The midterm elections are a few days away, and the President of the United States’ rhetoric is once again irresponsible, self-serving, incendiary, and dangerous. The stakes are high this time around, presenting those who oppose the President and the party apparatus that he has dragooned into his sycophantic cult of personality with the now familiar dilemma – liberals don’t, can’t, use the methods of manipulation, disparagement, falsity, and fear that have been weaponized in order to satisfy what we now call Trump’s base. The President lies, fact checkers expose the lies, but the only ones following the fact checkers are those who already knew he lied. The President encourages a nation to believe that the true enemy of freedom is a wicked Press, determined to bring the nation into chaos and ruin. Those of us who read the journals attempting to report the actual news have a perspective that those who hear only the President’s voice do not.
It struck me this morning that what we have here is the familiar mean girl/queen bee drama writ large. The mean girl bullies, backbites, spreads rumors, ostracizes, calls names, and spreads shame. The mean girl rules by intimidation; she understands that others can feel insignificant, insecure, in danger of humiliation and abandonment, and she knows that their distress is the source of her power. The queen bee may not be the most attractive, or athletic, or intelligent, but she is canny, reading people quickly, spotting their weakness, and exploiting their fears to her purposes. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t hurt to have obvious advantages that others might covet. The rich girl has an easier time controlling the hive; she has resources others cannot mobilize, and who doesn’t want to have a little star power rub off by association?
The mean girl’s greatest advantage, however, is the capacity to exercise unspeakable cruelty when needed, even when not needed. It is the capacity for meanness that is the ultimate source of power. The mean girl will do what others will not, and that capacity is the source of mixed fear and admiration among the quasi-mean who harbor nasty thoughts about those who seem more advantaged than they but who have been held back in expressing their contempt and anger. With each perfectly placed unforgivable act of cruelty, however, hangers-on become empowered to imitate bad behavior.
After all, they have the most powerful agent in their setting to protect them.
Furthermore, it quickly becomes clear that for the mean girl, those who are not with the queen are against the queen; there are no bystanders in the mean girl universe. Small shows of kindness threaten the mean girl’s reign; mere demonstration of nastiness appeases the queen until large bouts of unpleasantness is required.
The mean girl withers when out of the limelight; she has to be the center of attention, and in creating endless drama creates a virtual entertainment vortex swallowing helpless hangers-on. Their predominant and welcome emotion is outrage, rage that has to find an outlet, a victim. Mean girls demand loyalty and give none; they poison every setting in which they operate. Finally the mean girl will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.
Nothing is out-of-bounds.
In the movies, the good kid, the outsider, the brave kid is willing to stand up to the mean girl, calling her bluff. It’s not enough in the fictional sphere to simply oppose meanness; the heroine has to possess some quality, attribute, or talent that is so socially powerful that it dispels the mean girl’s allure.
In other words, that rarely happens in the real world.
It did happen in 1954 as Senator Joseph McCarthy, that decade’s demagogue and slanderer, used smear tactics to destroy the lives and careers of those who stood in his way, implying that members of Congress, the Army, and the entertainment industry were in the pay of the Communist Party. The Dean of Harvard Law School described McCarthy as “judge, jury, prosecutor, castigator, and press agent, all in one”. As the heated Army McCarthy hearings devolved into yet another barrage of unsubstantiated charges of treason, McCarthy attached the Army’s lead attorney Joseph Welsh’s staff, accusing them of ties to the Communist Party.
McCarthy sat in silence for a moment, then replied, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… Have you no sense of decency?”
And the spell was broken.
That was then.
It takes nothing to see that the mean girl in the White House is both cruel and reckless. Decency? Seems like a long shot. I’d like to believe that boorish misogyny, bigotry, and lack of integrity would serve to arouse the same outrage now. It seems a long shot.
There is another movie version of this story, however. High School reunion twenty years out. Blowsy cheerleader mean girl, her best years very much behind her, stands in shock as former weird girl has blossomed into a mature beauty, now adored by all.
Mean girls can generate drama, but are unlikely to generate much of anything else. It comes down now to jobs, health care, and national security. The only hope may be that self-interest is compelling enough to put this mean girl in his place.