I’m beginning to think that when it comes to saving the United States and our fragile democracy, perhaps the only answer is to hit the off button and reboot.
Or maybe administer a high colonic.
Lame jokes aside, an enormous change is necessary and here in our current crazy situation, I’m sometimes uncertain as to whether we’ll ever get back to the real world and common sense without the defibrillating shock of some awful defining event.
Because the problem is huge. And terrifying. Truth is, we’re broken. There’s a chance to fix things, yet it’s a sad reality that Republican leadership lusts for power above all but lacks any decent ideas, practical programs, or the skills or inclination to govern. There’s no moral compass or even a decent sense of humor among them. They want to create an authoritarian state in which they rule, no matter the will of the public. Any and all dissent will be quashed.
This is serious. We have one of our two major political parties running on nothing but prejudice, malice, insults, fear, disinformation, and bad, sometimes violent behavior. And doing quite well.
Look back at the insurrection of January 6, at how so many Republicans initially made public comments denouncing the attack but within days had reversed their stance, suddenly declaring that the assault on the Capitol was a legitimate expression of outrage or even just a tourist visit. Fearful of offending their deranged former president and his followers, they backed down like the cowards they are.
Observe House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy blab-a-thon, nonsensically bloviating for eight and a half hours on the House floor to stall the inevitable vote on Biden’s Build Back Better bill. And he was one of those pleading with Donald Trump on January 6 to call off the crazies rampaging through the Capitol, only to change his tune. His rambling rant sounded, as per The New York Times, “like a Mad Libs of Republican attacks.”
As McCarthy spoke, many of the more extreme and reckless GOP members sat behind him nodding in approval, including Louie Gohmert of Texas, Georgia’s Andrew Clyde, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn, who thoughtfully brought along a paper cup into which he could spit his masticated chewing tobacco. Classy. (Full disclosure: my Texas Granddaddy Lloyd chewed, but kept a tin can on the floor of his car next to the gas and brake pedals, never carrying it into the marble halls of a government building.)
Listen to Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana a few days ago, redbaiting Soviet Kazakhstan-born Soule Amarova, Cornell economist, American citizen and Joe Biden’s candidate to be the next comptroller of the currency. “I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade,” Kennedy brayed. This from an Oxford graduate, a Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt who decided a while back that cornpone-laced derision and right-wing flimflam were the proper path to power.
Or goofy-as-a-fox Senator Ted Cruz of Texas singlehandedly blocking the nomination of more than 50 Biden appointments because he felt like it, while simultaneously attacking Big Bird and Sesame Street, allegedly for spreading horrifically liberal or socialist ideas. (Another full disclosure: I was employed as a writer by Sesame Workshop off and on for seven years and it was some of the most fun and fulfilling work I’ve ever done, but about as political as a set of Legos.)
Socialism—a concept that, when asked, I’d bet few if any of the GOP screamers actually could define, and yet they use accusations of socialism as if the real or imagined advocacy of such a thing would create chaos, Bill Murray-style: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… MASS HYSTERIA!”
They willfully refuse to learn or understand the actual meaning of socialism (or communism for that matter) much the same way they reject the notion of critical race theory (CRT). Contrary to their ravings, it’s not being taught in public schools—it’s just being misused by them as a hot button, another way of Republicans twisting respectable and respected academic work into knots, using it to scare white people and roil their bigoted rage.
Sadly and to a shocking degree, they’re achieving success with these tactics and inching us closer to the edge of a cliff—a flailing republic plummeting into dictatorship. (Add to the aforementioned roster of reprehension Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert of Colorado—the Doublemint Twins of xenophobia. This past week’s edition of hate speech featured Boebert’s attack on Minnesota’s Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and her subsequent attempts at a half-hearted apology.)
“Trickle down” may be disastrous as economic theory (as in, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining”) but works really well when you apply the same tactic to perpetrate prejudice. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted during the recent debate over the House censure of Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar—for threatening her and President Biden with assassination in a crude Twitter attack—”As leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country, and that is where we must draw the line, independent of party or belief. It is about a core recognition of human dignity and value and worth.”
Sure, it’s not all about Trump: before him, there were plenty of dimwits filled with hatred from head to toe. But he’s the enabler supreme, his incendiary words and deeds giving a blank hall pass to every two-bit reactionary who cares more about Fox News, reality TV and trashing anyone considered to the left of Czar Nicholas I. He is the alpha and omega to every angry, dissatisfied, powerless white person who clings to race as the mark of their superiority no matter the circumstances.
And all of this despite an incumbent president who for all his faults actually is trying to govern, attempting things that would help Americans regardless of race, religion, political stance or gender identification, aiming at the most progressive agenda since LBJ’s Great Society. And doing this in the face of our ongoing fatal pandemic, a volatile albeit recovering economy and a constant drumbeat of sneers and jeers.
So do not be fooled or lulled into complacency by the GOP’s buffoonish behavior. Words and actions that just a few years ago would have been ridiculed, their proponents ridden out of town on a rail, are standard operating procedure now. And echoed by their voters.
We must fight back, with our own votes and our voices raised in protest and in a concerted effort to keep speaking truth. We must register voters and make sure they get to the polls. We must attend the public meetings of councils and school boards to make sure each crazed accusation from the right is met with honesty, sobriety and facts.
Make no mistake—their nonsensical statements often are a smokescreen for the concerted campaign to not only suppress the vote of the majority who oppose them but to create a system where election results are determined and even overturned by partisan hacks changing election laws, gerrymandering districts and filling election boards as well as the offices of state attorneys general and secretaries of state.
According to Monday’s Washington Post, “A year after local and state election officials came under immense pressure from Trump to subvert the results of the 2020 White House race, he and his supporters are pushing an ambitious plan to place Trump loyalists in key positions across the administration of U.S. elections.
“The effort goes far beyond the former president’s public broadsides against well-known Republican state officials who certified President Biden’s victory, such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Citing the need to make elections more secure, Trump allies are also seeking to replace officials across the nation, including volunteer poll watchers, paid precinct judges, elected county clerks and state attorneys general, according to state and local officials, as well as rally speeches, social media posts and campaign appearances by those seeking the positions…
“’The attacks right now are no longer about 2020,’ said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D). ‘They’re about 2022 and 2024. It’s about chipping away at confidence and chipping away at the reality of safe and secure elections. And the next time there’s a close election, it will be easier to achieve their goals. That’s what this is all about.’”
With intemperate, toxic words and actions designed to bring down democracy and create a dictatorship, Republicans and their followers would restore to power an incompetent tyrant and cause our complete collapse.
The famous “shining city on a hill” will be in ruins.
Pay attention. I’m not kidding. This is no joke.
Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East.