As a former victim of domestic violence, in another lifetime, I learned a lot about the abusive personality. When it was over, and I was out, I became a domestic violence hotline counselor. The classes I took to train me for this job taught me two things: One, abusers aren’t psychotic, but instead have character disorders; and two, abusive behavior isn’t uncontrollable – it’s a learned social behavior.
Enter stage left, Republicans and what used to be their “fringe” faction, the tea baggers. The “fringe” faction, though, has of late become “non-fringe” enough to take over the House, lead John Boehner around by the nose, shut down the federal government and gleefully high-five each other as our country teeters on the edge of default – all, ostensibly, to wage war against Obamacare, a law that was passed by the House and Senate, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court and that has withstood 42 Republican-driven repeal attempts.
Like abusers, Republicans always make things someone else’s fault.
The behavior of Republicans – most recently around their government shutdown, and as they dig in their heels and rationalize – by making it someone else’s fault – driving the country into default, it reminds me vividly of the abusive personality that I engaged with daily, for years, until my divorce. No compromise was ever allowed, it was his way or his other way. He never talked about the many ways in which he was wrong, it was “look what you made me do.” In his mind, the only one whose behavior needed changing was mine. Any abusive behavior of his was justified because, in his warped thinking, I provoked him. He used bullying, fear tactics, threats and intimidation to get his way. In the end, although never abusive to them directly, he used my kids as pawns in his abusive game. He refused to share responsibility in any part of our relationship breakdown. I owned it, lock, stock and barrel.
Like abusers, Republicans do not negotiate in good faith.
If you break it down, how different is the behavior of a classic abuser than the behavior we are now seeing within the Republican Party, most notably, and startlingly, the tea baggers, beginning with the mastermind of the Republican government shutdown, Ted Cruz, and moving on through the ranks of Mike Lee and Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan and Louie Gohmert, and about 30 others? As a domestic violence survivor, I know that the President and Harry Reid are utterly correct to hold the line at negotiation. Abusers – such as the House tea baggers, along with John Boehner, their puppet – do not negotiate in good faith. Regardless of what “deals” they offer up today, they will renege when it comes time to uphold their end of the bargain. When Republicans say they want a short-term “deal” to re-open the government and avoid a default, I know what that means: Just as abusive personalities are generally incapable of rehabilitation, neither are Republicans. Rehabilitation implies that there is a point of normalcy in the past to which one can return. I have yet to see that point for Republicans; they’re beyond redemption. A year ago, Paul Krugman aptly pointed out that the debt ceiling debacle demonstrates that “raw extortion works and carries no political cost,” and that “irresponsible brinksmanship” is now “a proven effective negotiating tactic.” Mr. Krugman, meet your classic abuser.
Like abusers, Republicans must win at all costs.
An abusive personality really doesn’t care who is caught in the crossfire. His desire for control, his low self-esteem and irrational, desperate need to be the winner at any cost trumps any scrap of humanity. Despite the fact that Republicans raised the debt ceiling more than 25 times under Republican presidents (and five times, without batting an eye, under Bush), their classically abusive personalities have risen to the fore under this President. At any cost, regardless of any harm to others, they will win. So what if the U.S. defaults? According to some Republicans, for the President to allow a default would be an “impeachable offense;” on the other hand, if the President were to invoke the 14th Amendment and direct the Treasury to pay its bills regardless of the House’s inactivity, that, too, in the minds of Republicans, would no doubt rise to the level of an impeachable offense. As in all abusive relationships, it’s a Catch 22. Listening to the screaming rage of Republicans, it’s clear that no cost is too great to make President Obama look bad. If the measures Republicans implement increase the chance that this President’s success story will be on pause, they’ll make a pact with any devil. So what if their newly-discovered “fiscal conservatism” trashes a still fragile economy, tanking the markets, and driving unemployment numbers up? If that’s what’s required to be the victors in the game of chicken they’ve been playing with our lives, that’s what they’ll do. Their lack of humanity, and lack of a moral center, is truly breathtaking.
Like abusers, Republicans will invalidate you.
I remember, during the days when I was on the receiving end of such bullying tactics, how my heart would pound and adrenaline would flow, how my stomach would knot up. I’ve felt that way any number of times during these past terrible weeks as progressives have fought for a toehold in the battle of integrity against a foe who has none. My gut has kept score. A classic abusive personality generally uses sexually derogatory slurs against his victim, but in this case, Republicans continue to press the case that this President is not legitimate. Their use of coded and un-coded racial slurs against our President are not dissimilar to the derogatory terms like “slut” and “whore” that classic abusers use to refer to their women; it’s how they engage. And it is, sadly, how the Republicans have engaged politically ever since President Obama was elected, and continue to engage.
Like abusers, Republicans will grind you down.
When you deal with an abusive personality, day after day, it grinds you down. Exhaustion takes over, mental fatigue weakens your facilities, hopelessness, fear and despair reduce your ability to fight. Sometimes, giving in to ridiculous demands is a relief. It stops the emotional, mental, and physical pain, even if only briefly. You think of leaving, but resist because on some level you know that your very life could be in danger if you do. Of course such fear is not misplaced; most women are killed at the point they are attempting to leave their abuser. And so, as goes domestic violence, so goes the Republican tactics. For every sane, rational plan put forward by Democrats the Republicans up the insane, irrational ante by demanding such things as the repeal or defunding of Obamacare, a “conscience clause” for the dispensing of birth control, the repeal of taxes that fund Obamacare, and even more stringent and austere financial cuts to an already stripped-to-the-bone federal budget.
Republicans – astoundingly, even Republicans who were exultant about the power they were able to wield by shutting down the government in the first place – now refuse to take responsibility for the current crisis, and instead claim that President Obama is responsible because he’s refused to negotiate with a gun to his head. And although Democrats, like every victim of bullying and abuse, know on some level that a refusal to comply will mean pain and suffering for many, if not all, Americans, they, finally, refused to comply. In the face of an abusive entity standing with a threatening stance in the doorway, walking through it is perilous. As we’ve seen, when abusers are thwarted, the danger is great; we hear, see and feel their howls of rage.
Like an abuser, Republicans don’t care who they hurt.
I understand that emotion; I lived it for far too long. The Republicans have bullied, threatened and extorted for a very long time. And they get away with it because they have something the Democrats will never have: A callous disregard for anyone standing between them and a win. An abuser will knock a child out of the way in a rage, to reach the object of his obsessive fury. Republicans will knock this country out of the way in that same towering rage, carelessly tossing aside Americans, blaming others for their behavior, refusing to take responsibility for the current state, and never, ever compromising. Just as an abused woman puts her life in danger when she tries to leave, the Democrats know that they’ll put this country at great risk if they set their own requirements and firmly stand their ground. But abused women do find the courage to leave, and the Democrats have found the courage to lead.
The thing about being an abuse victim, though – if you’re basically strong – is that the day comes when you fight back. The day comes when you pick up a Louisville Slugger and look him in the eye and dare him to take one more step in your direction. It’s an empowering moment when you realize that bullies can feel fear, that abusers can be dissuaded, that you don’t have to fear walking through that doorway. You realize that you have little to lose by asserting yourself. I’m confident that this day has, finally, come for our country, for Democrats, for all progressives. This is the day when we look the Republicans in the eye, brandish our symbolic Louisville Sluggers and say, “No more.” Domestic violence organizations have engaged the services of big, burly private detectives or cops to accompany women to court to face their abusers. It’s interesting, but the one thing abusers seem to respond to is the prospect of being harmed themselves. When faced with a threat, they back down.
Now, it’s time to call their bluff.
Our threat, the greatest weapon we have at our disposal, is stripping Republicans of the one thing they value most: Power and control. In the next election, the tea baggers must be voted out. In 2014, we must re-gain the House. In 2014, we must send a clear message that abuse will not be tolerated, thuggery will not be accepted, and that we will call their every bluff. Our power is in the strength of our integrity and our ability to scream bloody murder when we’re threatened by forces that we know have no interest in our well-being. Abusers say they love us, just as Republicans say they love this country. Republicans say that their behavior is justified to save America from the evil scourge of liberals and the devil that is Obamacare, just as abusive men claim their behavior is justified to save themselves from a conniving bitch. The cycle of violence is clear: Whatever it takes to drive her away, followed by everything it takes to win her back. We as progressives are required, even obligated, to stop the cycle of Republican violence against Americans. We will stop it with the power in our numbers, with with the power of our votes, with the power of our loud voices.
In the movie, “The Burning Bed,” the female protagonist played by Farah Fawcett poured gasoline on the bed and lit it on fire; killing her abusive husband. When it comes to Republican policies, Republican hypocrisy, and their carelessness with our lives, I’m prepared to light the match.