Considering that this is 2022, not 1952, it was quite a surprise the first time I read that a Republican politician called some innocuous Democrat a “communist”. But crazy talk is no longer out of the ordinary for one of our major political parties. Ed Kilgore of New York Magazine was surprised too:
The day after the 2020 vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, then-President D____ T____ did something that is hard to do: He actually shocked me with intemperate language, in this case referring to Harris as a “monster” and a “communist.” The “monster” business didn’t surprise me, actually, given T____’s long history of personal insults to women. But “communist?” Seriously? I hadn’t heard a Republican call a Democrat a commie since the high tide of McCarthyism — and even back then, the rare slur was associated with specific (if lunatic) allegations of subservience to an international Marxist-Leninist conspiracy operating out of Moscow. Sure, for a generation, Republicans have been imprecisely calling Democrats “socialists,” though no more than a handful of Donkey Party members answer to that appellation, . . . but “communist” is actually pretty precise . . .
It’s not just T____ throwing the term around. One of his favorite Republican acolytes, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, calls Democrats — all of them, not just some of them — communists all the time (most recently in her speech to a white-nationalist group, in which she referred to “Democrats, who are the Communist Party of the United States of America”). When Republicans lost two Senate seats and control of the upper chamber in Greene’s home state in January 2021, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem called the winning Democratic candidates communists. And another Republican member of Congress, Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, betrayed a lack of understanding of communism just last month in explaining that the Russians were invading Ukraine because, as a communist, Vladimir Putin “couldn’t feed his people” and needed Ukraine’s farmland [note: Russia’s authoritarian leader, a fascist kleptocrat, doesn’t even belong to the Communist Party, although some Russians still do].
But amazingly ridiculous accusations are now a sign of the times in Republican circles (even though journalists still refer to Republicans as “conservatives”). From Thomas Zimmer and The Guardian:
Ever since entering Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene has been making headlines . . . The latest escalation came last week, when she smeared her Republican colleagues in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, as “pro-pedophile” after they voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US supreme court; Democrats, she added, “are the party of pedophiles.”
. . . The fact that Greene’s antics are so clearly designed to keep herself in the spotlight has prompted calls for the media and commentators to stop paying attention to her rather than be complicit in the amplification of far-right propaganda. And if what’s on display here were just the extremist behavior of a fringe figure, it would indeed be best to simply ignore her. This, however, isn’t just Greene’s extremism – it is increasingly that of the Republican party itself. Greene and the many provocateurs like her are not just rightwing trolls, but elected officials in good standing with their party. Ignoring them won’t work, nor will making fun of them: These people are in positions of influence, fully intent on using their power.
In any (small-d) democratic party, Greene’s extremism should be disqualifying. In today’s Republican party, she’s not being expelled, she’s being elevated. Greene is undoubtedly one of the rightwing stars in the country, and that’s not just a media phenomenon. Republican candidates crave her endorsement. . . .
Greene’s rise is indicative of a more openly militant form of white Christian nationalism inserting itself firmly at the center of Republican politics. “America First” candidates like Greene are representing the Republican party all over the country. In Arizona, for instance, state senator Wendy Rogers proudly declared herself to “stand with Jesus, Robert E Lee, and the Cleveland Indians” back in December – all of them supposedly “canceled” by “satanic communists”. .. . In Georgia, gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor runs on a platform of “Jesus, Guns, and Babies” and openly advocates for the establishment of a Christian theocracy.
The Republican party doesn’t just tolerate such extremists in an attempt to appease the fringe – this isn’t simply a matter of acquiescence out of convenience or cowardice. What we really need to grapple with is the fact that this sort of radicalism is widely seen as justified on the right. The exact language someone like Greene uses might be slightly crasser than what some conservatives are comfortable with, and some Republicans might disagree with specific aspects of the public image she projects. But it’s obviously not enough for them to break with her, or with any of the Christian nationalist extremists in their ranks.
If anything, most of what Greene is saying actually aligns with the general thrust of conservative politics. Republicans are currently all in on smearing anyone who disagrees with their assault on LGBTQ rights [or supports sex education in schools] as “groomers” and declaring any progressive social position adjacent to pedophilia. And it’s really hard to tell the difference between Greene’s propaganda and what much of the reactionary intellectual sphere has been producing. Rod Dreher, for instance, one of the Religious Right’s best-known exponents, has called the Democrats the “party of groomers” and “the party of child mutilators and kidnappers” . . .
That’s precisely the key to understanding why so many Republicans are willing to embrace political extremism. Greene’s central message is fully in line with what has become dogma on the right: that Democrats are a radical, “Un-American” threat, and have to be stopped by whatever means. Everyone suspected of holding liberal or progressive positions is a “fellow traveler with the radical left,” as senator Ted Cruz put it; as part of the “militant left,” Democrats need to be treated as the “the enemy within,” according to senator Rick Scott; and Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared that Stacey Abrams winning the Georgia gubernatorial election would be akin to a foreign adversary taking over and lead to a “cold war” between the two neighboring states.
. . . Greene’s pedophilia accusations . . . adhere to the higher truth of conservative politics: that Democrats are a fundamental threat to the country, to its moral foundations, its very survival. “How much more can America take before our civilization begins to collapse?” Greene asked last week. There aren’t many conservatives left who disagree with her assessment. That’s how they are giving themselves permission to embrace whatever radical measures are deemed necessary to defeat this “Un-American” enemy.
Once you have convinced yourself you are fighting a noble war against a bunch of pedophiles hellbent on destroying the nation, there are no more lines you’re not justified to cross. Greene and her fellow extremists are perceived to be useful shock troops in an existential struggle for the survival of “real” America. The right isn’t getting distracted by debates over whether Greene’s militant extremism or Mitch McConnell’s extreme cynicism are the right approach to preventing multiracial pluralism. They are united in the quest to entrench white reactionary rule.
I fear that . . . we might have become a bit numb to how extreme and dangerous these developments are. Let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security by the clownishness, the ridiculousness of it all. Some of history’s most successful authoritarians were considered goons and buffoons by their contemporaries – until they became goons and buffoons in power.
What we are witnessing is one party rapidly abandoning and actively assaulting the foundations of democratic political culture. Every “Western” society has always harbored some far-right extremists like Greene. But the fact that the Republican party embraces and elevates people like her constitutes an acute danger to democracy.
Yet, if you believe the polls, Americans who are willing and able to vote are going to put these right-wing bastards in charge of Congress next year. Two years later, if given the chance, they’d put the treasonous conman who can only handle short sentences back in the White House. This is America in 2022, not 1952.