Robert Reich: Kavanaugh and the Bullying Class | Opinion

As a kid I was always a head shorter than other boys, which meant I was bullied—mocked, threatened, sometimes assaulted.

America has become a culture of bullying—the wealthier over the poorer, those with privilege and pedigree over those without, the whiter over the browner and blacker.

Sometimes the bullying involves physical violence. More often it entails intimidation, displays of dominance, demands for submission, or arbitrary decisions over the lives of those who feel they have no choice but to accept them.

The question is whether those who are bullied will fight back. (I did, finally, and it made all the difference.)

The drama that took place in the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27 was a window into our bullying culture.

The stakes on one side were the power of men who harass or abuse women and get away with it, of privileged white men to entrench their power even more on the Supreme Court, and of men vested with official power to take away a woman's right to choose what she does with her body.

The stakes on the other were the power of women with the courage to tell what has happened to them, to demand an end to white male privilege, and to preserve and enlarge their constitutional rights.

Dr. Ford was poised, articulate, clear and convincing. No one who witnessed her testimony and her responses could fail to conclude that she told the truth. More than that: She radiated self-assured power.

Brett Kavanaugh, by contrast, showed himself to be a vicious partisan—a Trump-like figure who feels entitled to do and say whatever he wants, who suspects left-wing plots against him, who seems to refuse to take responsibility for his actions, and who appears to use emotional bullying and intimidation to get his way.

Whatever happens to Kavanaugh, a large share of the American public will never trust him to be impartial. Many will never believe his denials of sexual assault. Most will continue to see him as the privileged, arrogant, self-righteous person he revealed himself to be.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Which brings us to the coming midterm election. It is not really about Democrats or Republicans, left or right, socialism or capitalism.

It is about the power of people who are rich, white, privileged, or male—or all of the above—to bully those who aren't. And the courage of the bullied to fight back.

Donald Trump is America's bully-in-chief. He exemplifies those who use their wealth to gain power and celebrity, harass or abuse women and get away with it, lie without consequence, violate the law with impunity, and rage against anyone who calls them on their bullying.

Trump became president by exploiting the anger of millions of white working class Americans who have been bullied for decades by CEOs and Wall Street.

Even as corporate profits have ballooned and executive pay has gone into the stratosphere, these workers have been hammered. Their pay has gone nowhere, their benefits have shrunk, their jobs are less secure.

Trump has used their anger to build his political base, channeling their frustrations and anxieties into racism and nativism—encouraging Americans who have been bullied to feel more powerful by bullying people with even less power: poor black people, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, families seeking asylum.

This con game has been played before in history, by self-described strongmen who pretend to be tribunes of the oppressed by scapegoating the truly powerless.

Trump is no tribune of the people. He and his enablers in the Republican Party are working for the moneyed interests that fund them—the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, Steve Wynn, big corporations and Wall Street—dispensing tax cuts, slashing regulations, and creating more opportunities for them to profit off public lands, coastal waters, and public spending.

Make no mistake. The moneyed interests are America's real bullying class. They have enlarged their wealth by repressing wages (or pushing the companies they invest in to do so), and enlarged their political power through gerrymandering and suppressing votes (or pushing their political lackeys to do so).

Their capacity to bully has grown as the nation's wealth has become concentrated in fewer hands, the economy more monopolized, and American politics more engulfed in big money.

It is time to fight the real bullies. It is time for the disempowered and dispossessed to reclaim the economic and political power that is rightfully theirs.

It all begins with the midterm elections, November 6.

Robert Reich is the chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All. His latest documentary, Saving Capitalism, is streaming on Netflix. Reich 's new book, The Common Good, is available now.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

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