Trump's Paramilitaries Have Turned GOPers Into Bullies or Left Them "Scared Sh**less"
But Democrats have some big sticks, if they choose to use them
In the minds of the authoritarian base of the GOP, there are only two kinds of people: those who bully, and those who get bullied. Republicans in Congress have decided which side they’re on. Or at least which side they’re cowed by.
Liz Cheney recently said that a number of Republicans in the House of Representatives believed Donald Trump had committed crimes for which he should be impeached, but were afraid to vote for impeachment. They were, Cheney said, “Afraid for their own security and … afraid for their lives.”
The events of January 6, where a few thousand Trump-aligned traitors brought a gallows to the Capitol building to hang the Vice President of the United States, and another group went in search of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to “put a bullet in her forehead,” make it clear their fears were not misplaced.
Georgia's Lieutenant Governor, Republican Geoff Duncan, who simply agreed with Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State that Joe Biden won the election in that state, was on Morning Joe on MSNBC this morning about his decision not to seek re-election.
“Look, I've got three kids — three boys 19, 15, 10, I'm married to my high school sweetheart," a frightened Duncan said. “These have been some very interesting times for us. I'm proud to have them on my team, they've been very supportive. But when you receive death threats from hundreds of Republicans from around the country, that's a problem, when you're only sitting there telling the truth.”
A decade ago, Megan McCain pointed out the changes the GOP was going through. “I think we’re seeing a war brewing in the Republican Party,” she said. “But it is not between us and Democrats.” She added that, “Most of the old school Republicans are scared shitless of that future.”
Authoritarians who want to destroy democracy, or deprive its benefits to some, always employ violence or the threat of violence as one of their main tools.
For over 100 years in the United States one of the most well-known hard-right paramilitary groups of bullies, thugs and murderous traitors to the ideals of our country were known as the Ku Klux Klan. Today their political heirs go by a dozen other names, but their embrace of white supremacy and antidemocratic authoritarian violence is essentially the same. They have become the paramilitary shock troops of the 21st century GOP.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the most popular radio talk show host in America was a progressive: Allen Berg. A couple of neo-Nazis assassinated him in the parking lot of his radio station on June 18, 1984, opening a space into which stepped Rush Limbaugh, debuting as a rightwing talk host on October 14, 1984 where he played the role of the nation’s most outspoken bully until his recent death.
Bullying, intimidation and threats of violence are the coin of the realm of the far right.
Forced-pregnancy protesters use threats and intimidation to try to prevent women from getting abortions or even seeking birth control.
The Republican Party, as you’re reading these words, is trying to recruit 10,000 people across the country as “poll watchers,” thugs whose job is to threaten and intimidate people who look “suspicious” and are trying to vote. We all know what “suspicious” means to Republicans.
Anybody who’s ever tried to engage a right-winger on social media knows how rapidly such efforts turn into bullying. It rarely takes more than one or two interactions for policy discussions to devolve into name calling and threats.
Rightwing paramilitary groups strut around in US Army-style camouflage and other military types of paraphernalia in part to hide their own deep insecurity but mostly to enhance their ability to bully others.
Dozens of them have turned to murder and mass murder, like Tim McVeigh blowing up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in an attempt to bully Americans into accepting white supremacist authoritarian rule. When a white supremacist kid murdered two BLM protesters in Milwaukee, Republican bullies across the country rallied to his support and raised millions of dollars for him.
School boards across America face the wrath of racist, hard-right bullies when they discuss things as normal as teaching civics and history, as I wrote about in detail yesterday.
When the country was debating expanding healthcare to all citizens through Barack Obama’s version of Mitt Romney‘s Romneycare, rightwing bullies regularly showed up to shout down members of Congress who were simply trying to hold town hall informational meetings.
Physicians and public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci now have to employ security details not just for themselves but for their spouses and children because of death threats from rightwing bullies.
Rightwing bullies in Michigan developed an elaborate plan to kidnap Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, prosecute her in a mock trial, and execute her on television.
Our former president encouraged his followers to bully others, saying that if they injured anti-Trump protesters he would pay their legal expenses. His wife, who wore a jacket displaying the words “I really don’t care” across it’s back on a trip to visit children her husband had put in cages, ironically claimed she was opposed to bullying.
Mitch McConnell relentlessly bullied President Barack Obama, refusing his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing for over a year and thus packing the Court.
Empowered, McConnell and Trump pushed through another bully, chronic drunk and accused rapist Brett Kavanaugh, who bullied Republican senators into voting for him and is now trying to bully fellow Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
Defeating bullies is more art than science, but the core strategy, beyond “kick them in the nuts,” is to utterly defeat them. It’s what Abraham Lincoln would’ve done to the slaveholding bullies in the South had he not been assassinated and replaced by a slaveholding vice president.
Democrats have some big sticks, if they choose to use them.
They can end the filibuster, and pass legislation to put this country back on a course toward democracy.
It will apparently require Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to do some bullying of his own with two recalcitrant Democratic senators, but he also holds as many carrots as he does sticks. If he can’t pull it off, he should be replaced as Majority Leader by someone who has some respect for the Lyndon Johnson school of Senate leadership.
Then there’s the fear that the Supreme Court will gut the For The People Act like they did the Civil Rights Act.
Section 2 of Article 3 of the US Constitution explicitly makes the Supreme Court subordinate to Congress. In addition to giving Congress the power to “regulate” the Court, the House and Senate can, it says, write laws that make “exceptions” to what the Court may rule on.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts himself, when he worked for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, wrote a lengthy memo about how Republicans could use this power to simply pass legislation to reverse the Court’s Brown v. Board and Roe v. Wade decisions by asserting “exceptions” to their power, as I lay out (and reprint his memo in detail) in my book The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America. Their efforts were ultimately stymied by Democratic control of the House of Representatives throughout the Reagan administration.
Democrats thus have the power, if they choose to use it, to exercise Article 3, Section 2 to pass laws that the Supreme Court cannot overturn. It would provoke a Constitutional crisis — but isn’t that what McConnell and the GOP have already thrown us into since the Garland nomination?
And President Biden also has the power, although it’s extremely unlikely he will use it, to ignore Supreme Court decisions. President Andrew Jackson did it twice with the Second American Bank and the Trail of Tears decisions, and Abraham Lincoln defied the Court on habeas corpus and completely ignored their Dred Scott decision. They both absolutely had the power to do it, and got away with it.
Alexander Hamilton wrote extensively about this weakness of the Supreme Court relative to the executive and legislative branches in Federalist 78, noting:
…the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.
The Founders and Framers have not left those who are today fighting to preserve democracy in America without tools. Gathering the political will and popular sentiment to use those tools will be the challenge.
Bullies use the strategy of bullying for a reason: they want to get something. In this case it is wealth, white supremacist power, and the end of democracy in this country.
If Democrats don’t fight back with equal ferocity our republic is doomed.
While my “daily rant” will always be free, with no advertisements, you can support our work by upgrading to a full subscription:
Ask Thom Anything: Meet with Thom and other paid subscribers in a private, zoom chat at Noon-ET/9am-PT on the first Saturday of every month. No question is off the table, and no FCC rules!
I’m also now recording my “daily rant” as an audio podcast; it goes out every day to paid subscribers just after the daily free written version is published, and can automatically push out to your podcast player.
Plus, paid subscribers, in addition to supporting our work (thank you!), can post comments on my daily rants. It’s a great way to hear from people who actually care, while keeping out the trolls and spammers.
If you’d like to do a deeper dive on these topics, I’ve written a series of small, quickly-read books breaking them down.
The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment describes that Amendment’s roots in the Southern Slave Patrols and how American policing grew out of that and is used today as a violent system of control against marginalized people.
The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America lays out how a corruptly-stacked Supreme Court is the principal instrument that brought us here.
The Hidden History of the War on Voting describes the processes through which oligarchs corrupted the Republican Party and the American political system.
The Hidden History of Monopolies describes how the oligarchic class, exploiting weaknesses within our political system, managed to seize control of virtually our entire economy, giving them massive political power.
The Hidden History of American Oligarchy reveals the two previous times in this country when we almost tipped over into oligarchy [the Civil War era and the attempts to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt] and exposes oligarch efforts to pull it off again today and how we can stop them.
And The Hidden History of American Healthcare shows how the most important and central function of government — maintaining the health and well-being of its people — has been co-opted and seized by a small group of “healthcare oligarchs” and how a Medicare For All system can overthrow much of their power and end their plunder of the American middle class.
All are available through your favorite bookseller.