On Tyranny, Lesson Number One Is “Do Not Obey In Advance”
The Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus had its first ever book club meeting on Saturday, January 25. We met and discussed Timothy Snyder’s short, post-2016 election missive, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.” Lesson Number One: Do Not Obey in Advance.
How is this lesson relevant to local politics i n Rhode Island? For too long, ideals which are fundamental to the Democratic Party have not been the ideals that our so-called leadership in the state Democratic Party adhere to, and too often, it seems, we act like there is nothing to be done about this.
Which isn’t to say efforts haven’t been made to improve things. Quite the opposite. But that is what the trouble is. Those efforts have not made the impact they could have because too many people compromise where they should stand their ground. Too many people equivocate because they want their small measures accomplished, even at the expense of acquiescing to a tyrant. And as a collective, we in the state of Rhode Island have come to just accept this despotic rule as the way things have to be for the forseeable future. We have, for too long, obeyed in advance.
We accept things as forgone conclusions that would baffle an outsider. We resign ourselves to the normality of a state party leader who fights against Pro-Choice legislation and groups that advocate for it, who fights against gun safety legislation, who admits climate change is a problem, but resigns to the amoral conclusion that there is nothing we can do to impact, slow, or reverse its effects.
It is NOT NORMAL what we have going on in our beloved little state of Rhode Island and here are 30+ examples (an inexhaustive list)
- It is NOT NORMAL to have the state party leader accept donations and receive endorsements from anti-choice organizations (1), pro-gun organizations (2), and anti-environment organizations (3).
- It is NOT NORMAL for him to slice and dice the budget for worthy causes in the name of fiscal responsibility, only to then give one of his big donors $1 million dollars for the donor’s quack medical practice (4).
- It is NOT NORMAL for that incident to then be under federal investigation (5).
- It is NOT NORMAL to have two documented incidents (6) of sexual harassment (7) occur in his State House and do essentially NOTHING about it.
- It is NOT NORMAL to use every possible measure to punish (8) those legislators who do not kiss the ring.
- It is NOT NORMAL to have a Democratic leader in 2020 come out against the impeachment (9) of the worst president we’ve ever known.
- It is NOT NORMAL to, upon being called out for wasteful spending (10), then change the party rules so you can spend more (11) without approval (Section 8 of new bylaws).
- It is NOT NORMAL to endorse a MAGA hat wearing challenger to a female incumbent (12).
- It is NOT NORMAL for a Democratic leader to run challengers to incumbent women of color (13).
- It is NOT NORMAL to only reverse these poor decisions (14) after national shaming.
- It is NOT NORMAL for a workplace (15) to feel more like an 80s movie frat house or a bad day at Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
- It is NOT NORMAL to abuse the concentration of power one holds over the entire state while being only voted in by a few thousand people (16) in one district.
- It is NOT NORMAL to alienate and force-out of the state Democratic party an entire highly active caucus of women (17) because they challenge your agenda (18).
- It is NOT NORMAL to then turn around and say it’s in the name of unity, when it’s actually in the name of tyranny (19).
- It is NOT NORMAL to say you’re against legalizing all marijuana for moral reasons, then also have a staffer who has shares in a medical marijuana company (so probably what you’re against is losing your chance at also making money from medical marijuana should it become legal for all) (20).
- It is NOT NORMAL to have a campaign aide charged with money laundering (21).
- It is NOT NORMAL to have all kinds of ignorance about the many instances everyone and every entity around you has been found in the wrong (22).
- It is NOT NORMAL to be a Democrat who seeks the endorsement of your Republican challenger’s failed primary opponent (23).
- It is NOT NORMAL to have your campaign staffer who set about getting this endorsement for you indicted (24) and arraigned (25).
- It is NOT NORMAL to promise said failed primary opponent a reduction in legislative support for HPV vaccination (26) in exchange for said endorsement. — And let’s just take a minute here to acknowledge the details of this quid pro quo. The Rhode Island Speaker promised an anti-vaxxer right wing nut zealot that he’d RISK CHILDREN DEVELOPING CANCER in exchange for her endorsement. HE LET KIDS HAVE CANCER SO HE COULD GET VOTES. HE LET KIDS GET CANCER FOR VOTES!!! THIS IS NOT NORMAL!!!!!
But wait, there’s more!
- It is NOT NORMAL to order an audit as a punitive measure (27) because a public-private entity that hired a “buddy” of yours fired that person for allegedly abusing and harassing a co-worker.
- It is NOT NORMAL to claim you alone are the majority (28) of a joint committee and therefore have the authority, alone, to issue an audit.
- It is NOT NORMAL for that office to suddenly have a remodel and all it’s things thrown in a dumpster (29) right when an investigation into your own alleged wrong doing (30) with the committee is requested.
- It is NOT NORMAL for your colleagues from all factions of the party — progressive, moderate and even conservative — to call you out in a letter (31) to let everyone know that they “cannot stand by and allow the public’s trust in this institution to further deteriorate.”
- It is NOT NORMAL for your chief of staff to send an incriminating text to a media figure, which he thought he was sending to the state party director (who is jumping ship before it sinks, probably), upon leaving the grand jury room in which he testified about a case involving your alleged wrong-doing (32).
- It is NOT NORMAL to have donations from the effective head of the Rhode Island Democratic Party rejected by a US Senate candidate in a nearby state (33).
- It is NOT NORMAL for presidential candidates to play hot-potato with the endorsement of the head of the Democratic Party in Rhode Island (34).
- It is NOT NORMAL to claim that a hacker hacked your campaign fund account, with hundeds of thousands of dollars in the account--which is spent mostly on food and booze at your friends' and family's establishments (35)--and all they did was use money to pay for a subscription service to background checks. And then notice this, but contact the Board of Elections about it, until someone else called out your campaign on it.
- It is NOT NORMAL to need a background check service to check on your staff, because it turns out one of the retired cops you hired was actually a convicted felon (36).
We have been living under a local despot’s rule here in Rhode Island, and it is not normal. This is not even an exhaustive list. I may keep updating as I go, but 30+ not normal things, including ones involving state and federal criminal investigations, is quite a start.
This authoritarian dam is bound to break, isn’t it? There’s only so much good faith actors, with hopes and dreams for their state and their party, can take before something gives.
There comes a time when we must say: enough. That time is now. The current Speaker of the Rhode Island General Assembly must resign from his position. The state of Rhode Island deserves leadership worthy of its potential. We deserve better. We deserve normalcy.