The trouble with bullies is that the only effective approach to them requires a lot of courage and personal risk.
This is not an essay about the schoolyard, which is what I think of when I hear the term "bully." Bullying, especially the schoolyard variety, has gotten a lot of negative media coverage lately. But today's topic is about bullying of another sort.
I will have more to say about the Arkansas General Assembly over the next few weeks, but I want to introduce the theme I'm developing by reference to what has been going on in that legislative body lately. The North Carolina General Assembly decided recently to get in on the fun, also.
A bully uses his apparent power to impose his will on the comparatively and apparently powerless.
The levers of government, from the lowliest homeowners' association board to the highest court in the land, are the very essence of power. The State--the Government--has the apparent power to control its citizens' lives. Long ago, we determined that a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed; that proper governments are instituted for the purpose of mediating our social relations to maximize, or at least optimize, our personal freedom; and that the best form of government to institute is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Lately, with the Republican takeover of the Arkansas General Assembly--and of the same body in North Carolina--we have seen a sea change in those bodies' focus. The Republicans who govern us are bent on imposing their particular, and perhaps peculiar, religious views upon us, and on conforming the law to their own prejudices. There have been numerous bills relating to abortion, all of them focused on making legal abortions more difficult to obtain, most of them on spurious grounds, and all of them seeking, in name, to solve some other "problem," consequences be damned.
Perhaps the most egregious of these is the movement to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider. There is no getting around that. But abortions constitute only 3% of what that organization does and 0% of what the government funds that flow to it cover.
Planned Parenthood is primarily focused on delivering health care to women, regardless of ability to pay. The Arkansas legislature, like others before it, is so hell-bent on stopping abortion by any means necessary (other than education about birth control; we can't have that), all in the name of protecting the unborn, that it is willing to consign thousands of already-born Arkansas women to unnecessary, life-altering or -threatening medical conditions, handicaps, even premature death, all from causes that are wholly unrelated to abortion. For what purpose? Because they don't like that Planned Parenthood also occasionally provides a legal procedure to some of those women, all of whom want it and all of whom have run the gamut of a number of unnecessary "precautions" to make certain they are really sure they want to terminate their pregnancies.
I haven't seen it yet, but the "mandated rape" provision--the mandated trans-vaginal ultrasound, which requires as a precondition for an abortion that the provider forcibly insert a wand through the woman's vagina and cervix and into her uterus for the purpose of detecting the presence of the fetus--is sure to make an appearance soon if it has not already. I call it mandated rape because one definition of rape is the insertion of an object into a woman's vagina without her consent.
The legislators' motivation to pass these bills is open and obvious: They believe that God is telling them to pass these laws. That makes them theocrats.
Abortion is hardly their only focus. A new bill would mandate that each public school require a one-minute silent period during the school day for "reflection, prayer, or other silent activity." The reality is that students who wish to pray have ample opportunities throughout the school day to do so. The purpose of this bill is to give students an excuse to be seen praying and--knowing as we all do the propensities of children as well as the religious sensibilities of the Arkansas public--to bully those who choose to engage in "another silent activity."
In North Carolina, a move is afoot to declare the ability of the state government and creatures of the state government (cities, towns, and counties) to declare an officially sanctioned religion. Citing the Tenth Amendment, the sponsors of this bill claim that the Constitution's bar on Establishment applies only to Congress, not to the States. Apparently they forgot about the Fourteenth Amendment, which caused the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights to be applied to the States.
These people are bullies. They are using, or rather abusing, their power to impose their views and mores on others. They are using the government as an instrument of restricting freedoms rather than guarding them. It is a perversion of power of the highest order. It is no less than a treason against our way of life.
We Americans are diverse in almost every way you can think of. We are a plural society in matters of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, history, immigration status, and many others. What unites us are our common beliefs in equality before the law, in personal freedom, in deliberative action, in majority rule tempered by respect for minority rights, and in the due process of law as the highest expression of the fundamental fairness of a democratic state. Those things are stronger than any racial or ethnic difference, or religious dispute, or national origin, or any other point that divides us.
What those who control the Arkansas legislature have forgotten is that the government belongs to all of us, and that they are sent to do their jobs for all their constituents, not for the purpose of tormenting disfavored minorities or imposing their narrow view of what God wants upon those who do not share their...enlightenment. We have problems that affect all of us--problems that are screaming for attention. Joblessness, poorly performing schools, crumbling infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities, lack of access to quality healthcare--all of these things are being systematically ignored in favor of the pet issues of people who spend all of their time thinking about how horribly immoral everyone else is acting.
When a bully takes your lunch money, he's not worried about whether you have to go hungry or not. He's only thinking about how he'll spend that money he didn't earn.
It's clear that the GOP-led Arkansas General Assembly doesn't care how many of their constituents go hungry, or need medical care, or can't get clean drinking water, or drop out of school, or can't read or use a computer, as long as those legislators can get down on their knees and pray to their God about how wonderfully they have served Him by making more abortions illegal.
They are bullies. Fighting them will take courage and personal risk. Let's start now.