Today someone asked me, “Why are republicans so mean?”
The questioner was 6 years old.
When confronted with a child asking me why republicans are mean, I wasn’t sure if I should cheer because he’s been paying attention to government… or cry because the nasty tenor of republican obstruction and policy positions have seeped into the nightmares of our children.
… and now that we’re plummeting into the deep, dark abyss of a republican presidential primary, the bloody cage match style of picking a republican nominee seems to know no moral bounds. From Trump’s steadfast conviction that all people from Mexico are murders or rapists, to play-it-again-Huckabbe spewing outrageous illusions to the Holocaust (mostly to ensure he’d make it into a news cycle – they’ll sell their own mother if it’ll get air time on Fox “News”)… apparently all is fair in love, war, and a GOP primary.
This particular 6-year-old’s question, however, was in reference to cutting funding for the SNAP program. From a young child’s perspective – which is a clear view that sadly we lose as adults – it’s an easy judgement: anyone who takes food away from a child who needs it is a mean person. Republican Party policy takes food away from children by means of cutting all sorts of supportive funding, therefore, republicans are mean. Plain and simple.
The larger “why are republicans so mean” problem, however, goes beyond the GOP’s apparent war on anyone who doesn’t conform to their very narrow definition of American. The policies that make republicans mean, and sometimes downright cruel, are primarily motivated by the republican need to appear strong to the GOP base in order to wiggle through a primary election into the general. In their minds, to be strong one must demonstrate they can be cruel. It’s barbaric thinking, but such is the case in Republicanland. A fenced-off land in which the answer to all public problems is “more guns”. If you happen to be a republican politician, being mean is the only way to survive a primary election. Plain and simple.
At the most caveman level the equation is: Mean = Strong.
…middle school rules, basically.
Welcome to republican politics in the post-Obama era: a dark period in human history when small children ask bewildered adults, “Why are republicans so mean?”
I will try to put aside my wondering what a nightmare of a 6-year old featuring Paul Ryan, fires-burning Huckabee, and countless gray-haired men parading on television shouting “rape” and “murder” might be like (… no wonder the right wing is always so afraid and paranoid… just look at what their “leaders” yell at them all day long…). Yes, I’ll put dream imagery aside, because it’s become a duty to answer this question for the curious youth of America who will someday grow up and help stop it.
Does the Republican Party enjoy being mean?
Yes and no. First, it should be made very clear that we’re addressing the Republican Party and the manner in which its more extreme factions behave. Unfortunately, the most aggressively cruel within all political ranks make the headlines; more so than moderates who are more rational. So we need to acknowledge that we’re discussing what’s defined as the extreme right-wing, the hard-right, or the sadly branded, “Tea Party”. Both political parties have fringes basking in their own anger that make news. Both parties also have perfectly reasonable public servants. But what’s seems unique with the modern-day Republican Party is the that it allows and even encourages its paranoid, “Somebody’s Watching Me” fringe to steer the car as it careens down the freeway (pray it doesn’t have to go over any crumbling American bridges).
The extreme right enjoys feeling. It’s a party driven by emotion, and wants to feel as though they are strong – overt, boisterous pride like a peacock, rather than the humble, intrinsic pride worn by the wise who have actually earned it. The process of campaigning for party purity, Everything In Its Right Place, and the Tea Party’s very convoluted definition of “Freedom!!” makes them feel that sort of strength in pride. The problem is, they’re a bit confused about what “strong” actually means in the context of governing. (Extreme believers have never been very keen on context, right Mr. Issa?)
Deep down very few animals enjoy being cruel to other animals. When forced to be cruel, they don’t see what they’re doing as metaphysical strength – they see it as a matter of survival. In the case of the extreme right wing (especially in presidential election cycles) it’s more a matter of the strength of their bank accounts and positioning themselves for post-term lobbying jobs. It certainly has nothing to do with Christian values, empathy, or good policy.
It’s quite difficult to see how some reptilian republicans in Congress can interpret… for example…. a 20 billion dollar cut of the SNAP program as being anything to do with survival of the species… but I’m sure they have some excuse. “Fiscal responsibility” is often their answer for everything. This week, we have literally witnessed an entire political party taking food from poor children, and turning around to give it as government issued checks to businesses who are doing just fine.
Yeah… a government that does that sort of thing creates a Nightmare On My Street, too. Don’t blame you, kids.
What are republicans so mean? It demonstrates to the GOP base they can make, “the tough choice”.
For republicans, it’s not about being mean. It’s actually simple: they believe that “the difficult choice” directly translates as “the harsh choice.” Proving they are strong means “making the hard choice,” … and “making the hard choice” is – in their minds – the choice that will somehow hurt people. It’s how they think. Simply.
The modern extreme right that is driving the Republican Party clown car are people who belong in the cheering crowds on chariot racing day – not in halls of the Capitol Building. The GOP is literally being controlled by the angry mob.
In the GOP brain, hard choice IS cruel choice. And so they seek often symbolic votes that do harm to the weakest in society because doing so is the most cruel choice available. Stick it to those who can’t fight back in the name of freedom, faith, and fiscal responsibility.
This behavior is commonly found in business with most first-time managers: being strong means saying “no” a lot. The thought is that a strong manager is one who is very, very strict and holds staff accountable with a heavy fist. “Be strong and in charge!” As managers learn and get better at their jobs, however, they discover that generosity and empathy always get better results out of a team. All these new republicans in Congress don’t understand that. They need management training (and a massive injection of empathy… throw some human DNA in there just to make sure we know what we’re dealing with).
Republicans in Congress don’t understand that sometimes the most difficult choices are the ones that help the most people, not hurt them. The hardest choice is often making the right choice – even if it means you might lose your job. That’s strength.
This new batch of extreme right-wing ideologues who rolled into Congress on the 2010 Tea Party Express (the scenic Redistricting Extravaganza Route) are just the sort of insecure middle managers who believe that to be strong, one must be harsh. They don’t enjoy being mean – they’re just too wrapped up in their egos, simplicity, and inexperience to know any better.
Somehow I don’t think the 6-year old will like that answer: “Republicans are mean because they lack diverse experience and therefore don’t know any better.” Maybe if we try to explain it like that grumpy guy in Despicable Me…
What unsettles those of us who are allowed to stay up past 9pm, however, is that there are a few of the more extreme members of Congress who do seem to enjoy being cruel and looking over the edge of the witch hunt cliff. We’ve seen this behavior countless times in history during which a holier than thou group gains political strength and therefore feels entitled to force their own hyper-conservative beliefs on the country. Those who want their relgio-social beliefs to control Every Breath You Take, while cutting all government programs except the military… deep-seeded religion and a tilt for war… never a good combination. Those are the congressional players who cameo in the nightmares of adults (no trains, only trials and endless investigations). With them, one gets the feeling that even the best mentor would be unable to teach them that cruel does not make you strong. It just makes you mean.