Saturday, January 16, 2021


In The Atlantic earlier this week, David Frum wrote:
At least since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the conservative world has become a place of ever more extreme language, ever more widely distanced from real-world events. Conservative talkers would say things like Obama “is literally at war with the American people,” and then be greatly shocked and offended that anyone would connect their words to the growth of extremist violence. The words did not mean anything to the cynics who spoke them, and so they found it difficult to imagine that the words might mean anything to those who heard them.
I don't know if Madison Cawthorn, the young congressman from North Carolina who tweeted "Cry more, lib," when he won his election in November, is a cynic, but he seems shocked and offended that anyone would connect his inflammatory Trumpist words to the recent violence in Washington. New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi writes:
Madison Cawthorn has a vision of a January 6 that did not happen. One in which he does the noble thing for career and country. He uses his MAGA celebrity for good. He transforms from shitposter to statesman. And he emerges from the U.S. Capitol as America’s savior.

Ten days into the 25-year-old’s first term as the youngest member of the House of Representatives, ... the North Carolina Republican was in his quarters at the Cannon House Office Building talking about what-ifs and reliving an already historic sequence of events — in which he gave a speech to some people and then those people stormed the Capitol to overturn the results of the election, kill a police officer, and call for the execution of the vice-president.

“Literally,” Cawthorn said, “I ... I ... I ...”

... his buddy turned campaign manager turned senior aide Blake Harp sat folded on the black leather couch upon which Cawthorn has been sleeping since arriving in Washington. Harp was focused on his phone. Cawthorn kept staring in his direction, as if searching for the right words. Harp continued to type.

“In hindsight,” Cawthorn went on, “you know, I wish I could’ve ... uhh ... if I could, you know ... I probably would’ve ... obviously ... knowing what happened later in the day ... I wish I would’ve been like, ‘Just so you know, we are peaceful protesters.’”
I don't think Madison Cawthorn is a cynic. I think all the talk about a stolen election genuinely means something to him -- either he sincerely believes the conspiracy theories or he believes that Joe Biden won legitimately, but the Democratic Party is such a clear and present danger to the American people that Biden's inauguration is something any decent person should try to prevent by any means necessary, like preventing a terrorist attack.

I don't think the Republican cynics who said Obama was literally at war with the American people thought the people who heard them were equally cynical. I think they were members of the politcal elite who, as a rule, believe nothing truly terrible can result from their words and deeds because, generally speaking, nothing truly terrible ever seems to happen to them.

You can't blame them, really. Since the Reagan era, Republicans (with some Democratic help) have drastcally reduced the economic security of the middle class, put Americans through deep recessions, addicted millions to opiates ... and suffered no consequences. The economic elite are still comfortably awash in money. The Republican Party still wins lots of elections. America hasn't burned.

Madison Cawthorn actually knows calamity -- a car accident in his teens put him in a wheelchair -- but he grew up economically comfortable and a high school hero, and he's now one of the fastest-rising stars in the GOP, so life is good, and, like other GOP elitists, he seems to have believed that there could be no negative consequences for the country if he and others repeatedly cried "Fraud!" in response to an election result certified by all fifty states and multiple courts.

We know that the right-wing cynics believed this -- “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?" a senior GOP official said in November in response to Trump's talk of a stolen election.

But they always think this way. They've long believed that nothing bad will happen to them personally if their climate denialism leads to a hotter, stormier planet. They've shrugged off the risks to themselves of a gun-drenched country. They never felt personally endangered by Fox News, talk radio, the Tea Party, or the election of Donald Trump. They think they can party mask-free and never die of COVID.

Under right-wing control, life is good -- for right-wingers. Negative consequences are for other people. That's the GOP worldview.

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