The Democratic Party has a problem on its hands. If Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema and perhaps other senators really won’t relent on nixing the filibuster, the party risks being seen as a do-nothing party likely to lose their congressional majorities in 2022 and maybe the White House in 2024.
The Republican Party also has a problem on its hands. It has a member of its House caucus who promoted the murder of her current Democratic colleagues—not 20 years ago; last year. It has another member who wants to pack heat on the House floor. Another member who said, outside the Capitol on the day before it was stormed by traitors, that “Hitler was right.” It has two senators who egged on or cheered on the treasonous mob that carried out that storming. It has six other senators who voted with those two to overthrow American democracy. And it has 139 members of its House caucus—a solid majority—who likewise voted to overthrow democracy.
Getting the picture? We have one political party that is divided over tactics. We have another that is divided over whether to commit treason. And yet a lot of people still speak of them as morally equivalent competitors. It’s insane. They’re about as morally equivalent as McGonagall and Voldemort.
How did we get here? It’s a long story, but the short answer is that the Republican Party stopped being a normal American political party—you know, a thing with normal policy goals—and instead became a conduit for the expression of rage and grievances of that portion of America that hated the changes that have been taking place in this country since the 1960s.
I think you know that basic story and don’t need me to tell it to you, except to say that over the decades since the 1980s, drop by drop, the GOP has gone from being a party that was actually challenging liberal orthodoxy in interesting ways—I disagreed with them, but their ideas were interesting, you had to grapple with them—to a party that not only doesn’t have ideas but despises and distrusts them.
It’s partly the right-wing media. It’s partly the evangelical base. It’s partly the big donors, who don’t care about anything but tax cuts and killing regulations. It’s partly the infrastructure that warns incumbent legislators that they need to toe the line or they’ll have a primary challenge.
All these forces have melded over time into a congeries of suspicions and superstitions that grow and feed on one another—the kind of poisoned garden where ideas die.
Something else dies there, too, something less remarked upon in our normal political discourse: shame. Shame keeps us from doing crazy stuff. The superego, if you want to be Freudian about it. Superego is morality. Ego is reality. The GOP has shed both of those. It’s down to id; instincts. And the only thing that really matters in Id Land is trolling the libs. That proves commitment, authenticity; confers the one-of-us-ness so vital to fascist movements across time.
Take the “Hitler was right” lady. She is Rep. Mary Miller, first termer of Illinois. In a prepared speech before the group Moms for America, she said we must “win the hearts and minds of our children. This is the battle. Hitler was right on one thing. He said, whoever has the youth has the future.”
Naturally, she complained that she was quoted out of context, and of course she offered the standard insincere apology. But anybody with a sense of a) morality and b) reality knows that you don’t get up in front of a group, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol no less, and say “Hitler was right” about anything. I don’t care if the sentence ends “about how the carpet and the drapes at Berchtesgaden clashed.” You don’t say it.
But you do say it if you know that you exist in an ecosystem that rewards saying it. And of course she knew that. How could she not? A sociopathic idiot spent a few years going around saying that a man who was born in Hawaii was born in Kenya and that he had proof he didn’t have, and it helped elect him president.
That same man—it’s just worth saying—incited a riot of people who were out to kill his own vice president, and who would have killed or at least injured senators if brave Officer Goodman hadn’t steered them away.
And today, those same senators, men and women who might have been killed had events taken a different turn, sit in judgment of that man—and of course will acquit him. Think about that for a minute. He might have been responsible—certainly morally if not legally—for the death or injury of one or more of their number, and they’re still going to ensure he goes unpunished.
So let’s just step back and take stock here. We have one party that is a normal political party. You may think it too liberal. Fine. But it’s out there trying to do things for the American people. You may disagree with those things and think they’re wrong and will do harm instead. Fine. But at least they’re ideas. Policies. Concrete proposals that people can debate.
The other party offers nothing. It let tens of thousands of people die in the pandemic, from Trump on down to the crazy governors like De Santis and Noem to anyone who spread the toxic fiction that masks were a form of deep state control. To the millions now out of work and relying on food banks, it says sorry, we’d love to, but that deficit! And now, we know that it literally is against democracy. And is unperturbed, so far, even by the news that one of its members endorsed the murder of her new colleagues.
Every week, it gets simultaneously more shocking—and more numbing. But we can’t lose our outrage, or our clarity about the fact that we now have one democratic party and one authoritarian one. And we just need to do all we can to ensure that enough of our fellow citizens see it too.