Climate of Intimidation

Republicans often use intimidation and force to get their way. This can be seen on all levels from the national to the personal level.

National Level

The Republican Party has for at least a decade been using clear tactics of intimidation on the national level.

Congress: During the Bush years, when the Party controlled the administrative and legislative branches, they used intimidation to prevent the Democratic minority from ever opposing them. Congressman Tom Delay of Texas was notorious for this, earning the name “The Hammer” as a result. He even hammered fellow Republicans who were not intimidating enough toward Democrats. A similar climate of intimidation in the Senate prevented the Democrats, who were just a couple of members short of a majority, from blocking any Republican initiatives. Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeld got whatever they wanted.

Once the Republicans became the minority party, and especially after the election of Barack Obama, they took up an absolute practice of using the Senatorial filibuster to block every action that the new administration might take. There was hardly any Senate act, including federal court nominations that Republicans ended up overwhelmingly approving, that was not initially blocked by threats of Republican filibuster. They were absolutely convinced that a 40 percent minority has the responsibility to block the 60 percent majority at every step. This was noted in a March 2009 report. Democrats did not do this very much when they had a 49 percent minority during the Bush years. Since the 2010 elections, the Republicans remain the minority party in the Senate; they will probably continue to use filibusters to block everything. This is the intimidation that is institutionalized on the Party level.

Bush Administration: The Bush Administration used intimidation to get whatever it wanted, which included the power to begin a war on the basis of false information (see Climate of War). But they used intimidation against fellow Americans also. Previous to the Bush Administration, the “material witness law” was used sparingly to make sure that important witnesses in federal cases would not leave or otherwise become unavailable for testimony. But after 9-11, Attorney General John Ashcroft reinterpreted the law to mean that the federal government could arrest and detain people who were not charged with any crime, for an unspecified period. Ashcroft used this power to arrest and detain at least one American citizen of Arabic descent. In 2009, the ACLU sued Ashcroft for doing this. Ashcroft countered that since he was part of the federal government, he could interpret the law however the hell he wanted to. A federal court sided with the ACLU in March, 2010, allowing the ACLU suit to move forward, and agreed again in September, 2010.

State and local level

For the most part, Republican leaders on the state and local level use less intimidation, and in fact are more reasonable, than on the national level. When the governors meet to discuss issues, there is far more bipartisan agreement than in Washington (that is, there is some bipartisan agreement). With the exception of people such as South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (see climate of hypocrisy), Republican governors tend to be moderate. Charlie Crist felt pressured to renounce Republican Party membership become an independent because of the national-level intimidation from Republicans. And there is no Washington Republican as reasonable as was California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And yet, on the local level (organized loosely by the internet on a national level) there is a huge amount of Republican intimidation. The most obvious example is the local militias that hoard weapons. I will use just one example: some soldiers and policemen have joined a group called Oath Keepers, who take an oath that, if they deem it necessary, they will turn their weapons against their fellow law enforcement officers and against the federal government. They have, in effect, taken an oath to commit armed treason should they consider it necessary. Officially, they claim that they will disobey any orders that they may receive to fire upon their fellow American citizens during domestic upheaval. Sounds reasonable, perhaps. But you will notice that such militias were not widespread during the Bush presidency. It is only since the election of Obama that these groups have claimed that they will if necessary take up armed resistance against the government. This clearly implies that they would be willing to fire upon rioters on the political left (such as during the WTO riots in Seattle in 1999) but not upon an armed uprising from their fellow right-wing militia members. Their clear purpose is to, if provoked, fire upon a Democratic federal government, but not a Republican one. The national Republican Party has no official association with them, but many Republicans encourage them, and the Republican Party stands to gain from their support and popularity.

The Tea Party movement is not organized (I think) as a militia, but displays a similar mindless ferocity against Democrats. Their principal virtue is wrath, so much so that they do not even recognize their errors when pointed out. One Tea Party protestor held a sign declaring that the federal government should not interfere with her Medicare—apparently unaware, even after it was pointed out, that Medicare is a federal government program. The vitriol of the Tea Party movement was best demonstrated during the passage of health care legislation by the House of Representatives in the spring of 2010. Protestors spat upon Democratic lawmakers and hurled the n-word. Some Republican congressmen went out to encourage them. The national Republican Party did not endorse them, but made little effort to denounce them either.

There are some individual Republicans who will not use intimidation. They are embarrassed that their Party has now become the party of ferocious intimidation. Unfortunately, few of these reasonable Republicans are still in public office. Perhaps the last place you might expect to find a reasonable Republican is from Oklahoma. But there is no more reasonable Republican—and few more reasonable people—than Mickey Edwards, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. He is now, among other things, a columnist for Atlantic Monthly. He specifically denounced his fellow Republicans who encouraged intimidation against Democrats. His criticism of the extreme Republicans is much more florid than anything written on this website.

Personal level

My own experiences over the past three decades have been, almost without exception, that conservative Republicans use personal intimidation and slander to destroy anyone who disagrees with them. This is particularly true of Christian fundamentalist Republicans, who believe that God has chosen the Republican Party as his presence upon the Earth today.

When I was a graduate student, I was a member of an independent church that contained some fundamentalists. I taught a Sunday adult class about evolution. I was well within the limits of doctrine for that church. But as a scientist I had to, of course, explain that creationism, at least in its most extreme form, was wrong. The group of fundamentalists in this church, and who thought they controlled the church, decided to use intimidation against me. They spread rumors to the effect that I was an atheist, though anyone in the class would know that this was not so. They brought me to trial before the church council, and I was not allowed to speak. I found out later why. The council knew that the accusations were lies, and they just wanted to let the fundamentalists vent their steam; thereafter, I was asked to continue my class. I was not surprised to find that the ringleader of opponents was not just a fundamentalist, but was a major organizer of Phyllis Schlafley’s Eagle Forum, which openly supported a terrorist war against the government of Nicaragua. A computer science graduate student, who considered himself a spokesman for all of science, was present at each of my classes and often diverted the discussion into directions that were not relevant to the topic of the day, and was one of my unofficial prosecutors. When Walter Mondale (who ran against Ronald Reagan in 1984) came to our campus, this graduate student was the most disruptive of the protestors, who did their best to prevent Mondale from speaking.

My experiences continued as I worked at Christian colleges for my first two jobs. In the first job, I was a newcomer to a controversy that was tearing the college apart and later led to its closure. As a newcomer, I remained neutral, but I watched nearly everybody else use fierce intimidation against the other faction. I still remember with fondness the few colleagues who did not. In the second job, a secret committee decided to fire me. I was not allowed to know what evidence they based this decision on, nor was I ever allowed to present any evidence of my own regarding the quality of work I was doing. In this case, secrecy magnified the intimidation.

My experiences continued when I took a job at a state university. At a state university, a well known conservative faculty colleague not only circulated rumors about how bad I was (contrary to all documented evidence), but even left an anonymous note of intimidation in my mailbox. It was not hard for me and other colleagues to figure out who had written the note (the only colleague who had a Mac). I left by my own will after I grew weary of the fighting. Later, another colleague who had also left the scene of intimidation told me that the man who had chosen to be my enemy had risen to an administrative position (temporarily) and that he started lashing out against lots of people at that time. (“All the little horns started coming out of his head,” this colleague told me.)

Wherever I go, I encounter intimidation from practically every conservative Republican I encounter, and never from progressives. Nor have I ever seen a progressive try to assassinate somebody else’s character. It is not merely a statistically significant difference; it appears to happen in nearly every case. It is as if conservative Republicans have a psychological need to destroy others, and that God permits them to use any means, including lies, that are available to them.

This brings me to the final topic, one that is uncomfortable but must be faced: racism. From the Civil War until the 1960s, racism was associated as much with Southern Democrats as with Republicans. In fact it was the post-Civil-War Republicans (still guided by the memory of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln) who tried to stop Southern racism, which took the form of horrific and brutal murders of blacks. But since the 1960s, most racists have been Republicans. Even the Republicans who are not openly racist or perhaps even aware of their racism are influenced by it. For example, the Bush Administration had the worst deficit spending that the nation had ever seen. The Republicans thought it was just fine. But Obama’s deficit spending brought fierce rage from Republicans. Perhaps even better evidence comes from the health care legislation. President Clinton’s 1993 health care plan was much more liberal or bureaucratic than Obama’s 2009 plan; Republicans opposed and stopped Clinton’s plan, but they did not demonize him. Only racism can explain the greater ferocity of opposition to Obama than to Clinton. Many Republicans even called for parents to keep their kids home from school rather than to hear Obama’s 2009 back-to-school speech, filled as it was with Communist ideas such as work hard and get good grades so you can get a good job and help society. Republicans, when pressed, would agree with everything Obama said in that speech; but they just didn’t want a black president saying those things. The Republican Party did not endorse the vandalism of the black Georgia congressman’s office in 2009 but neither did they openly condemn it. Racism is, of course, the ultimate intimidation.

The Republican view seems to be, let the federal government have all power, unrestrained by law, so long as it is a Republican federal government. But if a Democratic federal government, especially one led by a black man, wants to even establish (through Congress, by constitutional means) a health care system, they consider this to be an unreasonable exercise of federal power. And many of them use intimidation to further this aim. If there is so much as a single Republican in a room full of people, it appears, this Republican thinks that God has given him or her charge of the whole room, and the right to use intimidation to rule it.

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