Like many I watched Monday’s debate with the excitement and anticipation that accompanies all great media spectacles. The first presidential debate of 2016 did not disappoint. At times it resembled a circus starring Donald Trump rather than a debate between two candidates.
Trump interrupted Clinton repeatedly, seemed to flirt with her at one point, questioned her stamina, bragged about his "winning temperament" and suffered from a mysterious and persistent sniffle.
The debate reminded us that preparation matters. Temperament matters. And most of all, words matter.
Call Donald Trump a billionaire, a buffoon or a narcissist. Call him a misogynist, a racist, a national disgrace. But don't call him a bully, as so many media outlets have asserted. Here are just a few of the bully-related headlines I've seen over the last 72 hours:
- "Donald Trump, a Failed Bully in His Debate with Clinton" – The New Yorker
- "Women hear sexism and bullying in Trump's debate remarks"— CBS News
- "Ranting Bully Donald Trump Came Unglued in First Presidential Debate — New York Magazine
Slate reported that "Donald Trump attempted to bully his opponent, the moderator, and reality on Monday night."
"Trump bullied Clinton; he bullied Lester Holt, and then he began to melt down," wrote a Detroit Free Press columnist.
And here’s the definition of a bully from dictionary.com:
noun, plural bullies.
1. a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.
If being a bully requires being stronger and more powerful, where did Trump earn his stripes? What exactly makes Clinton weak? Was Monday not a show of strength? Was the question not put to rest with the following retort from Clinton?
“Well, as soon as he [Trump] travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”
Where has Trump proved anywhere that he is stronger in any way than Clinton?
It’s clear that Trump would like to think of himself as a bully. But it’s a construct that we shouldn’t accept, and it’s definitely a setup the media shouldn’t play into. Trump was disrespectful, condescending, and rude in the debate. He has without a doubt bullied many people in his life, many of them women. But he didn't bully Clinton—because he can't. He may be an influential and rich businessman and former reality-TV star, but his opponent is in no way smaller and weaker—a required condition for true bullying to have happened. She's a former Secretary of State, New York senator, and First Lady. If Trump thought he could intimidate her, as he does so many others, he was flat-out wrong.
The gender bias we're exhibiting by claiming Trump bullied Clinton just belittles her, because implicit in that bully label is the idea that Clinton is the weaker player. We wondered how gender would come into play as the first woman presidential nominee took the stage...and Clinton kicked ass, wiped the floor, left Trump battered. It's an insult to everything she did to him to say she was bullied.
When she said she was prepared, she was. She was prepared to win. And she did.
Last year there was a campaign to ban the word “bossy” because it was used unflatteringly to describe woman's assertiveness and leadership. This campaign season let's ban the word “bully” because in her years of fighting, Clinton has proved she is strong.
By Lesley Gold