Democracy and Disrespect


Readers are probably already familiar with Indiana representative Marlin Stutzman’s quote in a Washington Examiner article on the GOP’s strategy for navigating the ongoing government shutdown:

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

For obvious reasons, the last of these three sentences is drawing the most attention. House Republicans have no guiding vision for ending the crisis they created.

That said, I’d like to focus on the first two sentences for a moment. In particular, I’d like to focus on the congressman’s choice of the word disrespected. In my view, this choice is key to understanding his colleagues’ deep-rooted self-referential intransigence.

House Republicans tried 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It didn’t work. Then they refused to pass a government spending bill unless the Affordable Care Act was defunded. When this bill predictably failed in the Senate, House Republicans came back with a spending bill that delays the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year, just to do something to hurt (vandalize, if you will) the law. Since this bill also predictably failed in the Senate, we are in day three of a predictable government shutdown that threatens predictable damage to the US economy.

Stutzman could have contextualized his position by asserting that House Republicans would not be sent home empty-handed. As with “disrespect,” this would have been an unreasonable context. However, unlike disrespect, it’s a context from which his position could logically follow. So let’s walk the logic back a step further. Starting from the premise that his colleagues would not be disrespected, Stutzman concluded that they “had to” get “something” out of the shutdown. This implies that it would be an act of disrespect for other parties to prevent House Republicans from getting “something” out of the shutdown the latter deliberately created.

The lesson is that Marlin Stutzman’s orientation is one in which it is disrespectful to deny him from getting his way. One is immediately reminded of Lakeysha Beard, who was escorted from Amtrak’s quiet car by police in Salem, Oregon after talking on her cellphone for the previous 16 hours of a train ride originating in Oakland, California. According to news accounts, other passengers repeatedly asked Beard to take her conversation out of the quiet car during the 16-hour ordeal. At each step she refused, finally becoming aggressive when other passengers stopped requesting and started insisting that she show them the courtesy of observing the quiet car’s clearly posted regulations.

When asked to comment on the matter, Beard stated that she felt ‘”disrespected” by the entire incident.’ In Beard’s view, she had the right to talk on her cellphone in the quiet car. When other passengers confronted her about it, she had the right to refuse and to respond with verbal aggression. Whether this behavior was disrespectful to others is immaterial to what happens when Salem police enforce Amtrak’s right to maintain certain standards of courtesy. The decision to remove Beard from the train is to be understood in the context of a universe of one in which anything that makes Beard feel humiliated is disrespectful to her.

As it is with Representative Marlin Stutzman and his stuntmates in the House Tea Party. The Tea Party is the one refusing to fund the government unless a duly passed bill is overturned on the simple basis that overturning the bill is what their minority wants. Their precipitation of this crisis is not to be entered into consideration when deciding whether to give them what they want (though Stutzman, for one, doesn’t know what they want); getting what they want is a right in itself. And denying them that right is disrespectful. With this self-centered logic, democracy is rendered irrelevant to the dilemma. Sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, but that’s our problem now because it is paramount to show them proper respect by allowing them to get “something” irrespective of whether they’ve earned it. And what’s meant by “something” is “something other than governance.”

As with Lakeysha Beard, Stutzman and his fellow saboteurs have a worldview that precludes being reasoned with. So, as with Lakeysha Beard, the only solution is to unceremoniously remove them from the train.

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