Matt Gaetz Is Only the Latest in a Long Line of Unrepentant Creeps
Even if he goes, there will only be another Matt Gaetz—until we have a system that forces politicians to finally remember or develop their own senses of shame.
That Matt Gaetz was unthinking enough to be felled by his inability to set his Venmo to “private” is not surprising, or particularly damning. True, Columbia University college students, Twitter bots and cheating spouses have taught us this lesson repeatedly since 2015, but Gaetz obviously isn’t a lesson-learning kind of guy—that’s part of his Fox Newsian “charm.”
That his only strategy to deploy in response to mounting legal issues—the House Ethics Committee opened their own investigation into his conduct on Friday—is to do a pathetic little fanboy’s imitation of his hero, throwing out frantic mentions of a “deep state” to get him and the “millions” of Americans—up from thousands when he spoke at a Women For Fewer Rights, Please rally on Friday—who apparently only he can hear. They are, of course, “forgotten, canceled, ignored, marginalized and targeted,” and only understood and fairly represented by the Large Adult Son of Extreme Privilege that is sweaty Matt Gaetz.
It’s craven, cruel, and desperate.
We watched the former president do it for years, manipulating people who would have benefited from actual government services, but instead got ginned up by hatred of oblique monoliths—the media, that so-called “deep state,” various nameless nefarious enemies around every corner except of course the one guarded by one hyper-privileged, no-class opportunist with no concern for anyone but himself. The same former president who never really bothered to deny any of the misconduct he was called out for, and instead boasted that he could shoot someone dead on the busiest street in New York City and still successfully exploit his fervent followers to his heart’s (and bank account’s) content.
While the response might be somewhat uniquely of our time, the actions leading up to them rarely are. Matt Gaetz’s history of financial fuckery, general demagoguery, and insurrection-cheering is one route; another is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s, who botched New York’s response to the pandemic at the same time that he pressed his taxpayer-funded staff to “volunteer” to help him write a self-congratulatory memoir, even though at least twice as many elderly people had died than he wanted us to know about in nursing homes to which he’d given blanket immunity and which gave him a blanket of secrecy.
And yes, Cuomo is still the governor—and somehow, a good number of adults are simply horrified that he is facing any criticism at all, the poor lamb! Knowing that, maybe it’s true that Gaetz has heard from “thousands” of people who desperately want him to continue to do exactly nothing for the state of Florida in Congress. After all, think of the passes we’ve given out before, and continue to: Jim Jordan is still in Congress, despite the fact that the public knows he covered up sexual abuse by the Ohio State wrestling team physician while he was a coach there; crying, lying Brett Kavanaugh was thrust by the farce that is the Senate Judiciary Committee onto the Supreme Court for life after only the vaguest gesture at pretending to consider the many public complaints about his integrity, not to mention questions about his finances; or consider his colleague Clarence Thomas, whose wife is a walking, squawking conflict-of-interest violation and who paved the way for the sorry little act the Judiciary Committee pantomimed with Kavanaugh; literally everything about Donald Trump and most of the people he employed in his administration; and Anthony Weiner, who got at least two second chances before we finally decided to shut him down because he was sexting a 15-year-old.
Gaetz is just the latest in a long line of entitled asshats. What galls and infuriates is that the vast majority of these people are so damn lazy in their misconduct. They do what they want because they figure, with reason, that they’ll get away with it.
Consider what the accountant who conducted a forensic audit for Seminole County told The Daily Beast, in the story breaking the news about Gaetz’s receipts: “No one has any idea what he was doing. Zero. The arrogance of these guys. They just felt they were above the law. I’ve never seen it this bad.”
Not this bad, at least not for this one county accountant. But we have seen it before, far too many times. And now we get to watch a familiar dance, as law enforcement officials and pundits suddenly become terribly interested in parsing the specifics of nonsensical laws, now that they might be applied to the privileged spawn of a politically powerful papa, and we get to watch them all hand-wringing over whether Gaetz meets the threshold to be prosecuted under certain laws based on whether the girls he was toying with as a man in his late thirties were 17 or 18.
The logic here is, of course, unimpeachable (just like the ex-president). Somehow, there’s a tremendous difference in a person’s capacity to consent the day after their 18th birthday, as though overnight some major transformation occurs. You can’t control your own body enough to buy cigarettes or alcohol until you’re 21, but you can die for your country and consent to sex with a disgusting, sweaty man twice your age offering you money at 18.
The only real question that remains to be seen is how much piles up about these individuals before it finally matters. With Gaetz, it’s unlikely voters in his deep red district will punish him if his colleagues in Congress do not and, so far, Republicans aren’t willing to cast him out, instead talking cowardly shit about their disliked, spotlight-hogging colleague on background.
Even if Gaetz goes, absent a system where consequences are common enough that politicians have to regain or finally develop their own senses of shame that stop them before they chance those consequences, there will always be another just like him.