Republican voters in 2018 are the electoral equivalent of a car full of teenagers with a bagful of blow and a bottle of vodka, six felonies among them and two Glocks stuffed under the seat, ripping down an interstate at 2 a.m. looking for an open convenience store. What they’re doing is bad enough. What they may do is almost unimaginable.
On November 6, GOP voters elected liars like U.S. Senator-elect Josh Hawley and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, both of whom are fighting to take away health insurance coverage from people with pre-existing conditions while bleating in campaign ads that they are the ones who will protect health coverage for people with heart disease and diabetes.
They elected criminals (at least in the allegations of federal prosecutors) like U.S. Rep. Chris Collins (R- New York) U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California). Collins is accused of using insider information to dump a drug company stock before it tanked, avoiding $730,000 in losses, and then lying to the feds about it. He made the call to dump the stock from the south lawn of the Trump White House. Hunter and his wife face a multiple-count 47-page indictment for siphoning off campaign cash to pay for a 14-grand Thanksgiving family vacation in Italy, $6,500 for a family trip to Hawaii, and swag at stores from Costco to Crate and Barrel. (Indictments are accusations; innocent until proven guilty.)
Republican voters also elected bigots. Lots and lots of bigots. While Duncan Hunter was fighting off the feds, he also ran a volcanic and racist campaign against Democrat Ammar Campa-Najar, an only-in-America Latino-Arab Muslim who worked in the Obama White House. Hunter called him a “terrorist” trying to “infiltrate” Congress. Republicans elected U.S. Rep. Steve King (R- Iowa), a white nationalist who used a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial charity to meet with neo-Nazi politicians in Austria. King endorsed a neo-Nazi politician in Canada, re-tweeted anti-Semitic statements by British neo-Nazis, and was reprimanded by his own party for his racist rhetoric following the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
Bigotry and racism informed the majority of arguments made to Republicans voters in 2018 and they responded, cheering on Trump’s lies about an invasion of Honduran refugees, chuckling at the cleverness of the Georgia robo-calls run by white supremacists calling Oprah “the magical Negro” because she campaigned for Stacey Adams in Georgia, winking at the incendiary Trump rhetoric that inspired a mass assassination attempt by mail bomb.
Republicans can do that because they’ve become perfect nihilists. Like the teenagers in the car, they no longer believe in anything that isn’t right in front of their faces and don’t worry about anything that’s more than five minutes in the future. They’re not even sure that they’re Republicans.
What they are is a tribe, a clan, a blood-and-soil posse motivated by white grievance and the feeling that they’re being robbed by all the people who don’t look like them, soaking up rage like a sponge dropped in the sewer. They’re closer to a European fascist party than to what we used to know as the Republican Party. But right now, those are the colors they run with.
Like the Eurofascists of the 20th century, power to crush their enemies is the goal. How it’s accomplished is irrelevant. If it takes supporting liars, alleged conmen facing felony charges, or open racists, well, that’s what it takes. Who are the enemies? Muslims, Jews, blacks, immigrants, Hispanics, and to pick out a favorite Third Reich phrase, “self-loathing race traitors.”
That was the particular mid-20th century epithet former Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives Tim Jones (R-Eureka) threw at me when he reacted on Twitter to a critique I had made of Republicans who had morphed into the White People’s Party. Jones might still be annoyed that I asked him on my TV program a few years back if he wasn’t unfit for public office because he believed Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. He accused me of being “self-loathing” and, having been white for almost seven decades, I knew exactly what he meant.
Republicans, though, are so deep in a fever swamp of gaslighting and denial that they deny that racist allusions mean anything or even exist. I spent election night at KMOV-TV, invited on to be a talking head alongside a Washington University professor and Marc Cox, a former reporter turned right-wing radio host.
Cox reacted indignantly when I pointed out that these midterms were about Trump but, more importantly, were about people who didn’t mind his racist rhetoric and inciting violence. Cox angrily denied Trump is a racist, sneered at the idea that Trump had ever incited or inspired any sort of violence, and shrugged off with a “it’s just more liberal hate speech” indifference the white nationalism that’s taken over the GOP.
The pathological unwillingness of the GOP to acknowledge what it and its voters have become is more than gaslighting; it’s a deliberate tactic to make those voters doubt facts and reality which, as George Orwell noted, is the first thing necessary to build a totalitarian state. Political leaders and propagandists need to convince a good-sized minority of the population that they can’t believe their eyes or ears. They can only believe the denials that anything is wrong.
There was, of course, plenty of bad news on November 6 for Republicans. The Democrats now control the U.S. House of Representatives, with U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California, though straight out of Kinloch) chairing the committee that would have the power to subpoena Trump’s tax returns. Democrats now control the governorships of most states. And the Obama strategy of widening the voting base worked even when the candidate lost. Beto O’Rourke lost to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), but his young, insurgent campaign gave the Dems their best shot at winning a Texas Senate seat in three decades. Closer to home and less significant nationally, grass-roots energy behind Cort VanOstran made U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) work for the first time to keep what was supposed to be a safer House seat.
But Republican voters stopped caring about truth at least two years ago. Their white identity politics transcend mere facts and reality. Bug-eyed, they have the pedal to the metal, tearing through America’s night, unconcerned about the body count they may leave behind.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.