During the final stages of last fall’s presidential campaign, as weary but hopeful Americans began to contemplate the possibility of a Biden victory, there were a lot of cautionary voices warning that, as welcome as the return of rational, adult supervision would be, the notion of a full reversion to pre-Trump, pre-COVID “normalcy” was a pipe dream. (I was one of them.)
That warning is very much proving correct. We are still wrestling not only with the pandemic, of course, but also with permanent changes to the American way of politics wrought by the events of the last four years.
But in one area, there has been a return to so-called “normalcy,” one that is being eagerly embraced by the Republican Party, and that is the notion that the GOP is a reasonable political party that acts in good faith and deserves to be heard.
News flash, folks. It ain’t. Not by a long shot.
Call me naïve, but for some reason I foolishly thought that after Trump was unceremoniously evicted from office, and competent grown-ups who had not sworn allegiance to Evil™ once again took charge of the federal government, there would be a wholesale repudiation of the Republican Party as a force that had any credible claim to national leadership. Need I count the reasons why? (I refer you to the previous two hundred and two posts on this blog.)
But apparently you can kidnap and cage children as a matter of deliberate policy, preside over the deaths of half a million Americans through sheer malevolence, and try to overthrow the government on your way out, and still demand to be treated like legitimate public servants.
Ship Of Fools, Car Of Idiots
The GOP did so much damage to this country in so many different ways over the past four years (we can go back further if need be, but four years will suffice) that by any rational measure it ought to be disqualified from raising its voice at all for the foreseeable future. Not in the sense of any kind of formal exclusion, of course, only in the sense that no sentient American ought to give the Republican Party the time of day unless and until it undergoes a radical reformation of a kind it seems unlikely to undertake.
Because far from looking sheepish over what it’s done, the GOP is acting as if everything is business as usual. Because it can.
Obviously, Republicans still have a voice because they still command the loyalty and support of about half the country. Why that is so is a separate mystery so hard to crack that it would cause Agatha Christie to throw her typewriter out the window like she was Keith Moon. That loyalty is especially — and painfully — apparent in the Senate, where only Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote giving the Democrats control (assuming it’s OK with Joe Manchin).
So let us briefly survey some of the world-beating chutzpah, hypocrisy, and madness in which the GOP continues to engage, even after its putative leader has been exiled to Florida to watch TV and cheat at golf and send angry letters about his continued persecution like Ben Stiller in Greenberg writing to Starbucks and American Airlines.
For the purposes of time, we’ll confine ourselves just to recent events.
1. BYE BYE BIPARTISANSHIP. Retiring Ohio Senator Rob Portman recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post complaining that Biden isn’t being sufficiently bipartisan because he pushed through a COVID relief package on a party line vote.
Boo hoo, Rob. First, I refer you to the last four years of scorched earth tactics, during which your team cackled “elections have consequences!” as it did whatever the hell it wanted and reveled in Democratic apoplexy. Secondly, Biden and the Democrats have been forced to act alone because the closest Republicans have come to negotiating on COVID relief was not remotely a serious counter offer. And lastly, the whole reason we need this bill, Rob, is because of your side’s wanton failure to acknowledge and arrest the pandemic in the first place.
(To add insult to injury, Portman framed Biden’s alleged partisanship as “repeating Obama’s mistake” — as if Barack spent four years declining iPhone calls from a thirsty Mitch McConnell desperate for bipartisan compromise.)
Here’s the Post’s Jennifer Rubin:
(I)f Republicans were interested in bipartisanship, they could have put forth a real counteroffer for a COVID-19 rescue bill to elicit a response from the White House, not a puny proposal a third the size of Biden’s package. They would have taken into account the overwhelming public support among voters for Biden’s plan (76 percent in the Politico/Morning Consult poll, including an astounding 60 percent of Republicans). And they could have resisted whipping a vote they were certain to lose so as to deny the president any bipartisan support.
The vast majority of Republicans did none of those things.
Republicans have zero — none, nada — ground to stand on in complaining about bipartisanship. They have shown scant sign they are interested in that sort of politics. Perhaps they should start with more fundamental values: Decency and honesty. Both are in short supply.
So Rob, please take your gold watch and get the fuck out.
2. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Then there is the ongoing attempt to gaslight America about what happened on January 6th. Last week Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin sat in the US Senate and with a straight face advanced the theory that the Capitol insurrection was actually a “jovial, friendly” garden party spoiled only by the false flag antics of insidious anti-Trump saboteurs.
Even some Republicans were embarrassed by that, but it’s the prevailing narrative in Fox Nation. Sadly for that crew, the DC District Attorney, the FBI, and the federal prosecutors of Merrick Garland’s DOJ tend not to agree.
3. THY WILL BE DONE. Another member of the Sedition Caucus is Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. You remember him, right? The guy who made like Angela Davis to the insurrectionists outside the Capitol? Hawley kicked off the whole January 6th situation by announcing he would vote to decertify Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, and carried through with that plan even after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building and tried to murder various members of the federal government, including the Vice President, who hails from Hawley’s own party.
Hawley’s position at the time was that the Senate ought to brazenly throw out the will of Pennsylvania voters and decide for itself to whom the state’s 20 electoral votes should go. In other words, as the WaPo’s Philip Bump put it, Hawley went forward with a maneuver “aimed at specifically the same outcome as that sought by the rioters who’d stood on the Senate floor hours earlier.”
So it was pretty remarkable to watch Hawley at CPAC this week making a self-righteous speech positioning himself as the great defender of the will of the people. Bump writes:
“We can have a republic where the people rule or we can have an oligarchy where Big Tech and the liberals rule,” Hawley said. “And that is the choice, that is the challenge that we face today. It’s a perilous moment.”
It’s worth noting the dichotomy he draws here. Either “the people” can rule or “the liberals” can — as though liberals aren’t Americans who have a voice in government. The reason “the liberals” have power in Washington at the moment is that more Americans voted for Democrats in the 2020 election.
But Hawley still insists somehow that the opposite is happening.
“That’s the fight of our time: to make the rule of the people an actual thing again, to restore the sovereignty of the American people,” he said a bit later.
Of course, no one should be surprised at the hypocrisy of a callow, hyperambitious little punk like the junior Senator from the Show Me state. After all, he is a member of the party that during Trump’s first impeachment howled that with only eleven months to go before election day, we ought to let the American voters decide Trump’s fitness for office or lack thereof…..and then when those voters did, insisted that we ought to disregard that decision. (Hawley, of course, was among those voting to acquit Trump, both times.)
4. SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE. Then there was Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is feuding with the Democratic representative across the hall, who has a trans child and flies a trans flag outside her office. In response, MTG posted a mocking sign outside her own office reading “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. ‘Trust The Science.’” (This while the Senate GOP caucus prepares to play the role of Strom Thurmond in blocking the Equality Bill expanding civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community. ’Cause that will look good to history.)
Above and beyond the implicit cruelty of ridiculing a colleague’s child, “trust the science” is a rich battle cry coming from the climate change- and COVID-denying GOP (and yes I know she put it in quotes because she thinks she’s the one being ironic about the pandemic, but she ain’t, which is the greatest irony of all).
5. CRUZIN’ FOR A BRUSING. I don’t have the energy to dunk on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Cancun), who has already been hit with a landslide of well-deserved shit for his recent trip to Mexico, although we could dunk on him from here to eternity and never deliver the amount of opprobrium he deserves for all the sins of his political career.
I’m not sure what’s more astounding: that Ted Cruz was so tone-deaf that he thought that abandoning his freezing, dying constituents to go party in tropical Mexico was a good look, or that he thought he could get away with it. (Cruz then compounded his error by blaming the trip on his daughters. Dad of the Year, Ted!)
Whether this will spell the end of Cruz’s political career remains to be seen, but if it does, it will be ironic that a vacation did him more damage than fomenting the overthrow of the US government.
Yet incredibly, he may survive both: after all, Texans have elected this guy twice already, a man so loathsome that even the highly-loathsome-in-his-own-right Lindsey Graham “joked” that if you shot Cruz dead on the floor of the Senate in front of all 99 of his colleagues you still couldn’t get a conviction. (I am also fond of the quip from Cruz’s undergraduate roommate at Princeton that, given a choice for President of the United States between Ted and someone chosen at random from the phonebook, he’d taken the rando.)
And can you believe the press still speaks seriously of Cruz having presidential ambitions?
6. PLAYS IT AS IT LIES. Speaking of presidential campaigns, perhaps the most worrying thing Republicans are doing right now is continuing to defend Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the election and that the Biden administration is illegitimate.
We need not rehash how incredibly dangerous this falsehood is for the republic, nor debate whether it’s scarier if Republican leaders genuinely believe it or are only cynically exploiting it for personal gain. (Let’s call those two factions the Marjorie Taylor Greene Camp and the Lindsey Graham Camp. Both odious beyond belief.)
Asked live and point blank on ABC whether he believes Trump won the election, Republican minority whip Steve Scalise looked like Ralph Kramden on “The $99,000 Answer,” going full homina-homina as he lawyerly noted, “Joe Biden is the president,” then threw his own party’s supporters under the bus by claiming that the Capitol insurrection was the work of rogue criminals and had nothing to do with Trump.
Like others in the GOP leadership, Scalise is trying to walk a tightrope in a party that can’t decide if it’s going to stick with Trump’s lie no matter how toxic it is for the country, or try to gently extricate itself — if only for pragmatic reasons — and go back to being just a regular old-fashioned cabal of despicable reactionaries and not the extra evil batshit crazy kind.
Right now it’s trying to do both.
Good luck with that fellas.
7. TWEETY BIRD. Lastly in this week’s roundup, there is the Republicans’ faux outrage over Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to head the OMB, with various GOP Senators clutching their pearls and falling back on their fainting couches with concern over her “temperament” and “partisanship,” stemming from her oeuvre of blistering tweets during the Trump years.
Just so I’m clear: it’s now the position of the GOP that mean tweets disqualify someone for public office, is that right?
The WaPo’s Dana Milbank sums it up well in a piece called “What Terrible Things Did Neera Tanden Tweet?”:
Can you believe that Neera Tanden called Hillary Clinton the “anti-Christ” and the “real enemy”?
Oh, wait. It was Ryan Zinke who said those things. Fifty-one Republican senators (and several Democrats, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia) confirmed him as secretary of the interior in 2017.
My bad. That was Jeff Sessions. Again, 51 Republican senators (and one Democrat, Manchin) voted to confirm him as attorney general in 2017.
Surely Tanden went beyond the pale when she “liked” a tweet calling then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry a “traitor” and “Vietnam’s worst export,” and when she suggested Clinton supporters leave the country.
Except Mike Pompeo was the one who did those things. He won confirmation as secretary of state in 2018 with the votes of 50 Republicans and six Democrats, including Manchin.
But, really, the most appalling thing Tanden said was that Muslims have a “deficient theology” and they “stand condemned.”
Whoops. That wasn’t Tanden but Russell Vought. Just last year, 51 Republicans voted to confirm him as director of the Office of Management and Budget — the same position Tanden is up for now.
And lest we forget the capper, every one of these 50 Senate Republicans, along with Manchin, voted to confirm Richard Grenell as Ambassador to Germany, an honest-to-goodness Internet troll with a long record of insulting women’s appearance. (Later, you’ll recall, he was Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence.)
And we have not even talked about the king of mean tweets himself, The Donald.
Why don’t these hypocrites have giant ZZ Top beards given how hard it must be for them to look at themselves in the mirror to shave? (The women too.) Or, to rephrase The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer’s memorable formulation, is the hypocrisy the very point? Is this Tanden bullshit by Senate Republicans just the latest purposeful, sadistic demonstration to their followers that they are willing to be openly dishonest whenever it suits them, especially when it’s a woman of color who suffers as a result?
Or perhaps, as Milbank points out, what really irks Republicans isn’t that Tanden’s tweets were mean “but that, for the most part, they were true.”
Tanden called out Trump’s misogyny and racism in referring to his former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman as a “crazed, lying lowlife” and a “dog.” Tanden also labeled Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton a “fraud,” criticized the GOP and its funders for “gleefully supporting an alleged child molester” like Roy Moore, and compared Sen. Ted Cruz to a “vampire.” (The Vampire Anti-Defamation League is especially upset about that one.) She also skewered Mitch McConnell for blocking bipartisan attempts to harden the US electoral system against foreign attack.
So far, I got no criticisms.
It’s no coincidence that the Cabinet nominees over whom the GOP is digging in its heels are women or people of color or both. Also in its crosshairs is Xavier Becerra, who would be the first Latinx Secretary of health and Human Services, and who is getting pushback over abortion (of course) and because he’s not a doctor. (Neither was Alex Azar, of course. In fact, Azar was a pharmaceutical executive, probably the worst imaginable conflict of interest for the job. Yet Republicans were predictably fine with him.)
Likewise Rep. Deb Haaland, of New Mexico, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, who would be the first Native American Cabinet officer of any kind. Haaland’s crimes? Her “radical” environmentalism — such as acknowledgment that climate change is real, with which a majority of Americans concur — including a 2020 tweet that “Republicans don’t believe in science.” Among those lining up against her is Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), a climate change skeptic, who calls her tweets “concerning.”
Milbank claps back:
No, senator. What’s “concerning” is that, after four years of excusing lies, racism, vulgarity, lawbreaking and self-dealing by the Trump administration, your idea of healing is to defeat Biden nominees for speaking the truth.
Did I say QED before? Let’s put it here again.
Go Ask Alice
This, as I say, is but a brief sampling of recent Republican atrocities.
So let’s be clear. The Grand Old Party has no business presenting itself as any kind of reliable steward of the public trust. Their efforts to do so ought to be dismissed out of hand. So say five hundred thousand dead, children in concentration camps, and the first non-peaceful transfer of power in 240 years of American history, to name just the greatest hits.
Still, I am not astounded that Republicans are brazen enough to say and do the things they are currently saying and doing: their shamelessness is well-established. But I am astounded that we are letting them get away with it. That’s the Alice in Wonderland world in which we continue to live, even after Donald’s departure.
It’s not unusual, of course, for a party to command that kind of support even when it is so blatantly terrible. Lest we forget, just six years after Nixon resigned in disgrace in the worst US presidential scandal to date (before Trump Hank Aaaroned Nixon’s Babe Ruth), the GOP was back in the White House, which it then held for the next twelve years. It’s true that Trump’s twin scandals of pandemic and insurrection are far greater sins than Watergate, but American tribalism is far worse today than it was in the 1970s, and the tempo of the newscycle far faster, and the power of hyperpartisan right wing media far greater. It would be foolish to think a similar comeback can’t happen again in the 2022 midterms, or in 2024, or 2028, for the GOP if not Trump himself.
The situation is especially fraught give how deep the fanaticism Trump’s dead-enders runs.
While the GOP is in the midst of a painful identity crisis at the national level, at the state level the civil war is over and Team Trump won in a rout. Witness the Inquisition-style censuring of Kinzinger, Cassidy, Burr, Cheney and others who have dared turn on Trump, even mildly. At CPAC they literally brought in a graven image — a golden idol of Trump in red, white, and blue boxer shorts and flip flops — that has Jeff Koons on the phone to his attorneys to sue for copyright infringement. (“It’s definitely not an idol,” the sculptor, Tommy Zegan insisted to the New York Times. “I was a youth pastor for 18 years. An idol is something somebody worships and bows down to. This is a sculpture. It’s two different things.”)
Oh, and if your irony quotient has any headroom left, please note that the statue was made in Mexico, where Zegan lives.
Ultimately, the question posed by this essay is just a variation on one that we have been asking since November 3rd, when some 74 million Americans voted to give Donald Trump four more years….and even more voted to increase the Republican presence in the House, and damn near enabled them to hold onto the Senate as well. Why do people continue to support this openly neo-fascist, would-be theocratic party that is openly rife with corruption, eager to suppress your vote, and espouses a long-discredited snake oil brand of reverse Robin Hood economics that hurts the very people it claims to champion?
I dunno. Why does Radio Shack ask for your phone number when you buy batteries?
I know that just asking the question invites withering criticism for being a coastal elite (is it my fault I like the beach?), for being snotty and condescending and mulishly unable to comprehend the appeal of Trump and Republican Party to millions of my fellow Americans. It’s remarkable that I still don’t understand it, having been subjected to scores of beard-stroking thinkpieces on that very topic by the likes of The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times, and their ilk, the collective efforts of all the intrepid feature writers dispatched to the American hinterlands like Napoleon Chagnon in the Amazon to write those ethnographic studies of Red Hat Nation, all imploring us liberals to reach out and understand our right wing countrymen. I am still waiting for the denizens of real ‘Merica and its own proprietary Fourth Estate to expend even an ounce of effort to understand the 81 million of us on this side of the divide.
But I kid. Because at the end of the day, I actually do understand quite well why so many of our fellow citizens support a party that is a froghair away from becoming an American Taliban. I just don’t think they’ve made a wise choice.
The fact is, empathy and an end to blind hypertribalism are crucial to any kind of healing in this country. So is remembering our shared Americanness. That does not mean ignoring or condoning the sins of the last administration and its enablers; on the contrary, there can be no unity without accountability. It also does not mean meeting fascists and racists halfway. But it does mean breaking the spell that those very forces of racism and authoritarianism are eager to exploit.
Our best hope for wooing these people out of their cult is the success of the Biden/Harris administration. Early signs are guardedly encouraging, with Biden holding a 59% approval rating at the time of this writing, an outrageously high number given the polarization of the country. (For context, Trump never topped 47% at any time in his entire presidency.) Joe’s approval rating on handling the pandemic is even higher, at 67%.
These numbers suggest that not only Democrats and independents but even some Republicans are onboard, and they will stay there if we keep focus, and refuse to let the rotting zombie corpse of the GOP act like it has anything valuable to say, or any moral credibility to say it.
Photo illustration: The soul of the GOP personified, with apologies to Bozo.
Credit: Getty Images/Ringer illustration.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Cancun) joke stolen from Dana Milbank.