It may have slipped under the radar with all the GameStop mishigas this week, but a member of Congress also offered up a concise look at the Republican Party’s present and future. It was not Marjorie Taylor Greene, who it turns out is not just QAnon-curious but also espoused the belief that various school shootings were hoaxes. In one instance, she channeled this very healthy brain state into chasing a survivor of the Parkland massacre—a kid who watched his high-school classmates get shot—down the street. Her compatriot, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, joined this newfound Republican tradition, attacking David Hogg as a “keyboard” warrior. It doesn’t make sense—Hogg has done advocacy work well beyond Twitter—but more to the point, these are the people we’re now sending to the national legislature?
But no, it wasn’t even either of those two. The real revelation came courtesy of Madison Cawthorn, the North Carolina congressman who once evinced such excitement about visiting Hitler’s vacation pad. (In the most charitable view, he’s tone-deaf in the vein of people who Instagram from Auschwitz—or, in the case of yet another interesting Republican congressman, Clay Higgins, post bizarre videos from the gas chambers that seemed to call for the U.S. to increase its military spending.) Cawthorn made the present and future abundantly clear when he described his hiring strategy for his congressional staff in an email toRepublican colleagues published by Time magazine this week. “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” he wrote.
And that’s pretty much the whole thing. There is no longer any Republican platform to deal with the major crises of our moment: the pandemic, the resulting economic turmoil, rampant inequality, monopoly power and corporate consolidation, the climate crisis, racial injustice in policing and the criminal justice system, healthcare. There are no plans for any of these issues, so why would a Rising Star in the party hire staff to deal with legislation? There is no expectation, particularly from The Base whose support they rely on, that they will perform the job of “lawmaker” and get press attention for that. It’s best just to go straight to the attention, via delusional conspiracies and outrageous behavior.
These folks are just Conservative Media Stars now, people who were throwing red meat online when suddenly it all got real and they were elected to Congress because that’s all that Republican primary voters want anyway. Cawthorn’s mandate is to engage in a theatrical battle with the various Enemies—Democrats and the Radical Left, the Fake News Media, Republicans who are deemed traitors to the cause—for the satisfaction of those people who have been told for 30 years that these groups are out to destroy The America You Know and Love.
This culminated with Donald Trump’s #StopTheSteal rhetoric, which began well before the election proper, and really applied to the nation as a whole. He told his people that Democrats were inviting an invasion of Brown people at the southern border. Then he told them the Enemies would usher in a socialist-communist-whatever revolution to turn the country into VeneZUELA!. Then he said they were stealing an election to accomplish all of the above. And it was a scam, an invention, until it became very real. That this new class may not be in on the joke—that their brains may be more subsumed in the swamp of conspiracies than even Trump was—does not preclude them from catering to that visceral impulse for attention-seeking. How we in the Fake News Media should respond to all this is another question.
Trump introduced aesthetics into political life, or at least finished the job, and now the job of being a Republican has been reduced to Fighting the Enemies. If that means starting fights with school-shooting survivors who respond to witnessing mass-murder by firearm by advocating stricter gun-control measures, then so be it. If that means following them around and harassing them on the street, so be it. You’ve got to keep the eyeballs on you, because the people want a show. After all, in the video where Greene is shown going after Hogg, she at one point asks him how he got so many meetings with members of Congress, and then asks an even more revelatory question: “How did you get major press coverage?”
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