How would you translate the phrase “kiss up, kick down” in French?
I can't think of an exact translation, but you may find some phrases or expressions that convey the same idea, albeit partially.
Un petit chef is typically a low-rank leader or manager who acts tyrannically with their subordinates.
Un lèche-bottes (or more vulgar: lèche-cul) is someone who flatters their superiors in order to gain their favors.
Depending on the context, one could combine the two, eg:
Avec ses collègues, il joue au petit chef, mais avec ses supérieurs, c'est un vrai lèche-botte.
Un petit chef lèche-bottes
Some reflections on the term "to kiss up to" and its translation into French will be found in the present answer; the other term, "to kick down", seems to occur very little in translations into French and I have no understanding of it.
If we consider sample translations from the reverso, which are I think, representative of what is put in this term, we see that there is no single rendering of "to kiss up to"; it all depends on the context. (The adverbial particle denotes an event that is prevalent or in a continuing state, an event that goes on (Oxford dictionary))
- I don't want to kiss up to you. _ Je ne veux pas vous conforter.
- I thought it was to kiss up to me. _ Je pensais que c'était pour vous la jouer devant moi.
- I didn't kiss up to anybody. _ Je n'ai fait de lèche à personne.
- I did not kiss up to anybody. _ Je ne cirais les pompes de personne.
- We'll have to kiss up to the old lady. _ Il faut être très gentils avec la vieille.
- Why do you always kiss up to him? _ Pourquoi lui fais-tu de la lèche comme ça ?
- What, and cut off the oxygen to my brain just to kiss up to some fat cats? _ Quoi, et priver mon cerveau d'oxygène pour faire plaisir à des huiles ?
- Why would I need to kiss up to you? _ Pourquoi aurais-je besoin de me la jouer devant toi ?
- So if you don't kiss up to Joe and Larry first you'll end up like the ex-Ms. Giuliani. _ Si tu ne vas pas vers Joe et Larry en premier, tu vas finir comme l'ex Mme Giuliani.
- You better let me kiss up to the architect. _ Laissez-moi flatter l'architecte.
- They're "acquaintances." People I have to kiss up to due to their "leverage" potential. _ Des gens que je dois côtoyer parce qu'ils peuvent créer un gros "leverage".
- You can kiss up to her in Polish. _ Vous l'amadouerez avec votre polonais.
"Conforter" (to confort) seems to be an extreme in the possible meanings; then, "Faire les premiers pas (to take the first step)" and "être gentil (to be nice to)" or "faire plaisir" are other possibilities; then "flatter (to flatter)" is also conceivable; it reaches finally what is comparatively an extreme in the term "faire de la lèche" or just as vulgar "lécher les bottes (à quelqu'un) (to kiss someone's bum)", this last verbal expression meaning in decent language "to flatter in an obsequious or servile manner". Finally, there is no more involved in what the expression is reckoned sometimes to communicate than a necessity to tolerate people (devoir cotoyer).
It appears that the meaning of this neologism, that is its English meaning, hasn't been settled yet or that it is one of those general purpose expressions that'll be forever, as it stand, more than a difficult expression to use, an unpleasant one to read, use and translate in all the various instances of its use.