It’s hard to be Howard Schultz. After a successful career persuading commuters to mainline burnt coffee and cake pops, the poor guy just wants to “bring the country together” and fix our “broken political system.” And though he himself would never complain—at least not explicitly—others will say he has to put up with people trying to “bully” him out of even running for president.
What does this bullying look like?
Well, many responded to his flirtation with a “centrist independent” presidential bid by arguing that both history and math suggest he would lose while siphoning votes away from the Democratic nominee, thereby guaranteeing Donald Trump’s re-election. Others have pointed out his plutocratic, elitist views, his un-sophisticated understanding of the American political system, and his unrealistic, untenable political philosophy.
New York magazine’s Eric Levitz neatly summed up his incoherence: “Schultz is promising to reduce inequality by keeping taxes on corporate shareholders lower than they were under Obama, to reduce the deficit by slashing taxes on the middle class, and to end poverty by cutting two of the most effective anti-poverty programs in American history.”
An errant heckler at one of Schultz’s book events did, indeed, yell profanities at the coffee magnate. And Schultz is being roundly insulted on Twitter. But who isn’t?
For the most part, what Schultz has faced is not bullying but questioning and criticism. Indeed, one New York Times columnist was unfailingly polite in her headline, “Howard Schultz, Please Don’t Run for the Presidency.”
Schultz, meanwhile, has appeared genuinely surprised at the backlash to his proposed candidacy (and we can talk elsewhere about the entitlement that birthed such shock). During an interview on Morning Joe, he came off as defensive when offering his biography as proof that he’s the right man for the job. He lamented the fact that most Americans don’t have $400 in their bank account. Yet, despite this display of empathy and perspective, he seemed offended that anyone might be wary of another billionaire who claims he alone can fix our country.
It was The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, which has frequently railed against liberal “snowflakes,” which called the treatment of Schultz bullying. But it’s not alone in using the term as a catch-all for any and all criticism directed at the wealthy and political elite. A lot of people in power, particularly on the right, believe that they should be shielded from basic inquiry, not to mention criticism.
The pattern first took shape with the Victim-in-Chief, Donald Trump, whose insecurity and paranoia lead him to see a world that is pitted against him. The Democrats are unfair. The media is fake. The rules are rigged. The Deep State is out to get him. “No politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he once said—never mind the time they shot Lincoln.
Republicans have adopted their leader’s sensitivity, wielding it as a weapon against legitimate scrutiny. They were quick to accuse Democrats and protesters of bullying now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. The bullies’ crimes? Senators daring to ask him questions during a confirmation hearing about serious allegations, and citizens—including sexual assault survivors—exercising their First Amendment rights and protesting the nomination. Kavanaugh himself launched into an angry, defensive screed against the so-called “attacks” on him—visibly contemptuous of the notion that anybody would question his automatic installment in a job to which he believed he was entitled.
Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, has taken victimization to its absurd extreme, accusing Democrats who want to make it easier for Americans to vote of a “power grab.” The victim, in his mind, is not the people who have been denied the franchise but he and other GOP lawmakers who may have to face the electoral consequences of their unpopularity.
Like McConnell, Schultz has no problem dishing out personal, cutting judgments of other politicians. He must know that, in these times, calling policies like Medicare for All and a higher marginal tax rate “un-American” isn’t just antagonizing—it can have a chilling effect.
For now, Schultz is just dipping his toes into the murkiest of waters. But with the amount of free press he’s getting—even, with apologies, in this column—he cannot expect a coronation. For example, he’s mostly trafficking in generalities about broken Washington without demonstrating any real understanding of how government works. To wit: When asked how he would solve our health-care challenges (which he hasn’t really defined), he said he would get serious people to sit around a table. Does he really think that, up until a Howard Schultz presidency, no leader has put serious people around a table to tackle health care?
But if he feels this harassed by requests to explain himself more fully, then he is in for a rude awakening. A political campaign is a job interview unlike any other. Should he decide to run, the American people, through their intermediary—the media—will comb through everything Schultz has ever said and done. They will examine his finances, critique his business choices and make fun of his hair. They will delve into his personal life and pull apart his biography. They will question his policy agenda and ask for more details. And as a candidate, he must go along for the ride, mostly in good cheer. Seeking the presidency outside of the traditional party structure does not leave him free from the scrutiny appropriate for one who seeks to govern our whole country. That is the job, and that is the process.
It’s one thing for the right-wingers at the Journal to cry bully. Schultz is merely a pawn in their cynical game to get Trump re-elected. But if Schultz himself truly believes that he is being persecuted, then it would be best for him to take his ball and go home early.