As a psychologist studying bullying among youth, I find many parallels between Trump’s behaviors and our research findings. While a presidential candidate, Trump openly engaged in some typical bullying behaviors found among children and youth: name-calling and belittling of others. He targeted his Republican competitors (“little Marco”) as well as Democrats who criticized him (“crooked Hillary”). Although surveys indicate that people of all ages disapprove of bullying, his actions appeared to boost his popularity.
In a sense, this fits. Although bullies are never liked, they are popular in certain situations. Our research shows that bullies initially become “cool” during their first year in middle school. We think that this link between bullying and popularity is strengthened by the collective uncertainty associated with the transition to middle school. As youth are trying to acclimate to the new setting, many worry about their own social standing and ask: Where do I fit in? Who should I hang out with? When the future is uncertain, it is vital to know not only where one fits, but also who is in charge. Dominance hierarchies help group members find their places and form alliances, and bullying is among the most primitive ways to establish dominance.