The Bully's Logic
The bullies want you to believe that the problem is with the victims of their aggression, not them.
From the border between Finland and Russia to the sidewalk and street in front of Brett Kavanaugh’s or Samuel Alito’s house, it’s easy to see the bully’s logic. It’s as if the bullies imagine themselves to be immune from consequences while the rest of us can’t see through their obvious effort to toss aside reason and rely on aggression to serve their purposes.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” the president and prime minister of Finland said in a joint statement Wednesday, adding that “NATO would strengthen Finland’s security” and “Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance.”
Russia’s response questioned why the Finns—who share an 832-mile border with Russia—would do such a thing since it would “inflict serious damage to Russian-Finnish relations.” In its statement, the Russian foreign ministry added that “history will determine why Finland needed to turn its territory into a bulwark of military face-off with Russia while losing independence in making its own decisions.” Last week, as Finland considered joining NATO, a Russian military helicopter violated Finnish airspace.
Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, was having none of the attempts at intimidation. He spoke directly to the Russian leadership, offering an inspired example of how a leader can respond to a bullying adversary. “You [Russia] caused this,” he said. “Look in the mirror.”
And then there’s the Republican furor this week over peaceful assemblies, including candlelight vigils, in front of the homes of Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh. (Remember such assemblies were not possible in front of the Supreme Court after non-scalable fencing was erected to keep protestors away.)
Ted Cruz decried the “mob violence” caused by “goons” and insisted that the protests “are the latest manifestation of just how extreme, just how radical, the Democratic Party is getting.” This from the Texas senator who minimized the deadly nature of the January 6 attack and even this week was telling Fox News viewers that “insurrectionist” is a “made-up term” by Democrats and the corporate media and January 6 was defined by “tens of thousands of people peacefully protesting.”
Lest we forget—as Justice Clarence Thomas whines about the Supreme Court being bullied and a majority of his colleagues plot the demise of Roe v. Wade to take control of women’s wombs—the Court in 2014 eliminated the buffer zones around abortion clinics on First Amendment grounds. In that decision, the Court noted that public sidewalks and streets are “places that have traditionally been open for speech activities.”
Sure, I can imagine that the presence of protestors outside their homes makes the justices nervous. If protestors turned violent, they should be arrested. But what exactly would the justices expect to happen if they pursue a politicized agenda that strips away the rights of women to control their own bodies, a decision that makes a mockery of the will of the people? Should they expect—in a democracy that treats freedom of speech and peaceful assembly as fundamental rights—that their fellow citizens would just remain silent?
It’s also worth recalling that the response to the 1973 decision that legalized abortion led to the firebombing of abortion doctor George Tiller’s clinic in 1986 and his murder by a religious extremist in 2009. As the National Abortion Federation has documented, since 1977 there have been 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 194 incidents of arson and thousands of other “incidents of criminal activities” targeting abortion providers, their staffs and clinic escorts.
In 2020 in The Washington Post, during the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, I wrote about the demand for civility amid an increasingly partisan and autocratic climate: “The history of racism and civil rights, for example, shows that the tension created by an expectation of civility served to suppress black voices and keep a lid on the possibility of violence…Civility deployed this way is not about improving the quality of our body politic and public discourse, but aimed at keeping critics quiet.”
Referencing Justice Roberts’ plea on the Senate floor for civil discourse, at a time of increasing hostility toward justice by those in power, I added that “the smooth veneer of civility, rather than being uplifting, might actually facilitate the downward spiral. In this context, civility is dangerous, a weapon that serves both as a shield, covering up malign acts, and a sword, parried at the opponent who dares to be ‘uncivil’ and so shifting the focus away from the true danger.”
In the bullies’ logic, when they act with aggression and the victim of that aggression refuses to be intimidated, the problem is not with the bully but with the bullied. Have no doubt that this twisted logic will only expand if the Republicans continue to misdirect the public—the real problem is the leaked opinion! the real problem is mob violence!— without successful push back. If they have their way, they will continue to raise their volume and intensify their assertions that the problem is with thee and not me.
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