On January 28, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made a trip to Florida to meet with ex-president Trump. The intent was to advertise to all that “We’re still with you.” Reports are that McCarthy wanted to also “apologize” to Trump. It’s still unclear what he wanted to apologize for.
A recent Politico poll shows 72 percent of Republicans think the recent U.S. presidential election was fraudulent. Now, think about this: almost three-fourths of one of the two major political parties in the U.S. subscribe to a cockamamie conspiracy theory and support a former leader who, through his irresponsible and incendiary oratory, inspired an insurrection by white supremacists against the U.S. Capitol.
This in addition to four years of incessant bloviating, insults, lies, and just plain bad policy that has turned America into the wealthiest banana republic in the world.
I don’t know what these people are thinking. Do they think? But the black comedy we’re experiencing now, where GOP congressmen actively promote a political tactic the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party perfected called the Big Lie, refuse to publicly wear facemasks during a deadly pandemic, refuse to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees (Merrick Garland, in January 2016), or who set off alarms by bursting through congressional metal detectors installed to protect legislators, has to begin somewhere. When and how did this horror show begin?
To be fair, Democrats have also shifted from the middle in the last forty years or so. However, most political observers agree that the shift is much more pronounced on the right side of the aisle and is less about policy than behavior. Part of it is due to a powerful conservative-biased media that erupted during the Clinton presidency and is now a regular news/propaganda source for many Republican voters. Columnist and GOP’er David Brooks recently observed that “a lot of these Trumpy Republicans, they run for office so they can get on FOX News, not to pass (legislation).” That’s a lot of power—dangerous power— for a news network to wield, and it’s a major contributor to the gridlock we now see in Washington. And FOX News is just one of many conservative outlets…shockingly, one of the more benign ones.
Another reason why the Republican Party has abdicated its responsibility as a guardrail of democracy is existential fear. Authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, in their book How Democracies Die, trace this fear to a changing demographic precipitated by civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The historically dominant white male demographic is shrinking, due to civil and equal rights, immigration, and an overall more tolerant and diverse secular and non-secular landscape in America.
No group wants to be squatting on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. But white males, who predominate in the Republican Party, see themselves slipping downward. This existential fear encourages extremism, embodied by, at best, election-year attempts at character assassination, and ever-increasing racist and xenophobic behaviors at worst. And now, Big Lie tactics.
The slide began a long time ago: GOP strategist Lee Atwater’s self-admitted “naked cruelty” against Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-MA) before the 1988 presidential election; Republican politicians’ incessant attempts to scandalize Bill Clinton during the 1990s (Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater, then the pearly gate of Monica Lewinsky, which resulted in the partisan weapon of impeachment for lying about sex); the now-discredited “Swift Boat” smears of 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry; GOP accusations that Barack Obama was a Muslim, or that he wasn’t born in the U.S. (which Trump spearheaded, quite successfully, before his own presidential run); the 2016 refrains of “Lock Her Up,” led by GOP leaders, including Trump, despite zero evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton. And most recently, Trump’s attempt to smear Joe Biden through enlistment of a foreign power in digging up dirt on his political rival’s son (and which Trump was justifiably impeached for, despite Senate Republicans’ refusal to convict).
Maybe the slide began with the illegal activities of the Nixon re-election campaign committee (CREEP) that resulted in the Watergate scandal.
So far in 2021 it’s clear that the Republican Party is still the party of Trump, with all the poison that such an association brings to American democracy. Unless moderate Republicans (those few that are left) have the chutzpah to pull their party back to reality and decency—and if world history is any lesson—there are even darker days ahead for the U.S. than what occurred on January 6.
NEWSFLASH: a recently-elected GOP congresswoman from Georgia named Marjorie Taylor Greene posted on Facebook in 2018 that a Jewish-run banking firm deliberately fired a space laser to start a California wildfire in an effort to manipulate the stock market and benefit itself. Ms. Greene is a QAnon supporter with a history promoting wacky anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. She also posted and liked Facebook comments advocating execution of Democrats. Despite this, Republican leaders, including fellow conspiracy-theorist and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (see above) have so far done nothing.