Republicans Have Spent Decades Fear-Mongering — and Last Week They Staged a Coup
Like many, I’ve been in a vulnerable stupor since last Wednesday. The day began with something like hope in the air. Democrat politicians Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were wrapping up their runoff election for Senate and it was clear that Georgia had miraculously flipped Blue across the board. There had been plenty of uproar from Republicans in the House and the Senate contesting the presidential election (although… not the results which went in their favor). But the Powers That Be were following the letter of our constitution. Donald Trump would be formally voted out, and the Senate would flip. After four dark years, we had triumphed.
For the past 10 years, I’ve strongly identified as a Democrat. Issues such as LGBTQ discrimination or Wall Street greed made this a deeply emotional decision on my part. I wanted our country to be accepting of all, and I wanted everyone to have the same opportunities I had to follow their dreams. Yes, I’m a bit of an idealistic West Wing Liberal. I feel that progressivism is key to sustaining America’s promise. Global democracy and capitalism can improve the baseline standard of living for all. America can be the good guy. My more cynical friends would rightly point out US-funded coups in Indonesia or our handling of the AIDs crisis as examples of America’s many moral failings. To them, we were a bully who dealt out suffering to the weak.
I wasn’t always a democrat. By default, I spent my childhood in a conservative bubble. Our church leaders would advocate against liberal politicians, Bill O’reilly books would fill the walls of our home, and Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck would fill our morning drives. I didn’t understand much of talk radio growing up. Al-Qaeda, subprime mortgages, and the international monetary fund were grownup stuff after all. But I did pick up on one thing very early. We needed to be very afraid. At any given time, there were but one or two patriotic individuals standing bravely in between us and our nation’s doom. This was a central tenet of an increasing number of conservative news segments.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the media and politicians were brokering an innovative partnership. Newt Gingrich was serving as Speaker of the House at the time, and Rush Limbaugh was making a name for himself in talk radio. Congressional procedures had begun live televising in an effort to drive transparency, but Newt realized something no one else could see. The House Floor was now a stage. Newt would hint something inflammatory or racist or nationalistic, and Rush would flat out say it the next day on his show (This American Life brilliantly laid out this trend on their podcast back in 2018). Politics had become theatre. Every mundane piece of policy could be sensationalized by a handful of well-paid radio personalities.
God’s Not Dead centered around a teacher going to court for mentioning Jesus in her classroom. Fox News incessantly warned of the ensuing Arab-communist regime that Obama would usher in with his presidency (spoiler: his biggest legacy was passing an Affordable Care Act which was immediately repealed after he left office). And then there’s Rush. Rush Limbaugh believed the Iran Deal would hand the blueprints to Nuclear bombs over to the Middle East. Rush Limbaugh felt that pandemic lockdowns were the unjust result of an ensuing totalitarian regime. And most recently, Rush Limbaugh deactivated his Twitter account in solidarity with our Commander-in-Chief.
The thing is, fear is the most effective way to obtain power or influence short term. When people are afraid, they stop thinking rationally. It brings out our worst impulses, and hurts us more in the long run. While both sides have deployed this tool, it’s been utilized far more by conservatives. A few months back, I submitted my vote for Joe Biden; an uninspiring Washington politician who will do nothing to significantly push progressive agendas. Joe is the most middle ground politician we could have chosen. Still, I received my fair share of “literature” warning of his impending socialist agenda. Talking heads like Tucker Carlson delighted in pointing out his radical ideals that would destroy the fundamentals of our democracy. While capitalism unravels, Antifa would roam the streets spurring violence and mayhem. Eventually these thugs would come to my doorstep and give me my just comeuppances for abandoning our republican patriots.
On January 6th, a violent mob stormed our Nation’s Capital to disrupt Congress’s formalization of our democratically elected president. For the first time in our nation’s history, a Confederate Flag was proudly waved just outside the House Floor. Officer Brian Sicknick was murdered by protestors while defending his post. Four protestors died from various causes as hate echoed through the halls. At 2:14 PM, the senate was successfully evacuated from the Floor. At 2:15, an angry mob entered the chamber shouting “Hang Pence!” Zip Tie handcuffs were ready to be deployed for kidnapping politicians.
Last week, a violent surge against democracy took place on a global stage. Funny enough, this was perpetuated by the same groups who had been warning their listeners of bloody rebellion for decades. I never wanted to position myself so firmly against Republicans. John McCain and Mitt Romney have served for years as beacons of compassionate conservatism along with countless others before them. Somewhere in Republican ideology is a necessary voice for determining the most just path forward as a nation. But I cannot see this anywhere in the current party. The worst impulses of fear and vitriol have pervaded every corner of conservative discourse.
On a more personal note, I’ve been left questioning the inherent goodness of our nation. Last Wednesday 5 people died in a bloody riot on our nation’s capital. 4,000 Americans died that same day from COVID-19 while, we made steps to formally remove ourselves from the World Health Organization. The world is scrambling to control Climate Change while America walks away from the Paris Agreement. At what point do we stop being the good guy? At what point do fear and hatred permanently corrupt our ideals and turn us into the world’s supervillain? I’m not going to give up hope just yet, but Republican friends — do better. If conservative power brokers are unwilling to act responsibly, perhaps it’s up to you. If we want to heal, there can’t be false symmetries drawn between the Capitol Riot and BLM protests. More concern needs to be directed at Trump’s violent mob than the “Orweillian” Twitter deactivation. And we need a hard reset on misinterpretations of the First Amendment or the Bible. We can come together once again, but the onus of responsibility lies squarely on your shoulders.