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, that abusers aren’t psychotic but instead have character disorders. And two, the abusive behavior isn’t uncontrollable; it is a learned social behavior.
Enter stage left, the Republicans and their fringe faction that is really no longer fringe, the Teabaggers.
The behavior of the Republicans most recently around the debt ceiling debate, and just in general, 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.
If you break it down, how different is the behavior of a classic abuser than the behavior we’ve seen within the Republican Party, most notably, the Teabaggers? When Mitch McConnell says that they’ll hold the debt ceiling hostage again down the road, I know what that means: Just as abusive personalities aren’t generally capable of rehabilitation, neither are the 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. Paul Krugman aptly pointed out that this recent debt ceiling debacle demonstrates that “raw extortion works and carries no political cost,” and that “irresponsible brinksmanship” is now “a proven effective negotiating tactic.”
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, 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? No biggie, if it makes President Obama look bad. If it increases the chances that he’ll be a one-term president, they’ll make a pact with any devil. So what if their newly-discovered “fiscal conservatism” trashes an already fragile economy, tanking the markets and creating even less of a chance of job creation? 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.
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 this terrible summer 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. In this case the Republicans use racial slurs against our President. Most recently, GOP Representative Doug Lamborn said that associating with President Obama was like touching a “tar baby.” In the current climate, these slurs 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 how the Republicans have engaged politically ever since President Obama was elected.
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 upped the insane, irrational ante by demanding such things as a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution or no tax revenues. They refuse to take responsibility for the current debt crisis. Instead, they blame President Obama for everything from TARP to the insane gas prices. And the 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. And so they comply, retaining as much dignity and integrity as they possibly can. But in the face of an abusive entity standing in a threatening manner in the doorway, they simply can’t walk through it. The danger is too great.
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 kid 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 make their own demands and stand their ground.
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 will come for our country, for Democrats, for all progressives. The day when we will 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.
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 Teabaggers must be voted out. In 2012, we must re-elect President Obama. In 2012, 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, 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, hypocrisy, and their carelessness with our lives, I’m prepared to light the match.