3 min readFeb 24, 2021

by Justin Frank, MD

The party of “no:” is that what it means to be a Republican? We are now reminded, in case people forgot, that Biden’s push for unity and working across the aisle is mostly a pipe dream. Wishing does not make it so. Hard work could make more collaboration possible between the parties, and even that may not succeed. But simply plowing ahead with the nomination of Neera Tanden is only one part of that hard work. Facing what bothers the Republican party about Democratic proposals is not easy to do without understanding why they are unable to do anything beyond saying no.

I maintain that by saying “no” to controversial nominees, most republicans are expressing their deep intolerance of frustration and their wish to avoid it — that makes genuine thinking about the nominees virtually impossible. Saying no evades the frustration of having to think about what they are doing. It’s easier to continue to live in an either/or world of good and bad than to struggle to think about what is good and what is bad — and why.

First, it is easy to define the GOP as a group of two-year-olds dressed as adults elected to public office. It is important for two-year-old children to say “no” — and that phase of development is known as the “terrible twos.” Saying no means standing up for oneself, refusing to be pushed around by adult demands — even when they are realistic. It confers a feeling of autonomy and strength. It also is pleasurable to feel and express that power.

But psychological development must progress beyond that pleasure, as it has serious drawbacks if left unchecked. The obvious ones are how to get along with other family members and in social life generally. Intra-psychic development relies on a capacity to modify that need to naysay. By always saying no, the child evades the tough job of having to do the work of thinking, of collaborating with other children who think differently. Thoughts are there. but trying to grab hold of them and grapple with them is another matter, and one that requires work. For some, thinking itself becomes pleasurable and challenging. But for others, thinking becomes a threat to the comfort of certainty and of the pleasure at simply being able to object.

Over time, ones capacity to think becomes compromised and is replaced by quick reactions — often called “knee-jerk” by Republicans when deriding liberal Democrats. That kind of finger-pointing works, as labels often do. But in the long run it again reveals the GOP’s own…


Dr. Justin A. Frank MD is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst best known as the quintessential expert in the psychology of the 21st-century American presidents.