GOP censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger is a pivot point in American history

GOP censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger is a pivot point in American history
Liz Cheney image via Screengrab

In the year-plus since the events of Jan. 6, 2021, the Republican Party has morphed, like an evil insect emerging from a chrysalis, into its final form: a terrorist organization. Rather than purging from its ranks those Republicans who supported, endorsed and participated in Donald Trump's coup attempt, the party and its leaders have rallied around them, and remade the party in their image. Rather than voting to impeach and convict Donald Trump, and therefore drive him out of the party, Republican leaders, along with the bulk of their voters and their mouthpieces in the media, have chosen to support him.

Republicans are so loyal to Donald Trump that even after the attack on the Capitol, where Republican members of Congress could easily have been killed — 147 of them voted to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. In essence, they were completing the "legal" part of Trump's coup, even after the illegal part had failed (at least in that moment).

In the year since then, the scale of Donald Trump and his cabal's conspiracy and coup attempt has only become clearer and more obvious. There is no longer room for plausible deniability; the evidence is overwhelming. The United States was perhaps hours or days away from the overthrow of democracy, and at least an attempt at autocratic or dictatorial rule. Although that coup attempt was not successful, the campaign against American democracy continues and is escalating, largely undeterred.

In dozens of states across the country, Republicans are passing laws that will make it difficult or impossible for Democrats to win elections. Emulating the systems of authoritarian pseudo-democracies like Russia, Hungary and Turkey, the Republicans want to replace a system of "free and fair" elections (however imperfect those have been in practice) with what experts describe as "competitive authoritarianism" or "managed democracy."

Ultimately, Jan. 6, 2021, was a trial run and a preview of the future, in a country where if Republicans lose the popular vote they clearly intend to resort to illegal and quasi-legal means to obtain, keep and maximize power.

Last Friday, the Republican National Committee finally, and in almost an anti-climactic way, announced who and what it really is. The party's governing body officially censured Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for daring to condemn Trump's coup attempt, and for serving the public interest by sitting on the House committee tasked with investigating those traitorous events. The RNC's official statement described Trump's Jan. 6 attack force as "ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."

The Washington Post offered this editorial comment:

Since Jan. 6, 2021, senior party officials have gone from acknowledging Mr. Trump's guilt to punishing those, such as Ms. Cheney, who continue to speak up about a tragedy that no American should forget. It remains to be seen what punishment former vice president Mike Pence will endure following a Friday speech in which he rebuked Mr. Trump's claims that he could have overturned the election on Jan. 6. Republicans assailing Ms. Cheney and siding with Mr. Trump and his lies about the 2020 election are the ones who imperil the republic. By asserting, as their censure resolution did Friday, that truth is fiction and patriots are turncoats, they have exposed the dark, festering core of what their party is becoming: an unruly revolt against fact and reason that betrays the principles leaders, such as former president Ronald Reagan, championed.

The Republican Party has now given its official endorsement for more right-wing political violence, such as we saw last January at the Capitol and since then in various smaller-scale incidents across the country. Predictably, Republican leaders and spokespeople are now deflecting, obfuscating, lying and seeking to deny reality as they claim that their words were taken out of context and they did not exactly mean what they plainly said.

This is a common strategy among extremist political organizations as they pretend to be legitimate partners in the very system of democratic governance they are working to destroy.

At important moments in history, people often do not realize what has taken place and how their collective destinies have been altered. In the middle of such events, it is difficult to see the bigger picture and its true implications. In America, this blindness is amplified by a naïve cultural belief in the country's narrative of inexorable progress, in which history inevitably follows an upward trajectory, rather than meandering, lurching and then falling backward before moving forward again at some point in the future.

Because America's democracy crisis is a type of interregnum, and a collective crisis of meaning the American people are still muddling through it all, desperately trying to search out some kind of clarity or meaning. Those people who are supposed to be the guides — the news media, political elites, "experts", and other public voices — are just as lost because they too are vulnerable to the same forces.

We will look back on last Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, as one such moment — one when things changed even more for the worse in an already broken America, and most Americans were not aware it had happened. On that same day, Donald Trump's fundraising operation sent out this email:

When will it end, Friend?

AT&T, a majority owner of DirecTV, is banning the very popular One America News Network (OAN) because too many people are watching.

I'm calling on all Conservatives to steer clear of DirecTV, and while you're at it, the same goes for "Concast's" [sic] Xfinity as well.

The Liberals have gone too far, and it's time we do something about it. My team is putting together a petition to show the Left that Americans want to hear REAL NEWS, not FAKE NEWS.

I want to get over 1,000,000 signatures from Patriots who are committing to NOT use DirecTV again, which is why I need your help.

Please add your name IMMEDIATELY to commit to NOT using DirecTV and to stand against the Left-wing MOB.
These Radical Left Lunatics are destroying our Nation, and we are better off without them.

I've requested to see the list of Patriots who proudly stand me, and I'll be looking for your name. Don't let me down.

Under the cover of hysterical and imaginary claims of censorship — DirecTV in all probability made a business decision unrelated to ideology — Trump and his spokespeople are encouraging eliminationist violence against their perceived enemies, the imaginary "Left-wing MOB" that is "destroying our Nation."

These are not isolated or random threats. In two recent political rallies Trump has hinted at the possibility of widespread racist violence, directed in particular against Black people. Last Saturday in Conroe, Texas, he called for mass demonstrations in Atlanta, New York and Washington if he is indicted or prosecuted for his many apparent crimes.

Fox News and the larger right-wing propaganda echo chamber have been circulating the white supremacist "Great Replacement" fantasy, which argues that white people are being supplanted in Western society by Black and brown people. These claims are an encouragement to preemptive violence against Black and brown people, Muslims and other perceived undesirables.

For at least the last six years, Donald Trump and the larger neofascist movement behind him have been using the propaganda technique known as stochastic terrorism, in which "dog-whistle" and other coded appeals are used to encourage political violence. In itself, this is nothing new: Stochastic terrorism has been a key feature of right-wing media and the "conservative" movement for several decades.

Emboldened by the events of Jan. 6, 2021, Republican fascists and the larger white right are becoming bolder and less restrained. Their use of stochastic terrorism has now transitioned toward direct threats, and acts, of political violence. As public opinion polls and other research have shown, millions of Republicans and Trump supporters are prepared to support political violence in order to return Trump to power and to protect what they understand as America's "traditional values" (meaning white privilege and white power). An unknown proportion of those people are willing to engage in such violence personally.

Many Trumpists and other neofascists are flying all-black U.S. flags at rallies or outside their homes to signal that they will offer no mercy in a future armed battle against Democrats, liberals, progressives and others deemed to be "un-American."

White supremacist and other neofascist paramilitaries are marching in the streets of major American cities in a campaign of intimidation (and recruitment). Historically Black colleges and universities have been targeted by bomb threats. In an eerie repeat of one of the worst chapters in human history, Republicans and their followers are endorsing book bans — and even staging public book burnings.

Writing at Mother Jones, Mark Follman previewed these developments last year:

Trump has made freshly evident, in other words, that he is serving as the inspirational leader for a domestic terrorism movement. His role as such was first openly described by a handful of leading national security experts in the season of his reelection defeat and tumultuous final months in office. Back then, the discussion centered on Trump using tactics of stochastic terrorism, a method of inciting violence veiled in plausible deniability that those experts (and this journalist) recognized from Trump in the run-up to January 6. … A third longtime Republican, a former senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration, described Trump as "an arsonist of radicalization." …

As the former president further seeks to rewrite January 6 and stoke incendiary far-right grievances, veiled tactics and plausible deniability are no longer in the equation, according to another expert among those last fall who called out Trump's tactics. "So much commentary still seems uncomfortable or coy about stating what Trump is doing," says Juliette Kayyem, who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama and currently directs national security research at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "He's not hinting, whistling, or luring these extremists anymore. He's providing an owner's manual. I will never understand why we are being so polite about describing this."

In a recent essay at Salon about Trump's threats of race war, I explored some parallels:

Donald Trump is an entrepreneur of racial and ethnic violence. In that sense, he is not dissimilar to leaders in places like Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, who used fear, lies, stereotypes and other dehumanizing and eliminationist rhetoric and threats of violence to encourage ethnic genocide. Trump has made it clear that he wants a "race war," in which Black and brown people are targeted for wide-scale violence by white people. There may be thousands, or tens of thousands (or even more) of white people willing to follow his orders. The danger is extreme.

When people reach out to me for advice about how to manage their fears about America in this moment of crisis and impending disaster, I suggest that they should read Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart". I also encourage them to consider Achebe's wisdom that: "When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool."

In the end, if the current behavior of the American people at large is any indication, they may soon find themselves on the street outside their own house, evicted by suffering as he moves in his friends and family and pretends it was his house all along.

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