Sometimes what unites us is a common adversary. Take Donald Trump, for example. The Republican front-runner has so far disparaged women, Muslims, Hispanics, and members of the media, and the list seems to grow with every news cycle.
If you ask Angelo Carusone — the gay man who in 2012 started fighting back with a "Dump Trump" campaign aimed at Macy's — the billionaire is a bully. Maybe the hugest.
"When we’re doing a simple petition delivery at Macy’s, he sends down his bodyguards just to stand there and walk next to me, to prove a point," recalls Carusone. "The implication being, of course, that something more can certainly happen."
Carusone, 33, has fought lots of right-wing bullies over the years with comprehensive campaigns, many of which have succeeded, including one that helped drive advertisers away from Glenn Beck before he lost his Fox News show, and another against Rush Limbaugh over his antagonizing of Sandra Fluke and other women. Some of that activism is part of Carusone's day job as executive vice president for Media Matters, the watchdog website, but the Trump campaign he took on by himself.
This year, Carusone was first to call out Trump for paying actors to attend his presidential announcement rally, breaking the news in a story on Medium and then being interviewed on MSNBC about the discovery. He's just never stopped keeping watch on Trump.
That hasn't come without blowback. Carusone's MoveOn petition against Trump accumulated more than 700,000 signatures calling on the retailer to discontinue its namesake's clothing line. In response, Trump threatened to sue Carusone for $25 million.
Via his lawyer, Carusone sought evidence of $25 million in damages, then suddenly the billionaire changed his story, saying sales of the clothing line were only being boosted by the publicity. For Donald Trump, all publicity is good.
"When it comes to bullying, part of it is obviously personal, I dealt with bullies a fair amount growing up," Carusone said. "The one lesson I had, when I finally started to turn it around, was that even if you can’t really win the fight, you just have to not make it not worth their while. I like to win the fight, but the way to not make it worth their while is to always, 100 percent, stand up for it. It works for high school bullies; it works for really rich business people too."
That deal with Macy's finally ended this year shortly after Trump said, in his announcement speech for president, that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are rapists and drug-dealers.
Trump later tossed out a Latino journalist asking about immigration during one of his rallies. So maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise then when Trump's supporters roughed up a Black Lives Matter protester in the audience at another of his rallies. And reporters say they've been threatened with loss of their press credentials if they leave the cordoned off, Trump-approved areas. And if Trump doesn't want Muslims entering the country, as he proposed this week, then it's probably understood they shouldn't attend his rallies. The underlying question is always: Who's next?
In fact, a super PAC for another Republican candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, asked voters exactly that question in a Web ad that warned people not to assume they're safe from Trump's attacks just because they're not being picked on now.
Maybe LGBT voters should be taking the most heed. While other minority groups have been in his target, LGBT people have gotten a pass. Trump opposes marriage equality, though he doesn't really talk about it. He's even hinted in that past at support for workplace protections, though it's still unclear how far he'd go, or if he'd stick by his support 15 years ago for amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gays and lesbians.
Carusone certainly sees reason to worry. To him, Trump is the classic bully. The bully is always "the loudest voice in the room" and relies on "the most high-balanced, visceral kinds of emotions from the people around them." In other words, they're bullying oftentimes not just for themselves, but for others to watch.
"Ultimately it’s about what the conduct does to the environment or the space that people are interacting in," he says, explaining the commonality with the bullies he met as a young gay boy who switched schools a lot. "For me, bullying would effect how I interacted and engaged in what are otherwise public or communal areas. Like the school bus, or the cafeteria, they really shaped how I interacted there."
Like a lot of kids, Carusone says he didn't feel comfortable in his daily life.
"It wasn’t just that it was uncomfortable, but it was hostile," he said. "That, I couldn’t even really speak up if I wanted to, because of the fact that I knew that the people around me, even if they were not bullying me, would turn a blind eye, or in some ways think I had it coming, or they wouldn’t speak up because they themselves wouldn’t want to be the subject of bullying. Why jump in? And so it affects the environment. It comes from a position where the person that is doing the bullying, is either using some edge that they have, whether it’s physical size, or popularity, or in the case of some of these blow-hards, money or resources and a platform. But the effect is the same, which is it silences people."