It’s All About Me, Say Republicans

It’s All About Me, Say Republicans

Today’s GOP is in thrall to the cult of the self—and all the paranoia that comes with it.

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Most of us, when our glitch-prone, endlessly interconnected devices attempt to access an unknown network, may get momentarily annoyed. But when, say, a smart TV picks up an unknown account, we correct the settings on the Roku or call the cable company—and we then pick up the remote and resume our crime procedural or reality franchise of choice. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, on the other hand, ever alert to the sub-rosa forces of conspiracy and cultural affront, sees something far more sinister in a momentary service hiccup.

The MAGA avatar and aspiring Trump VP pick saw a strange login pop up when her TV mysteriously activated itself, and divined a deep-state mission in the works with her as the target. Accordingly, she took to Twitter with a bizarre patriot’s testament, as though she were on the verge of disappearing into the digital ether: “I am very happy,” it read in part.

… I don’t take any medications. I am not vaccinated. So I’m not concerned about blood clots, heart conditions, strokes, or anything else. Nor do I have anything to hide. I just love my country and the people and know how much they’ve been screwed over by the corrupt people in our government and I’m not willing to be quiet about it, or willing to go along with it.

This may seem like another self-dramatizing bit of paranoid theatrics from the woman who sees forest fires as the handiwork of Jewish space lasers (Ma’am, this is a Verizon help line). But Greene’s foray into fiber-optic McCarthyism was very much in line with the main run of Trumpian rhetoric on the right: a fundamentally solipsistic worldview that elevates the pet obsessions, whims, and crank outbursts of its political leaders and movement intellectuals to world-historical narratives of power and control.

The same weekend, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and UN representative, kicked this outlook into campaign mode in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “Do you remember when you were growing up?” Haley plaintively asked her audience in Sunday School teacher mode.

Do you remember how simple life was? Do you remember how safe you felt? It was about faith, family, and country…. Don’t you want that again? Because we could have that again. But in order to do that, we have to have a new generational leader. We’ve got to leave the negativity, the drama and the chaos of the past.

Of course, the joint refrain of “Do you remember how simple life was?” and “Don’t you want that again?” is pretty much the core message of modern conservatism going back to the Coolidge era. But Haley’s paean to resurgent American childhood was pitched in a very specific register of social complaisance: citing her own résumé as the first non-white woman governor, she airily dismissed the notion that America was still a racist country. And the uncomplicated rounds of American youth in her fond reminiscence amounted to cheerfully following orders: You went to school to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and learn your civic duty. You went to church to “find faith and conscience,” but not to inspire anything like anti-racist protest. “You” felt safe because you were uncritically hewing to a historical narrative that was all about you; anything—or anyone—else is simply negativity, drama, and chaos.

Drop the needle anywhere in the American right’s rhetorical soundtrack and you find the same core theme blaring forth. Last week also saw an informal House hearing at the Capitol Visitor’s Center aiming to dislodge the myth that any actual insurrection took place at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The gathering—convened by Freedom Caucus diehards like Paul Gosar and Greene—sought to establish that “Jan. 6 was an elaborate setup to entrap peaceful Trump supporters, followed by a continuing Biden administration campaign to imprison and torment innocent conservatives,” according to New York Times reporter Robert Draper. A key leader of the January 6 denialist movement is former Illinois political consultant Julie Kelly, a former Tucker Carlson regular and now a contributor to the Trumpist website American Greatness. “Kelly has asserted that the Biden administration is ‘on a destructive crusade to exact revenge against supporters of Donald Trump’ and has accused [former D.C. police officer Michael] Fanone, who was beaten unconscious by the rioters at the Capitol, of being a ‘crisis actor,’” Draper notes. He also reports that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy recently granted Kelly access to hundreds of hours of video footage of the uprising, a privilege only extended to Carlson and two other movement journalists.

McCarthy, who has spent the last two years lying flagrantly about January 6 (including to Fanone’s face), seems determined to expunge all memory of his fleeting dissent from the American right’s attempted coup by tirelessly promoting the claim that Trump’s brownshirts were the real victims here. Of course, that’s when he’s not floating equally mendacious talking points about Trump’s arraignment for illegally hoarding classified documents, or caving in to the hard right of his caucus when they introduce baseless resolutions to impeach President Biden. While all these capitulations are ethically despicable, they also underline what the price of leadership in today’s GOP is: Affirm that your base is made up of righteous martyrs to the deep state, or suffer their insatiable wrath.

That’s the clear, if demented, logic that governed still another Capitol Hill spectacle last week: The concerted right-wing dressing down of former special prosecutor John Durham, tasked by Trump and his coterie of quislings to document Robert Mueller’s “Russia hoax” in all its lurid glory. After three years and some $6.5 million, Durham concluded that the FBI was justified in investigating Russian interference into the 2016 election, but had at times overstepped its bounds (something that an inspector general’s report had already concluded in 2019). On cue, the same corps of congressional tantrum throwers went into the same convulsive hysterics. Durham was “part of the cover-up,” Florida Representative Matt Gaetz announced—and likened his crew of investigators to the Washington Generals, the team convened to deliver a lackluster court performance while the Harlem Globetrotters run circles around them. In other words, here was another corrupt DC insider—appointed by the Trump administration, no less—yet again declining to inform the movement faithful that they are the main characters in the epic battle for control of the future raging through American politics. No wonder that the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by arch Trump victimologist Jim Jordan—was driven to release its own video version of Durham’s testimony under the Fox-ready legend “They all lied to you.”

That’s the simpler world today’s GOP is promising to its core demographic of grievance-addled paranoiacs: It is always and forever about you, and anyone who happens to suggest otherwise is your cognitive and existential enemy. It’s the same hermetically inviolate version of reality that permits MAGA activists to deny that Hillary Clinton was ever the subject of an FBI investigation. Call it unenlightened self-interest, objectivism, or plain solipsism masquerading as patriotism. Whatever it is, a Roku update is never going to fix it.

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