Lost and Found: The Republicans Haven’t Lost Their Conservative Minds
Once you look beyond the ‘chaos’ in Washington, what you see is the work not of nihilists, but committed ideologues fully determined to impose their reactionary vision of what America should be on as many people as possible and to punish those who dare to deviate from that vision or dissent.
* Thomas Zimmer
Robert Draper, Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind (New York: Penguin, 2022).
Here are two among the different ways in which the United States’ liberal and centrist intelligentsia underestimates and even denies the domestic political threat of Amerikaner fascisation:
+1. Mocking gravely dangerous fascist politicos as childish buffoons who have lost their marbles.
+2. Focusing excessively on the most sensationally ridiculous national-level Republi-fascist politicos while underestimating or even omitting dead-serious Republi-fascist policy at the commonly underestimated and critical state level.
Those Crazy Knuckleheads!
Both of these head-in-the-sand tendencies plague the longtime establishment journalist and author Robert Draper’s latest and useful book Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind (New York: Penguin, 2022).
Across thirty-four short chapters, Draper tells one story after another of how “a new breed of Republicans” represented by lunatics like Marjorie Taylor Greene (hereafter “MJT”), Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert and enabled by current US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell doubled down on the madness of Trump in the fifteen months following the January 6th Capitol Riot.
In chapters 4 and 7 of Weapons of Mass Delusion, Draper tells how MJT: adopted “Save America Stop Socialism” as her 2020 campaign slogan; “went so far as to rub the crotch area of Trump’s cardboard likeness at a campaign event of conservative women”; blamed the January 6th “insurrection” on “Antifa”; called for Nancy Pelosi’s “execution”; said the Parkland, Florida high school shooting was “staged”; claimed that a California wildfire had been caused by “a laser beam shot from space by a prominent Jewish family, the Rothschilds.”
Chapter 27 recounts a September 2021 Trump rally in Georgia, where MJT called Democrats “communists” and described US President Joe Biden as a “real piece of shit.”
Chapter 31 recalls how MJT responded to Biden’s 2022 State of the Union Address by calling the president and vice president “traitors [who were] flying illegal aliens in the dark of night…maybe to a suburb near you.” She tied all this to the “sexual perversion” and “moral decay” caused by globalism and said that Biden’s speech could be summarized as “China First, America Last.” She claimed that Biden was compromised since “every world leader has the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.” She denounced climate change as a hoax and said that Biden’s effort to slow it would turn Americans into “slaves to China.”
Chapter 12 introduces the paranoid-style Congressman and loony tunes dentist Gosar, who is shown telling Arizona Republicans that Covid-19 was devised by China to defeat Trump and that “shadowy elites and the deep state continue to collide with Big Tech and Big Media to disenfranchise President Trump and you, the American patriot” with “angry, violent communism.”
Chapter 22 depicts more wild Gosar claims: Capitol Rioter Ashli Babbitt was an “executed” martyr; “the white supremacist riot at Charlottesville had been plotted by the Jewish billionaire George Soros” (Draper’s description of Gosar’s claim); January 6 “may have been staged by the FBI as a pretext to locking up Trump supporters” (Draper again).
Chapter 28 reminds us of the shocking video that went up on Gosar’s Twitter and Instagram accounts in November of 2021 – the one in which a photoshopped version of the demented Congressman stabbed a photoshopped version of the progressvie Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the head.
Chapter 16 sketches the lunacy of former Congressman Madison Cawthorn. Chapter 20 notes that 21 “law and order” House Republicans – including MJT, Gaetz, Boebert, Cawthorn and Gosar – voted against awarding medals to police officers who had defended the Capitol on January 6. Chapters 23 and 24 dig into right-wing Congresspersons’ claims that Covid-19 was a “Chinese communist bioweapon” and that Biden’s suggestion of a door-to-door vaccination information campaign was meant to confiscate guns and Bibles.
Wow, how about those wacky Repbli-crazy chuckleheads! What a freak show, right?
Following the Herd by Failing to Use the F-Word
Besides documenting the McCarthy and McConnell-enabled madness of MJT and Gosar et al., Weapons of Mass Delusion performs the valuable service of demonstrating the persistent hold of “new breed Republican” far right extremism beyond January 6 and the chilling normalization and spread of that extremism in the Congressional Republi-fascist Party since Trump ruefully exited the White House. Writing well before McCarthy’s wild Trump- and MJT-backed election to the House speakership (including a nationally reality-televised soap opera featuring MJT, Gaetz, and Boebert et al on the second anniversary of the Capitol Riot) last January – an episode that feels like a perfect afterword to his book – Draper shows how MJT and her ilk have “c[o]me to shape their party’s terms of engagement to an extent that would have been unimaginable five years ago.”
Which is fine but seems like low hanging fruit – elementary observation. At the same time, two big and critical things are missing from Draper’s account of the 2021-22 Republican Party. The first thing absent is the proper name and historical and politico-ideological nature of the political “madness”/pathology under investigation. The appropriate term here is fascism, by which I mean a number of things but most especially palingeneticand vengeful white nationalism combined with: the legitimation and advance of political violence trumpeting the rule of force over the rule of law (ironically in the name of “law and order”); a readiness to abandon and even destroy previously normative and failing bourgeois electoral democracy and constitutionalism; the grievance-filled and eliminationist demonization and Othering of racial and ethnic minorities, leftists, liberals, feminists, gay and transgendered people; a fierce attachment to “traditional” social hierarchies; a faux-populist pretense of anti-elitism cloaking attachment to a fiercely repressive capitalism; a relentless propaganda war on truth; inspid reflexive anti-intellectualism; authoritarian fealty to a maximalist and typically male and cultist Leader. Again and again, Draper mocks the Republi-fascists’ recurrent practice of absurdly calling the Democrats “socialists,” “Marxists,” and “communists” without observing that fierce and obsessive anti-socialism/-Marxism/-communism and the false conflation of centrist and liberal capitalist politicos (e.g. militantly neoliberal capitalists like the Clintons, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden) with (the supposed) Marxist/ socialist/ communist/“radical Left” threat (never mind that the US and the world are in dire existential need of capitalism’s radical replacement by socialism) is a hallmark characteristic of fascism past and present.
Draper follows the liberal and centrist intelligentsia herd by foolishly calling the Republi-fascists “populists,” a deceptive mischaracterization (see “false narrative” number 10 here) that assists their disingenuous claim to be a party of “the working-class.”
Wild Eyes in Washington, Steely Eyes in the States
The other thing glaringly absent in Weapons of Mass Delusion is what the Republi-fascists are quite effectively and – in their own sick way – intelligently doing in the states under their control:
* re-imposing the female enslavement of forced motherhood by criminalizing abortion.
* enacting fascist laws against the accurate teaching of past and present US history with racism, sexism, genocide, homophobia, imperialism and nativism properly included.
* banning books that challenge white Christian racist, sexist, and anti-gay norms and practices.
* undermining public protections against current and future pandemics.
* fueling the nation’s insane gun violence epidemic by rolling back firearms controls.
* denying basic human and civil rights to gay and transgender people.
* suppressing the voting rights of racial minorities and others likely to oppose the Christian white nationalist agenda.
* attacking public schools and slashing social services and environmental regulations.
* outlawing liberal, progressive, and left protest.
*strengthening and expanding the nation’s giant racist police and prison states.
Perhaps someone on the right should try to mockingly imitate Lenin by writing a pamphlet titled The States and Counter-Revolution.
And it’s not just about the red (try brown) states. The state-level Republi-fascists have many key allies in the federal courts, including a Christian fascist majority on the Supreme Court
“Committed Ideologues Fully Determined to Impose Their Reactionary Vision”
Two months ago, Refuse Fascism (on whose editorial board I sit), interviewed the perceptive historian and political commentator Thomas Zimmer. Zimmer said something very important regarding the difference between the wild-eyed doings of the MJT-Gosar wrecking crew in Washington and the steely-eyed advance of the Christian white nationalist agenda on the state level and in the intimately related federal judicial system:
“There’s been … too much focus on the chaos [in the US House]…we all remember the 15 tries it took for them to finally elect Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House…it is tempting to look at that and say: Oh, how dangerous could these people be? It’s just a bunch of chaos agents, a bunch of clowns…what that underestimates is, first…there’s… no natural law, that democracy can’t be brought down by a bunch of clowns…There’s no higher power saying: Oh, if they’re are a bunch of clowns, instead of a, say, a super cunning cabal of genius evil guys, whatever, then democracy is going to be fine. That’s not how it works. The chaos itself — we’re seeing it right now — that alone might be enough to sabotage the country, sabotage the world economy…There are very few people in [US House Republican] caucus that have a proper legislative agenda or any sort of discernible interest in public policy-making. That’s not why they’re there. In fact, they’re super happy to just paralyze government and then turn around and say: ‘See, we told ya, Washington is bad and government doesn’t work.’ Even the chaos in itself is already dangerous…”
“Then you have…also look at what’s going on in the states…[and] at what’s going on the Supreme Court. …on the state level, we’re not seeing chaos. We’re seeing a very deliberate, very systematic, very successful counter offensive, reactionary offensive, against civil rights, against the post-1960s civil rights system… once you look at the state level, what you see is they’re banning abortion and they want to control women by whatever reactionary measure they can come up with — even including passing dress codes, where now women lawmakers have to cover their arms for something. To criminalize LGBTQ people; install authoritarian, white nationalist education systems; ban dissent; restrict voting rights; purge election commissions; criminalize protest. That’s happening wherever Republicans are in charge, and all Republican led states. These are not disparate actions, it’s one political project…”
“Once you look beyond the ‘chaos’ in Washington, what you see is the work not of nihilists, but committed ideologues fully determined to impose their reactionary vision of what America should be on as many people as possible and to punish those who dare to deviate from that vision or dissent…Ideally, in a better world, the Supreme Court would step in and say: No, wait a minute, you can do this, stop this. They would stop these escalating attempts to undermine democracy and rollback civil rights. But… the conservative reactionary majority on the court is doing the opposite. It’s acting as the spearhead of this reactionary counter-mobilization” (emphasis added).
I have two differences with the interview from which this passage is taken. First, Dr. Zimmer is unduly unwilling to use the F-word – fascism – to describe the political-ideological content of the revanchist agenda being pursued by the rightmost major party. The Court and the party are radically Christian fascist, not “conservative reactionary.” Second, the professor seems to underestimate the neofascist policy agenda of the US House and Senate Republicans – an agenda that will look much less clownish if and when (as seems distinctly possible if not even likely) the Republi-fascists take back the Senate and the White House from the dismal and eco-cidal Willow Project Democrats in 2024-25. The Republi-fascist House cadre might look more like a buffoonish demolition crew than a serious policy entity as long as Democratic Party control of the upper branch of Congress and the executive branch means they can’t pass laws. But their obstructionism and chaos are meant to put their party back in full triple-branch charge of the federal government, whereupon specific and detailed legislation will flow out of a Republican US House on the scale of the current vicious revanchist statehouses in places like Oklahoma City, Nashville, Des Moines, Pierre (South Dakota), Montgomery (Alabama), and Cheyenne (Wyoming).
Still, Zimmer is dead-on correct in my view to note three things:
(i) The basic core assignment of the House Republicans right now – destructive chaos.
(ii) The excessively neglected significance of the state level, where a vast swath of reactionary policy is made and carried out in bold defiance of majority national opinion.
(iii) The close and mutually reinforcing relationship between what dedicated and meticulous Republi-fascists are doing in the states and what they are doing in the federal courts.
Federal Judicial Fascists
Some quick reflections on this last point. The Trump- and McConnell-choreographed Christian fascist takeover of the Supreme Court during Trump’s (first?) administration led to last summer’s horrific Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which has opened the door for 12 states so far to ban or very severely restrict abortion, with disastrous consequences across the country. Right-wing and racist gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement, firearms spread, an increasing erosion of the separation between church and state, horrific campaign finance abuses – all this and more terrible to mention is running rampant in red/brown states thanks in no small part to rulings from federal courts packed with far-right activist judges. And any day now, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a far-right Christian fascist federal judge in Amarillo, Texas is going to issue an order that is designed to nationally prohibit the safe and effective abortion pill mifepristone on thoroughly false pretenses, taking a state-level assault on medication abortion to the entire country, a dark validation of Rise Up for Abortion Rights’ consistent insistence that the savagely patriarchal Republi-Nazis want to ban abortion nationwide. Neither the federal appeals court above Kacsmaryk nor the Supreme Court will reverse his coming woman-hating ruling.
What Happens in the Red States
As I have been saying for years, what happens in the red states doesn’t just stay in the red states, especially under a national Minority Rule political and policy set-up that drastically exaggerates the power of the nation’s most revanchist and reactionary states and regions. Meanwhile, the nation’s leading red state fascist laboratory, Florida, has hatched a supremely dangerous presidential aspirant who would love nothing more than to bring his Christian white nationalist/neofascist agenda to the whole country: Ron DeSantis. (If I might borrow some language from Black Chicago, that crazy-ass Trump might need “a check-up from the neck-up,” but that mini-Mussolini motherf*#ker in Tallahassee is “as serious as a heart attack.”)
Found, NOT Lost
After the Republi-fascist Party of “mass delusion” takes the Senate and White House back in 2004-25, Robert Draper can report further on how it has gone batshit crazy as it proceeds to build the Amerikaner Fourth Reich. Perhaps he’ll have to write about it from a European country.
In any event, and however the electoral chips fall in the next two years, the post-republican Republican Party hasn’t “lost its conservative mind.” It has found and is refining and upgrading its radically neofascist mind and is working with no small practical intelligence to make its Christian white nationalist vision supreme across the world’s most powerful and dangerous country. Mocking the clownish absurdities of its most ridiculous Congressional personalities won’t do much to stop that. It may actually assist Republi-fascist consolidation. Hitler rose to power with no small help from liberals and progressives who refused to take him and his Nazi Party seriously.
An earlier version of this essay appeared on The Paul Street Report.
1. As far as I am aware, I am the “inventor” of the term “Amerikaner” in left political discourse. It is a play on the name of the white Dutch-Anglo minority that imposed a regime of savage Third World fascist regime of racial apartheid and white minority rule on South Africa during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Like the Afrikaners, I maintain, the U.S. hard right core Trump base and white nationalist movement is heir to an earlier history of genocidal and imperialist white un-“settlement.” It is opposed to majority rule democracy and committed to the imposition of racial and ethnic separatism and inequality. White fears of coming minority white demographic status in the increasingly non-white United States are one aspect of the parallel, reflected in the adoption of the term by certain part of the nation’s fascistic alt-right. I am told the term has been long embraced on the alt-right, which makes perfect sense.
2. Wikipedia defines palingenesis as “a concept of rebirth or re-creation, used in various contexts in philosophy, theology, politics, and biology. Its meaning stems from Greek.” Wikipedia further provides a useful analysis of “palingenetic ultranationalism” as recurrent and core component of fascist political ideology here.