Election 2016

Donald Trump Is a Menace to American Society, Presidential Candidate or Not

He's a destructive force to the fabric of society.

Photo Credit: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

While there is plenty of reason to fear a President Trump, even citizen Trump is a real and present danger to society. The GOP presidential nominee has a long personal record of aggression, cruelty and violence, even against those closest to him, that proves he’s a threat in any capacity.

Were he not the son of a millionaire and instead, say, a poor or black kid of any class, Trump’s violent streak, visible early on, would likely have branded him a problem child headed for a troubled adulthood. At the age of 7 or 8, by his own account, Trump physically attacked an adult instructor at his school. "In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye,” he stated in the 1987 book The Art of the Deal. “I punched my music teacher because I didn't think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled." Trump has said he is “not proud,” of the incident; nonetheless, he cites it as “clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way.”

Such flashes of senseless violence were common for Trump as a child. Dennis Burnham, who grew up in Trump’s childhood neighborhood, told the Washington Post, “Donald was known to be a bully. I was a little kid, and my parents didn’t want me beaten up.” Burnham says as a baby, his mother once briefly left him in a playpen in the backyard, which faced the Trump grounds, and shortly thereafter, returned to catch Trump—four years older than her son—throwing rocks at the baby. “She saw Donald standing at the fence using the playpen for target ­practice,” Burnham told the newspaper.

Trump himself has implied there are numerous unrecounted examples of his juvenile brutishness, unwittingly revealing that he has long reveled in violence. “I always loved to fight,” Trump told Michael D’Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump and Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success. “All types of fights, including physical.” Steve Nachtigall, a New Jersey-based doctor who lived near Trump as a child, recounted watching Trump and his friends jump another kid and beat him up. “It’s kind of like a little video snippet that remains in my brain because I think it was so unusual and terrifying at that age,” Nachtigall said. “He was a loudmouth bully.” Other childhood neighbors told the Post that Trump hated to lose, and “could erupt in anger, pummeling another boy or smashing a baseball bat if he made an out.”

By Trump’s own reckoning, this early proclivity toward violence and bullying—currently on prominent, frightening display in his campaign—remains fundamental to who he is. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same,” Trump told biographer D’Antonio. “The temperament is not all that different.”

Trump’s childhood tendency toward selfishness and domination manifested in other ways that might seem innocuous in another person, but in Trump’s case, reveal the seeds that blossomed into his cutthroat, winner-take-all style of doing business. In The Art of the Deal, Trump says his younger and “much quieter and... easy going” brother Robert often tells a story about “when it became clear to him where [Trump] was headed.” The two siblings were playing with blocks, and foreshadowing the skyscrapers he would later construct, Trump tried to build a tall stack. Realizing he’d run out of blocks, he asked to borrow some of his brother’s, who obliged, saying, “Okay, but you have to give them back when you’re done.” Robert unknowingly became the first of thousands who claim they’ve been lied to, defrauded and otherwise shafted by Trump. "I ended up using all of my blocks, and then all of his, and when I was done, I'd created a beautiful building," Trump reflects. "I liked it so much that I glued the whole thing together. And that was the end of Robert's blocks."

Amidst the fights, attacks and other behaviors he has labeled “aggressive,” Trump has said, “as an adolescent [he] was mostly interested in creating mischief,” and that he liked to “stir things up” and “test people.” That makes him sound like an adorable scamp, when in fact, others paint a picture of a troublemaker protected by his father’s money and social stature. One former teacher at his Queens private school said that Trump, “would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face—I use the word surly—almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn’t settle with him.” As a student, Trump was so defiant and prone to rule-breaking that former classmate Paul Onish told NPR his name became synonymous with punishments handed out by the school for behaving badly. "We used to refer to our detention as a 'DT'—a 'Donny Trump'—because he got more of them than most other people in the class," Onish said.

Trump’s father Fred, often described as an authoritarian figure who prioritized business interests over his family, likely egged on this behavior by creating an atmosphere of toxic masculinity in which any sign of weakness was tantamount to failure. Trump biographer Harry Hurt III, author of Lost Tycoon, wrote that the elder Trump repeatedly told his sons, “you are a killer... you are a king... you are a killer... you are a king.” Trump’s acting out may well be attributed to the pressures applied by his father. The psychological underpinnings—and possible personality disorders—at the root of the billionaire’s unruliness have been explored by experts in numerous other articles. Whatever the case, fed up with his son’s out-of-control behavior, Fred shipped Donald off to the New York Military Academy to complete his education.

Writing for Politico, Trump biographer D’Antonio describes NYMA as a “place that was supposed to civilize boys who were bullies and toughen up those who appeared to be weak,” and that it placed Trump in an “aggressive and isolate subculture that prized physical toughness and defined manhood in the basest terms.” Many of the staff members were men who had fought in World War II, and they treated students with the harshness and brutality of young soldiers. Trump characterized the institution as a “tough” place, where physical abuse was not uncommon. “In those days they’d smack the hell out of you,” Trump told D’Antonio. “It was not like today where you smack somebody and you go to jail.” In another interview with the Washington Post, Trump said there were “a lot of drill sergeants...And they were tough, and it was less politically correct than it is today... You had to learn how to survive, essentially, with some of these guys.”

Yet Trump thrived at NYMA, even finding a mentor in Major Theodore Dobias, a man he told D’Antonio “could be a fucking prick. He absolutely would rough you up.” Trump has said he fared well with Dobias by showing the major he “respected his authority but that he didn't intimidate me." Some students have claimed Trump’s privilege and family name afforded a measure of protection not extended to others. But Trump’s previous reputation seems to have remained intact while at the institution, according to classmates. One of Trump’s peers told NPR he had an “air of superiority,” while another said “he was so competitive that everybody who could come close to him he had to destroy." Perhaps most telling is a story from Trump’s NYMA roommate Ted Levine, who recounts how Trump ripped the sheets off his bed during an inspection because it hadn’t been properly made. "Then I lost it. I totally lost it. So I think I hit him with a broomstick," Levine recounted, who at the time stood at 4’11” to Trump’s 6’2”. "And he came back at me—with his hands. He was bigger than me. And it took three people to get him off me."

Trump has said that in his time at the school he “learned discipline—how to dish it out and otherwise.” It seems just as likely that, as D’Antonio has written, Trump’s success at NYMA was actually a sign of an ever deepening pathology. “Like many children who are abused by their caretakers,” D’Antonio writes, "Trump came to identify with" the adult men on staff who brutalized the students in their charge. The ethos of NYMA, where boys were socialized to believe that manhood is intrinsically linked with subjugating, intimidating and dominating those who might be identified as “weak,” coupled with Fred Trump’s insistence that “most people are weaklings” undeserving of respect, all helped ensure Trump grew into a bigger, better and more dedicated bully, as evidenced not only throughout this electoral season, but over the last few decades of his public life.

Part and parcel with the toxic masculinity of Trump’s youth is the misogyny and sexism that has been part of his entire public life. We’ve grown familiar with Trump’s intense misogyny through his countless attacks on various figures via social media, from Rosie O’Donnell to Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who understatedly noted, “It’s clear we may have overestimated his anger-management skills.” On the campaign trail, Trump has heaped abuse on NBC’s Katy Tur and urged his audience to follow suit, resulting in the journalist requiring constant Secret Service protection. There was the time a few years ago when an unhinged Trump mailed writer Gail Collins a copy of one of her columns with the words “The Face of a Dog!” written across her photo.

Long before that, in 1992, Trump offered a glimpse into his feelings on gender equality when he stated in an interview with New York Magazine, “Women, you have to treat them like shit." In 1997’s Trump: The Art of the Comeback,he mused, “Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers...I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part.” In the 2005 book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, he managed to seamlessly display his blend of cinephilia and woman-hating into a single quote: “My favorite part [of Pulp Fiction] is when Sam has his gun out in the diner and he tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to shut up. Tell that bitch to be cool. Say: ‘Bitch be cool.’ I love those lines.”

Then there’s the 2013 tweet from Trump in which he essentially states that rape is a natural outcome of women and men being in close quarters. “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military—only 238 convictions,” Trump wrote. “What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” This insight is made yet more frightening in light of the rape and/or attempted sexual assault accusations three women have made against Trump. A lawsuit filed in federal court in June alleges that Trump viciously and violently raped a 13-year-old girl in 1994; the accuser contends the assault took place at the home of Trump’s friend, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who went to jail in 2008 on charges of soliciting underage girls for sex.

Trump’s 1990s business associate Jill Harth has filed a complaint alleging she was relentlessly sexually harassed by Trump, culminating in an attempted rape at the billionaire’s Mar-A-Largo estate. According to the book Lost Tycoon, in a sworn deposition during their 1992 divorce, ex-wife Ivana stated that Trump once brutally beat her, ripping out her hair in clumps, and raped her. Before the book’s release, Trump’s lawyers sent the author a statement from Ivana which recants that charge. “During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case...I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense,” the statement reads. (The New York Times and Gannett, which owns USA Today, have jointly requested the court unseal the divorce documents, arguing that Trump’s “treatment of women” is “directly relevant to the presidential election.”)

The latest evidence of Trump’s dangerousness are his calls for violence at his rallies. He boasted to an audience that he would "beat the crap out of" a would-be attacker. In Iowa, he advised supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters with encouragement that he would “pay for the legal fees.” On two separate occasions, he has wistfully longed for “the old days,” when a protester would be “carried out on a stretcher.” “But today,” he lamented, “everybody's politically correct.” He remarked that supporters pummeling a protester in North Carolina was “a beautiful thing,” and discussing the incident later, wished for increased violence at his events, saying, “that's what we need a little bit more of.” At a Missouri campaign stop, Trump said “part of” the problem today “is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.” Discussing the potential for Black Lives Matter to interrupt a protest, Trump threatened, “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will." There are too many examples to list, but you get the picture. 

Video courtesy of the New York Times.

We should not be surprised that a man with such horrifying views and a propensity for violence would actually boost torture, saying that if elected, he’ll “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” and that he’d order the killings of terrorists’ families. Trump has praised bloody dictatorships in Russia, China and North Korea, even applauding Saddam Hussein for how “good” he was at “killing terrorists.” (“They didn't read 'em the rights. They didn't talk. They were a terrorist—it was over.”) As Joe Biden pointed out in his speech at the DNC, only someone lacking the human traits of “empathy and compassion” would take such delight in telling people, before a television audience of millions, “You’re fired.” Trump responded by saying of the DNC's speakers—among them the Muslim-American Gold Star couple the Khans, who Trump would later publicly insult—that he wanted to “hit [them] so hard.”

He’s backed up by his campaign team, a group of thugs and lunatics selected by Trump, undoubtedly, because their views match his own. Trump adviser, right-wing shyster and notorious racist Roger Stone, has tweeted that numerous public figures should be shot, hung or executed. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski physically assaulted a female reporter in an incident caught on video. Current campaign head Paul Manafort, a close associate of Stone’s, has built his career on aiding dictators and despots known for human rights violations including “government-sanctioned torture, detainment, and rape.” Recently, Trump’s former North Carolina state director, Earl Phillip, was sued by another campaign staffer who said Phillip pulled a gun on him and senior members of the Trump team “did nothing” when they learned of the incident. Trump has assembled not so much a campaign staff as a morally bereft street gang in suits.

But even the members of Trump’s inner campaign circle recognized his overstep in hinting that Second Amendment gun nuts should take out Hillary Clinton. Even after months of cheering on his followers' calls to “lock her up” and more extreme threats, Trump’s wink-nudge assassination suggestion brought home just how hateful and violent a man we’re dealing with. “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially, the Second Amendment,” Trump said, a lie he has repeated over and over again. “By the way, and if she gets the pick, if she gets the pick of her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I dunno.”

It is unprecedented that a viable candidate for the presidency has required a talking to by the Secret Service for tacitly urging violence upon an opponent. As in childhood, when Trump’s privilege led others to look away from his impulsive violence and bullying, his stature as a powerful man and billionaire contender protect him now. “If someone else had said that outside the hall,” ex-CIA head Michael Hayden told CNN, “he’d be in the back of a police wagon now with the Secret Service questioning him.”

In many ways, Trump is the natural end result of a GOP that has leaned toward violent rhetoric and racial divisiveness for years, starting with the Southern Strategy and more recently witnessed in Sarah Palin’s 2010 crosshairs map that included a target for former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who a year later was shot in the head by mass shooter Jared Loughner. The Republican Party has been fomenting hate and bigotry for decades through messaging that has grown increasingly full-throated—the language used against President Obama during the last eight years alone is a treasure trove of right-wing scariness. Trump is what all that messaging hath wrought and then some. His fanbase of racists and xenophobes, whipped into a frenzy, have responded to his calls for violence with violence. This goes far beyond the beatings doled out to protesters at Trump rallies. In May, two Boston brothers viciously beat an Hispanic man and admiringly quoted Trump’s stance on “illegals” as they were being arrested. Just days ago, an enraged motorist threatened to “pull a Trump” on a bicyclist he wrongly accused of cutting him off. Earlier this week, after a Queens, New York imam and his assistant were fatally gunned down in broad daylight, a local Muslim resident told the New York Daily News, “We blame Donald Trump for this…Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia.”

The media, which has begun to more forcefully take Trump to task for his antics, initially served to help the billionaire in his rise to power. Ann Jones delivered a powerful indictment of this aiding and abetting, writing on TomDispatch:

“The TV networks, like the media generally, and the Republican establishment thought his candidacy was a joke, yet in the process of publicizing that joke, they gave him an estimated $2 billion in free air time. Often in those months, as in his post-primary 'press conferences,' he was not challenged but awarded endless time to rant and ramble on, monopolizing the perceptions of viewers and networks alike. To justify their focus on him and their relative neglect of all other candidates, the networks cited the bottom line. Trump, they said, made them a lot of money. And they made him a daily inescapable presence in our lives.”

If he were of more humble beginnings, Donald Trump would likely have been tracked for state supervision a long time ago. Instead of a ritzy military academy, he would have been sent to a juvenile facility; instead of having his threats dismissed as the brash ramblings of a billionaire, he would be viewed as a threat to public safety; instead of a list of violent actions and statements carried out with impunity, there would be a rap sheet. We shouldn't just fret about having this man in the Oval Office; we should fear his presence on our streets.

If any normal citizen had relentlessly bullied people since childhood, lashed out physically at those in his personal life, publicly supported enemies of the American state, allegedly sexually assaulted multiple women, and dog whistled for the death of his competitor in a political race, he would have been put away for reasons of the public good. (Unarmed black kids have died for far less.) Trump would be recognized as a potential threat to himself and others, and all the above evidence would recommend having him put away.

Rapper T.I. recently said in an interview, “If I were to do the things Trump’s doing, I would be called a common thug. If I was to say, ‘If somebody who doesn’t look like us or agree with us shows up at my concert, and you beat him up and get locked up, I’ll pay for your legal fees,’ that’d be like a mob boss, you know?” It’s a statement that's alarming in its overwhelming truth. While the danger of Trump as a world leader has been recognized by countless sources, there has been little consideration of the everyday menace he presents. Based solely on the facts of his life, would Trump be a man you’d want near your children or family, living next door or in your neighborhood? Personalize the image of Trump, known for starting fights or goading others into them, for treating people with disrespect, for relentlessly attacking others by any means at his disposal, and the picture becomes a bit clearer. 

Video courtesy of the New York Times.

A 2008 study from the University of Chicago found that brain scans revealed teens with a history of bullying actually take pleasure in watching the pain and suffering of others. I was reminded of a quote from The Art of the Deal, in which Trump states, “When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even.” Spoken like a true bully, right to the end. Win or lose this election (and let’s hope for the latter), Trump is a risk no one can afford. He’s a genuinely scary man of troubling character, who will continue to cause untold suffering to those close to him and to the world, should he succeed in his mission to become Commander-in-Chief.

Some part of Trump may even recognize this about himself, and that may be the reason he refuses to look inward. “When you start studying yourself too deeply, you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see,” he said in an interview with Time magazine some years back. “And if there’s a rhyme and reason people can figure you out,” Trump added, “and once they can figure you out, you’re in big trouble.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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