
Instead of wasting his time tweeting and bullying theater and TV stars, maybe the president-elect could talk to us. Remember us, the 300+ million people counting on you to be our leader?
What is your plan to bring jobs back, cut our taxes, retool health care? Could you grab a camera and disavow the KKK? Call for an end to the violent targeting of minorities that’s gone mainstream since your election? When might you explain how you’ll avoid ethics conflicts — like the ones you pilloried Hillary Clinton with — between your businesses and the presidency? And hey, what happened “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!”?
But the president-Elect is so busy lashing out on Twitter, I’m starting to wonder if he’s forgotten his many promises, forgotten us. We, the people.
This weekend a friend asked what scares me most about him. Is it his inexperience in governing, his possible incompetence?
It is not. What scares me most is his dangerously thin skin. How easily distracted he becomes with a perceived personal slight. His tendency to bully from the pulpit. The way his inner circle explains him away. He’s not really like that, they assure us. That’s not who he is. He’s a good guy, believe me.
The same assurances my mother gave. For 20 years.
There’s the saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” and yet it’s been stupefying to watch the president-elect’s surrogates, no matter how horrifying his rhetoric, rally around. They told us to ignore his mocking of a handicapped journalist. They said he didn’t mean anything in shaming a Gold Star family. They laughed about the childish name-calling of his political opponents. They brushed off his attacks on news organizations who dared report an unflattering story.
Last month, the New York Times updated their still-growing list of “The 282 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter,” since declaring his candidacy for president.
Let me repeat that. For president.
If you’ve lived with a bully, you see the signs right off. I recall my mother’s husband who, after church every Sunday, would take the helm of our breakfast table to rant and rage about how all politicians racial minorities should be lined up and shot down with machine guns; how the fancy women on TV were nothing but dressed-up whores; how gay men with AIDS got what they deserved. Put them on an island somewhere, he liked to say, and set it on fire.
Imagine what he could have done with a Twitter account.
Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly reported last week that, just prior to the first presidential debate, Donald Trump heard she would be asking him a tough question and threatened to unleash his “beautiful Twitter account” against her. After the debate, he did just that. His taunting went on for weeks, which seemed to open a floodgate for others to do the same and Kelly’s mailbox filled with obscenities, with Trump’s own lawyer retweeting a message saying “we can gut her.” She received death threats.
The bullying continued until a Fox news executive called Trump’s lawyer to explain that Megyn Kelly ending up dead would not help his client.
All because a journalist asked him a tough question.
The world is watching. The bully has his pulpit, and like my mother’s husband what scares me most, what should scare all of us, is his dangerously thin skin.
But that’s not who he is. He’s a really good guy, believe me.
Teri Carter is a writer who lives in Lawrenceburg.