I was impressed by an article by Peter Beinart on the Atlantic website a few days ago. The headline is “Trump Insults People From Afar, Then Praises Them in Person.” The article itself starts off thus:
When Donald Trump addressed South Korea’s parliament earlier this week, The Associated Press noted his “striking shift in tone.” After Trump journeyed from Seoul to Beijing, The New York Times made a video entitled “Trump’s striking change in tone on China.”But the change isn’t all that striking. It’s predictable. Trump insults people from afar and then praises them in person. He demands they change their behavior, and then forgets those demands when they’re in the room. He’s been doing it consistently for at least a year.*
Beinart cites four examples, three foreign and one domestic, of Trump, after having launched a severe attack from afar, offering sweet words to the attackees in person. The foreign examples are the Chinese, the South Koreans, and the Mexicans; the domestic example is his making mellow sounds at a black church in Detroit after “accus[ing] Black Lives Matter of encouraging attacks on police and suggest[ing] that African Americans were prone to voter fraud.” Just as the Associated Press and The New York Times had observed about the foreign excursions, Beinart points out that The Washington Post noted Trump’s “jarring shift in tone and message.”
Beinart’s article brought to mind the expression “kiss up/kick down,” which came to prominence in 2005 during the Senate confirmation hearings of John Bolton for the post of United States ambassador to the United Nations. The assessment was made by Carl Ford, former chief at the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research.**
At that time Steve Inskeep interviewed on NPR Ken Lloyd, author of Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People, about “kiss up/ kick down people”:
INSKEEP: The word `bully' has been used sometimes to describe John Bolton. Again, without endorsing or decrying that, let's talk about bullies for a minute. What happens when you have a bully in the workplace?
Mr. LLOYD: When you have a bully in the workplace, it's almost like that same bully on the school yard. This is a person who stamps his feet, pushes people around, demands that everything be done his or her way. It's a very similar kind of behavior.***
People who “kiss up/kick down” have no internal strength of character, since they use force only against those weaker than themselves, while becoming smarmy ass-kissing, bootlickers to those superior to them. I identify this as a question of Verticality:
Trump’s actions, I perceived, were of a different order. They demonstrated what I named Horizontality: the farther away one stands (distance being what Shakespeare called “the region cloud”) the safer one is from retaliation when one launches attacks against other people.**** Move close to the person you attack and expect a blow to the mush—unless one suddenly becomes all strategically forgetful and mealy-mouthed. The person who attacks from afar can only be labeled a coward; the same person smarming up close exhibits his gutlessness.
**** Internet trolls are obviously cowards, as the Web provides infinite electronic distancing between attacker and attackee. Consider the famous cartoon by Peter Steiner in The New Yorker, July 5, 1993: