After the murderous attack on the Capitol by a mob whom Trump incited for no other reason than he preferred to keep his job rather than lose it, decent people hoped that finally the G.O.P. would hold him accountable for what he really is: a traitor, a hustler, and a lout. This is why being decent is so exhausting—your hopes are always being raised and dashed. Soon after Liz Cheney, previously a living embodiment of the inexcusable, voted to impeach, Kevin McCarthy crawled to Mar-a-Lago to curry favor with the inciter-in-chief. McCarthy had fleetingly shown some grit when, shortly after the riots, he said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” Soon thereafter, though, he widened the blame and said, “I … think everybody across this country has some responsibility.” Round up the usual 330,066,379!
Today’s Republican Party is now a political organization in the same way the Mafia was a political organization: no perfuming pretense of principle and no agenda other than hoarding their own power. They don’t even care what kind of power as long as they hold it: if the quaint checks and balances of democracy interfere with their goals of self-enrichment and the thorough disenfranchisement of Blacks, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, women with unwanted pregnancies, and the L.G.B.T.Q. community, then it’s on to Fascism and no looking back.
Fascism is easier, really, as a system, requiring none of that cumbersome acting like they care. One of Georgia’s new congresswomen, Marjorie Taylor Greene (the extra “e” at the end is for “execrable”), has shared her enthusiasm on social media for assassinating Nancy Pelosi and once trailed the 18-year-old Parkland-shootings survivor David Hogg down the street and accused him of “using kids … to take away my Second Amendment rights.” By “kids” she meant his high-school friends who had been murdered. Last week, the G.O.P. put her on the House Education and Labor Committee and on the Budget Committee. This week, the entire caucus of Democrats, as well as 11 Republicans, removed her from both.
The G.O.P. is not America First anymore; it’s Me First. They claim to revere the red, white, and blue, but in practice they only care about the white. Given that policemen were struck with fire extinguishers by Republican rioters, it grows ever more satiric that the G.O.P. claims to be the pro-life party. When you read the terms of service to their Contract with America, it turns out Republicans are only pro-life until you’re out of the womb and in their way.
No perfuming pretense of principle and no agenda other than hoarding their own power.
I have written here before about how the seeds of Republican intellectual and moral suicide can be traced back to Ronald Reagan. Throughout his time in public life, Reagan blamed government itself as the source of our problems, not merely for its inefficiencies but even for its good intentions. “The nine most terrifying words in the English language,” he said, “are I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I can think of nine more terrifying words than those. How about: “Josh Hawley could be president of the United States.”
Reagan never called for the sacking of our Capitol, but his breezy contempt for the institution was the kindling Trump ignited on January 6, a date now as infamous in our history as these: April 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter was attacked; December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor; and 9/11.
Trump incited the mob for his own reasons, but it was Reagan’s philosophy that justified for the rioters all they did: Why honor the citadel of American government if American government is dishonorable? Why spare the life of a policeman if he is a symbol of oppression? Why not smear excrement in the halls of Congress if you’re constantly being told that Congress is full of shit?
The G.O.P. has given up the right to be taken seriously at an intellectual level, yet regrettably they cannot be ignored. They are not the loyal opposition any more than Jefferson Davis was. A total of 147 of them voted to throw out the results of the last election—not because they believe Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud but because they know his base believes them and they want that base. It’s as simple and cynical and sickening as that.
Reagan never called for the sacking of our Capitol, but his breezy contempt for the institution was the kindling Trump ignited on January 6.
The crimes of the rioters cannot be excused, but they can be understood. Unlike their elected enablers, the mob really believed the election had been stolen. The president told them this, as did Republican members of Congress, aided by a complicit conservative media.
This is the fatal problem in our public life now, and unless it can be corrected, we are going to live forever on the knife’s edge of civil explosion: fantasy has replaced facts, opinion supplants reporting. Social media, often a bulletin board for the unhinged, only amplifies the unreality. In the old days, conservative and liberal media could put their spin on the facts, but they still had the same facts. Readers of Time might think we were winning the war in Vietnam while readers of The Nation thought we were not, but we all agreed that we were in a war in Vietnam.
The insurrection didn’t fail for lack of participation. It failed for lack of planning. For once, Trump’s flaws—his sloth, stupidity, and cowardice—were blessings. Imagine if he had the intelligence to strategize a plan and the discipline to enact it. Imagine if he’d had the courage to walk with the mob to the Capitol. There would have been no stopping that crowd. Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence might now be sharing a cell in Guantánamo—surely both their ideas of torture.
The insurrection didn’t fail for lack of participation. It failed for lack of planning.
But not everyone in the new G.O.P. is as inept as Trump. Yes, Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville has the intellectual vigor of a yam, but some of these people are smart and disciplined. And they want to be president. Men such as the emetic Ted Cruz and the nocuous Josh Hawley.
It’s easy to scoff at the idea of Cruz’s becoming president, given how disliked he is by members of his own party. (If Cruz ever develops multiple-personality disorder, I predict the other personalities will hate him, too.)
But Josh Hawley could pull it off. Unlike Ted Cruz, Hawley doesn’t look like at least one of his parents was a wolf. But do not be deceived: he is a wolf, and rabid. Like Cruz, he is well educated and has pawned his intellect for opportunity. He doesn’t believe the election was stolen. He believes that pretending the election was stolen will serve him. He is a politician, not a leader, but unluckily that does not disqualify him from leading.
Years from now, when the events of Insurrection Wednesday are in the history books, Josh Hawley may face a more skeptical jury than today’s mob-groveling members of the G.O.P.: his grandchildren. When they are taught about the attack in school, they will come to see him, and they will have questions for him:
Granddad, what is Camp Auschwitz? Can we go there? Is it fun?
Granddad, what does 6MWE mean?
Granddad, why were you cheering them on?
Douglas McGrath is a filmmaker, playwright, and a columnist for AIR MAIL