There seems to be some confusion, at least among certain respectable white people, about the meaning of hypocrisy and its application to today's Republican Party. The confusion is understandable. The outrage over the Republicans saying one thing and doing another may even yield concrete results in time. But even then, we should have clear in our minds that Republican rhetoric operates on two levels simultaneously. Most importantly, it is hostile toward the principle of universal political equality.
To illustrate, let me draw your attention to an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the largest and most influential daily newspaper in that area.1 In it, the editorial writer excoriates the 21 Republicans in the United States House of Representatives who voted against bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal to "the officers, of various police units, who put their lives on the line (and in one case, died) protecting those very lawmakers after then-President Donald Trump incited the mob to storm the Capitol."
Asked to choose between the anti-democracy thugs who assailed America's seat of government, or the small contingent of police officers who valiantly tried to stop them, these 21 elected representatives of the people chose … the thugs.
For generations, writes the editorial writer, the Republicans were celebrated as the party of law and order. "That was infused with some hypocrisy from the start—Nixon would ultimately be driven from the White House for his crimes in office—but in principle, at least, it aligned with a central tenet of conservatism: that respect for the law provides the restraint of passions that is necessary for society to thrive."
But that was before the former president came along. "While in office, Trump's almost weekly displays of contempt for the restraints of the Constitution made Nixon look like a choirboy, culminating in his incitement of a riot in an attempt to retain power. And yet to this day, most congressional Republicans still kiss the Trumpian ring."
Since then, the editorial writer says, the GOP has shown it's "no longer defined by respect for the law." In addition to the 21 Republicans failing to honor heroic cops, the editorial writer cites Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, who said that "a rioter who was shot to death by an officer as she breached a Capitol window had been 'executed'." Also cited is Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a former sheriff, who signed into law a bill "to impose heavy fines against local police departments if they enforce federal gun laws." The editorial concludes: "'Law and order' is just another empty slogan designed to own the libs. All that today's Republican Party actually believes in is power."
Before I go on, let me say we are in a very good place if respectable white people of the kind who write and consume newspaper editorials in the country's major cities are offended by the appearance of Republican hypocrisy. That may counterbalance the outrage the Republicans are trying to invent (out of thin air) over "critical race theory." As I said last week, the Republicans don't know what CRT is. They don't want to know what CRT is. All they know is they already "know" what it is, enough for an ad-hoc scorched-earth campaign at the state level against free speech and free inquiry. Even if respectable white people are scared of the Republicans' newest boogeyman, they also know the Democrats never claimed, and will never claim, to be the party of CRT.
That said, I think respectable white people are making a grave error. They continue to give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt. How? By assuming the Republicans care about equal treatment under law. If they did, they really would be hypocrites. If you drop that assumption, however, everything makes much more sense. "Law and order" is not another empty slogan. It's an expression of ideology. They value a dual system of law and order—one for us and one for them. This is the proper view, I think, of the Republican acquittal of Donald Trump. A Republican president can be above the law. A Democratic president can't be. One is protected. One is punished. The Republicans want what American fascists always want: two legal systems, separate and unequal.
The editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was right but only partly. It's not that the Republicans do not respect law and order. They deeply respect law and order as long as there are two sets, one for them and one for everyone else. What they do not respect is political equality. What they do not respect are attempts to hold them equally accountable. More ominously, what they want is a social order in which violence (white-power domestic terrorism) of the kind we saw on January 6 is a legitimate response to the "injustice" of a free and fair election. The insurgent shot to death at the Capitol was not a traitor, but instead a martyr to the cause of law and order.
It seems to me pretty clear that the Republicans don't care about equality or equal treatment under law. It seems to me pretty clear that certain respectable white people don't want to see the whole truth, because, as bad as the Republicans are, they aren't that bad for respectable white people. After all, respectable white people are going to benefit from a dual system of justice, whether or not they intend to. The trick, I think, is pushing them to see that there's more going on here than mere hypocrisy. The Republicans deeply respect "law and order." What they hate is America as it is.
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