Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a day of solemn remembrance. But not for North Carolina Republicans. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a spending bill several months ago passed by the State House and urged State Reps to include more Democrat priorities. Democrats and Republicans tried to put together a new bill that would gain the Governor’s approval, but Republicans wouldn’t compromise and because they didn’t have the votes to override the veto, the process was stuck. So yesterday the Republicans announced to the Democrats and the press that no votes would be taken in the morning, ostensibly to allow time for 9/11 commemoration. But they lied. While Democrats were out commemorating, the Republicans snuck back into the State House and voted to override the Governor’s veto. It was a disgraceful ploy that betrayed every democratic principle and ethic our nation has ever embraced.
But a few Democrats were in the State House at the time and one of them, Rep Deb Butler, screamed from the House floor at the Republican leader, over and over, “This is a travesty of the process and you know it. We will not yield.” The Governor later lambasted the Republicans for playing unethical tricks on 9/11 and noted that all of them were up for re-election next year and must be made to pay.
Their policies suck, so the GOP has become the party of cheating and dirty tricks. How must we respond? Some progressives on Twitter yesterday urged Democrats to sink to the Republican level, claiming it’s the only way to fight back. They used the old trope, “we can’t bring a knife to a gunfight and expect to win.” But isn’t sinking to their level what the fascists and authoritarians want? Don’t they want to destroy the guardrails of government and civil society so they can then say, “You see! Government is evil, institution’s don’t work, and kindness is for suckers–follow dear leader and never question him and he’ll keep you safe because he’s brutal and plays dirty!”
There’s a big difference between playing dirty and being forceful and outspoken. We don’t need to imitate the Republicans by abandoning our principles and scruples, just as Gandhi and King and Mandela didn’t need to resort to violence to overcome oppression. Rep Deb Butler standing on the NC House floor and screaming at the Republicans was exactly the right response, and we should do more of it. Our leaders should be outspoken and morally outraged when it’s appropriate, and with Trump in the White House it’s appropriate on a daily basis. It was nice to hear Speaker Pelosi this week yell at a deserving Leader McConnell for holding up gun legislation. But she’s many months too late. Our leaders in Congress have long needed to be much more forceful and much less tactful in public. They don’t need to lie, but they need to call out Republicans for being liars. They don’t need to jettison their morals, but they need to point out when Republicans are morally bankrupt. They don’t need to be cruel, but they need to scream about the cruelty on constant display by Trump and his enablers.
One of the most galling aspects of the Democratic response in Washington to the Trump presidency has been its civil tone. Only a select few freshman House members have gone after Republican officials in a passionate and confrontational way. Pelosi and Schumer are way too civil in the face of historic corruption, scandal and criminality. We need leaders that are both willing to scream their moral outrage and adept at cutting to the dark heart of whatever ill they are confronting. Pelosi and Schumer have never been up to that task, and it’s created a frustrating vacuum that leaves progressive voters feeling voiceless. It’s not enough to have TV pundits who are outraged. It’s not enough to have Twitter celebrities who are outraged. It’s not enough to have Democratic presidential candidates who are occasionally outraged. We need elected leaders in Congress who will constantly berate and shame Republicans in public when merited–and this will do at least four good things. It will shine a brighter light on Republican depravity. It will turn up the pressure on Republicans who are in swing districts. It will work against the normalization of dirty tricks and corruption. And it will energize progressives who can’t understand why their horror and outrage aren’t mirrored in the people they elected to Congress.
Early in his campaign Trump told conservative voters, “I will be your voice.” But for the last 965 days liberals, progressives and Democrats have not had our own voice. Rep Butler reminded us of what we’re sorely lacking.
Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”