Authoritarianism and fear are the engines that drive the Republican hate train.
When I heard about what the North Carolina Legislature did to Charlotte’s Equal Rights Ordinance, I groaned. For it reminded me of the pitched battle that waged in Houston last November. In both cases, the local governments in Charlotte and Houston passed equal rights ordinances. In Houston we called it HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). Both state governments, controlled by Republicans, immediately issued death notices to the ordinances.
In Houston when the City Council passed HERO, anti equal rights conservatives immediately sued. They instantly demonized the GLBT community as one comprised of mostly male predators who wear dresses in order to rape girls and women in public restrooms and in school locker rooms. This campaign was down, dirty and relentless. Conservatives aired a disgusting ad that involved a 12 year old girl. The Governor tweeted “No men in women’s restrooms.” The virtues of HERO evaporated in the vile anti equal rights campaign.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled that Houston must repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot in November. A massive battle ensued. Ultimately HERO went down in flames at the ballot box. The link above gives a blow by blow account of the nasty conflict.
Why did HERO go down? The Republicans personalized the notion of menacing men lurking in women’s restrooms and locker rooms for the sole purpose of rape. This image made a terrifying impression on a number of groups.
While listening to NPR the other day I could hear the Charlotte conservatives regurgitate the same battle cries against equal rights. It’s back to the bathrooms.
In an interview a girl in middle or high school is quoted as saying she could not change her clothes in the girl’s locker room if boys were changing there too.
The reason HERO failed, at least in Houston, is because a significant segment of the Democratic Party’s base are social conservatives. This is mostly the African American community in which some prominent church leaders publicly railed against HERO from Day 1. As a volunteer for the Harris Co. Democratic Party I cannot tell you how many of our members called to vent about HERO. One man quoted verses from the bible that supported his anti-equal rights stance. All I could do is listen. I tried to reason with several angry callers but when convictions are based on rigid religious beliefs, it is more or less impossible. I politely listened while sensing the death knell for HERO.
The Republicans knew how to politicize the equal rights ordinance and use it as a wedge issue, just like the Party did in the past with abortion and gay marriage. They know how to ignite fear and outrage among Christian fundamentalists. The Republicans ferociously stirred the hate pot. Rancor and venom trumped fairness and understanding. Moderates and liberals like me were mortified because we know Houston is known for its diversity and tolerance. Now what?
The GOP has certainly fine tuned its hate and fear machine as we witness on a daily basis now that we are in the wacko season of a Presidential election.
In the late summer, early fall of 2014 when serving as Neighborhood Team Leader for Battleground TX and the Wendy Davis campaign, we had organized a Sunday morning phone banking event at my house. It took place between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. When the organizer handed me the call sheets I cringed. “This is the Third Ward” I said. “Most people in this neighborhood are at church or they are getting ready to go to church.” “They will be in church for most of the day.” The field organizer told us to do the best we could. She left to participate in another phone bank with fewer volunteers.
Those on my team and I have lived in Houston for years. We know the city. We knew few would be at home in our calling area and we also knew that phoning church goers on a church day could have bad repercussions. So we came up with a plan. BGTX discourages volunteers from leaving messages. We decided to leave messages. We waited until 10:00 a.m. when we knew most people would have left their homes. We rewrote our scripts to make them sound more like short and sweet public service announcements. The deadline for registering to vote is x. The deadline for mail in ballots is x. To find out where your polling location please call x. If you have any questions please call me back on my cell phone. Some grateful callers did return our calls in order to obtain additional information.
We worked hard for Wendy but the Abortion Barbie meme unfortunately resonated with fundamentalist Christians and Catholics in both parties. When canvassing on another Sunday afternoon in different neighborhood, several residents told me they could not vote for Wendy because they are against abortion. No amount of reasoning could reach these voters. When I mentioned Wendy Davis’s stand on education, a fed up mother of three sons in middle and high school said she is disgusted by politicians who make promises they won’t keep. She thanked me and closed the door.
After we lost the election in November 2014 the Harris Co. Democratic Party’s Chair invited two consultants to explain why we lost so badly. Many of us were stunned and we wanted answers. I attended the meeting. After the presentation a prominent African American woman, a former member of City Council, stood up and let the consultants and the Party’s Chair have it. “When Democratic candidates run away from the first African American President (as the Blue Dogs did in 2014), my community is not inclined to vote.” BAM. She nailed it. The Chair apologized. I replied that many base voters, no matter their race, are likewise disinclined to vote under these circumstances. We can’t blame the GOP for our own Party’s lack of courage by running as R lights.
The GOP Fear Mongering of Muslims
After the terrorist attack in Brussels last week, Tea Party Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz immediately said we should patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods. Now, Ted Cruz grew up in and lives in Houston when he is not in Washington D.C. or on the campaign trail. He knows how diverse and blended our neighborhoods are. Where exactly are these scary Muslim communities, Ted?
I live near the Texas Medical Center and Rice University. Most residents here work or attend school in what is called the Med Center. My neighbors are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists and Agnostics. We are from everywhere. We don’t live in separate sectors designated by our religious or non religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds. When we show up at block parties or at civic club meetings we are neighbors. Period.
Ted knows this. But he also knows how to fear monger “others” to Christian fundamentalists. A religious fundamentalist himself, Cruz knows how to jerk his fellow believers around.
"I'm talking about any area where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism." Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, came out in support of Cruz's plan, praising it as a "good idea" that he "supports 100 percent."
Donald Trump should know better too. But he doesn’t do facts. It’s all bluster. Where are these higher incidents of radical Islamic terrorists, Ted?
Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious: Cruz’s statement was appalling. His logic is that all Muslims everywhere are so dangerous that they need to be monitored, simply because of their religion. That is pretty much the definition of bigotry. So is his suggestion that law enforcement treat neighborhoods home to Muslims the same way it treats those beset by criminal gangs, which implies that simply being a Muslim is comparable to being a member of a criminal organization.
But in making these statements, Cruz isn't just revealing his own bias. The truth is that there’s something much bigger going on, and it’s actually much more disturbing than one politician’s personal animus.
Many religious fundamentalist believe in a higher authority. They view their church’s leadership as those in command. The leaders are to be listened to, respected and trusted. The devil and his evil are real.
All of that points to the bigger, more disturbing truth here: that there is a constituency for this kind of politics in America, it is powerful, and it will continue to shape the country long after this particular news cycle and even this particular presidential election are over.
That's because authoritarian voters aren't rare. In a recent Vox poll of likely voters, more than 40 percent of our sample scored as "very high" or "high" in authoritarianism. Those results were consistent with what other polls typically find. And because most (though by no means all) authoritarians vote Republican, they form a powerful GOP constituency.
As the article states, when this constituency feels threatened by factors such as economic stress, or social change that upsets held belief systems, or if there is a physical threat such as 9/11, or a devastating super storm like Hurricane Sandy, the more likely they are to turn to authoritarian leaders like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. And so it suits the campaigns of candidates like Cruz and Trump to foment fear and uncertainty as much as they can.
Unfortunately and most horrifying of all is neither man is remotely fit to serve as our country’s POTUS.
And this, my friends, is the honest to God’s truth.