“We all lose when bullying and personal attacks become a substitute for genuine conversation and principled disagreement” (Alicia Garza, founder of International Black Lives Matter).
Bullies thrive in an environment where people either become victims of their abuse or stand behind them as part of the gang. The more people line up behind them, the more powerful they become. And power is what they crave, refusing to accept the consequences of their actions unless forced by some authority figure like a teacher or police officer. Even then, they will go kicking and screaming at the indignity of being held accountable for their behavior.
Mitch McConnell understands the power bullies have and has found the value of using the most public bully our nation has seen beyond the sports arenas to keep his party in line. To be sure, McConnell began his political bullying long before Donald Trump took control of the Republican Party. But in Trump, he has a willing accomplice despite the vitriolic attacks from Trump he must endure from time to time.
Under McConnell’s leadership and Trump’s cover, the GOP has turned from the party of “law-and-order” to the party of threatening language and violent imagery. With few exceptions, Republican members of Congress not only refuse to hold their colleagues accountable for their anti-democratic or hostile actions, they respond with their own threats of more egregious actions once returned to power. It is almost like echoes of the schoolyard bully who is finally stood up to, warning of far more damaging repercussions to come if not given his or her way.
To be clear, we are not talking about the tit-for-tat we’ve all become accustomed to in American politics found on the Sunday morning shows where Democrats and Republicans take turns telling the moderator how the other party is going to destroy the country. Posting a doctored video showing a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Paul Gosar) murdering a colleague and attempting to murder the president is bullying. And defending such behavior is choosing sides with the bully.
But the bullying hasn’t been limited to individual members making poor social media choices. In response to the move to censure Gosar, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy roared a threat to censure Democratic members if his party again has the majority in the House. He follows the example set by McConnell, who repeatedly warned Democrats that modifying or eliminating the filibuster would result in a scorched-earth policy by Republicans once returned to power.
The two Republican bullies stand united.
Lost in all the threats is taking care of the American people. Democrats are debating with Republicans about how to secure voting rights, health care, reproductive rights, tax reform and Covid-19 protocols in the face of a unified front against any improvement, thanks to the 60-vote threshold necessary because of the filibuster. Rather than engage to help Americans struggling due to tax laws driving up the deficit while rewarding the wealthiest passed under their control, Republicans threaten to further damage our economy and safety-net programs as retaliation while they continually stand in the way of progress on any issue.
This bullying is not limited to our national politics but has become an issue for state and county health department officials. Both Dr. Lee Norman, the Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, and Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services resigned within the past year. Neither has given a reason (though Dr. Norman claims in a KCUR interview that he was “Faucied”), nor has either of the governors’ offices. In addition, one-third of Kansas county health department officers have left public service. How much bullying have these public health officers had to endure is an open question as their professional ethics often keep them silent.
Even local school boards have become the target of bullying parents who demand the right to send their children to school unmasked and unvaccinated despite the deadly risks to those around them. Videos abound of parents threatening school board members and health officials who implement and enforce protective health protocols in their schools.
In all cases, bullies want to take power they have not earned through force or threat of force. Their goal is selfish and often wreaks havoc on their community, whether that is their fellow students on the playground, the state health department or the U.S. Congress that serves us all.
Senator McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy have not earned the power of control of Congress, so they have chosen to bully their colleagues and the American people. We have a choice between standing behind the bullies and becoming part of the gang, or standing up to them with our community and country to deny them the power they so desperately seek.