To rule, not to govern

Published April 16, 2021

By Thomas Mills

In one of the best tweets I’ve seen recently, former Eric Holder speechwriter Jake Maccoby said, “The GOP got called out by baseball, NASCAR and the NFL and they think Dems are out of touch.” Republicans are a party of bullies who see themselves as a party of victims. They’ve attacked almost every minority group in the country and are now working to pass voter suppression bills and anti-transgender bills at the same time. Corporate America, athletic organizations, and Democrats understand that the West is becoming more inclusive and recognizing more diversity. Republicans clearly don’t. 

The anti-transgender bill working its way through the General Assembly is especially egregious. It attempts to demonize young people who are already struggling with their identity. I don’t profess to understand gender identity issues very well, but I do understand bullies and bigots. I grew up in the rural South in the 1960s and 1970s.  

Republicans are desperately trying to force people into the categories that make them comfortable. Implicit in those categories are social rankings. In the world they want, skin color, sexual preference, ethnicity, gender, and religious conviction matter. Straight, White, Anglo-Saxon, Christian men sit atop the social order. Women of that description come next, and then there’s a downward spiraling from there.

 Social conservatives, who once were Democrats and are now Republicans, have opposed efforts to make society more inclusive throughout my lifetime. I was born in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement that would make African Americans more fully vested in the American experiment. Reactionary populists pushed back violently and forcefully, but eventually lost that battle, even if they have reconstituted for another today.

In the late 1990s, as the movement for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights gained steam, those same social conservatives responded with laws that would keep gays in their place and deny them equal access to benefits afforded heterosexual couples. They passed referendums in state after state that enshrined discrimination in their constitutions. They made the absurd accusation that marriage equality was a threat to the institution of marriage. Fortunately, the Supreme Court came down on the side equality and the arguments of the social conservatives have been proven false. 

 Today, transgender Americans are the target. The bill running through the North Carolina legislature would shame them, making them objects of ridicule and alienation while denying them medical treatment. A population that is already disproportionally prone to both abuse and suicide needs help and understanding, not legalized discrimination.

As George Wallace and Jesse Helms used fear and hatred of African Americans to fuel their political aspirations, Republicans are using reactions against transgender people to fuel theirs. The bills they are introducing are designed to draw attention to another group threatening their social order and incite outrage by their reactionary base. Republicans have largely abandoned their small government, libertarian wing to keep the populist wing engaged against perceived enemies who might replace them.  

And while Republicans are creating targets to bully, they are whining about “cancel culture.” They complain that corporate America is unfair to them and putting their fingers on the scales of politics by boycotting states whose legislatures insist on passing discriminatory legislation. They see themselves the of victims of a culture war that they insist on perpetuating. To win that war, they believe they must change the rules so that they can rule from the minority. In essence, that’s what they want: to rule, not to govern.