Sunday, December 3

Extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene are the future of the Republican party | Thomas Zimmer

ANDsee since entering Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene has been making headlines for her long history of peddling conspiracy theoriesher blatant embrace of anti-Muslim mustache and white Christian nationalism, and her aggression against political opponents. The latest escalation came last week, when she smeared her Republican colleagues in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, as “pro-pedophile” after they voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US supreme court; Democrats, she added, “are the party of pedophiles.”

There is a calculating quality to Greene’s polemics. Last fall, for instance, she recorded a campaign video in which she used a military-grade sniper rifle to blow up a car that had the word “socialism” written on it, promising to do the same to the “Democrats’ socialist agenda.” It was over-exaggerated campaign nonsense. But Greene knew the unsubtle insinuation of using violence against a political opponent would demand attention.

The fact that Greene’s antics are so clearly designed to keep herself in the spotlight has prompted calls for the media and commentators to stop paying attention to her rather than be complicit in the amplification of far-right propaganda. And if what’s on display here were just the extremist behavior of a fringe figure, it would indeed be best to simply ignore her. This, however, is not just Greene’s extremism of her – it is increasingly that of the Republican party itself. Greene and the many provocateurs like her are not just rightwing trolls, but elected officials in good standing with their party. Ignoring them won’t work, nor will making fun of them: These people are in positions of influence, fully attempt on using their power.

In any (small-d) democratic party, Greene’s extremism should be disqualified. In today’s Republican party, she’s not being expelled, she’s being elevated. Greene is undoubtedly one of the rightwing stars in the country, and that’s not just a media phenomenon. republican candidates crave her endorsement. Democrats stripped her of her committee assignments of her against the vote of nearly all of Greene’s Republican colleagues of her; if the Republicans capture the House in November, she’ll probably get those assignments back.

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It is true that occasionally, Greene’s most egregious actions have led to some measure of symbolic distancing from Republican leadership. After she spoke at the white supremacist America First Political Action Conference (Afpac) in February, where she was enthusiastically introduced and embraced by the well-known far-right activist and Nazi sympathizer Nick Fuentes, minority leader Kevin McCarthy gave her a good talk to – but no serious consequences followed.

Overall, Greene’s position within the Republican party seems secure. That’s partly because the Republican leadership is surely aware that most of the energy and activism in conservatism is in the far-right wing that stands behind Greene. In fact, Greene is the poster child of a rising group of rightwing radicals: in Congress, she likes to present herself and like-minded allies such as representatives Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz as the future of the republican partyand they aren’t shy about their intention to purge whatever vestiges of “moderate” conservatism might still exist within the Republican party.

Greene’s rise is indicative of a more openly militant form of white Christian nationalism inserting itself firmly at the center of Republican politics. “America First” candidates like Greene are representing the Republican party all over the country. In Arizona, for instance, state senator Wendy Rogers proudly declared herself to “stand with Jesus, Robert E Lee, and the Cleveland Indians” back in December – all of them supposedly “canceled” by “satanic communists”; and at the aforementioned AFPAC in February, Rogers suggested building gallows to hang political enemies. In Georgia, gubernatorial candidate kandiss taylor runs on a platform of “Jesus, Guns, and Babies” and openly advocates for the establishment of a Christian theocracy.

The Republican party doesn’t just tolerate such extremists in an attempt to appease the fringe – this isn’t simply a matter of acquiescence out of convenience or cowardice. What we really need to grapple with is the fact that this sort of radicalism is widely seen as justified on the right. The exact language someone like Greene uses might be slightly crasser than what some conservatives are comfortable with, and some Republicans might disagree with specific aspects of the public image she projects. But it’s obviously not enough for them to break with her, or with any of the Christian nationalist extremists in their ranks.

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If anything, most of what Greene is saying actually aligns with the general thrust of conservative politics. Republicans are currently all in on smearing anyone who disagrees with their assault on LGBTQ rights as “groomers” and declaring any progressive social position adjacent to pedophilia. And it’s really hard to tell the difference between Greene’s propaganda and what much of the reactionary intellectual sphere has been producing. Rod Dreher, for instance, one of the Religious Right’s best-known exponents, has called the Democrats the “party of groomers” and “the party of child mutilators and kidnappers” lately. Or take the gun-toting militancy that was on display in Greene’s campaign video. Republicans have long embraced the gun cult and made it a key element of their political identity. Now candidates up and down the country have the whole familyincluding young children, pose for heavily armed photos, revealing in the imagery of using guns to fight off those insidious Democrats and their assault on America.

That’s precisely the key to understanding why so many Republicans are willing to embrace political extremism. Greene’s central message is fully in line with what has become dogma on the right: that Democrats are a radical, “Un-American” threat, and have to be stopped by whatever means. Everyone suspected of holding liberal or progressive positions is a “fellow traveler with the radical left,” as Senator Ted Cruz put it; as part of the “militant left,” Democrats need to be treated as the “the enemy within,” according to Senator Rick Scott; and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared that Stacey Abrams winning the Georgia gubernatorial election would be akin to a foreign adversary taking over and lead to a “cold war” between the two neighboring states.

It doesn’t matter to the right that Greene’s pedophilia accusations lack any empirical basis. What matters is that they adhere to the higher truth of conservative politics: that Democrats are a fundamental threat to the country, to its moral foundations, its very survival. “How much more can America take before our civilization begins to collapse?” Greene asked last week. There are n’t many conservatives left who disagree with her assessment of her. That’s how they are giving themselves permission to embrace whatever radical measures are deemed necessary to defeat this “Un-American” enemy. Once you have convinced yourself you are fighting a noble war against a bunch of pedophiles hellbent on destroying the nation, there are no more lines you’re not justified to cross. Greene and her fellow extremists are perceived to be useful shock troops in an existential struggle for the survival of “real” America. The right isn’t getting distracted by debates over whether Greene’s militant extremism or Mitch McConnell’s extreme cynicism are the right approach to preventing multiracial pluralism. They are united in the quest to entrench white reactionary rule.

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I fear that four years of Trumpism in power so inundated us with political stunts and outrageous political acts that we might have become a bit numb to how extreme and dangerous these developments are. Let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security by the clownishness, the ridiculousness of it all. Some of history’s most successful authoritarians were considered goons and buffoons by their contemporaries – until they became goons and buffoons in power.

What we are witnessing is one party rapidly abandoning and actively assaulting the foundations of democratic political culture. Every “Western” society has always harbored some far-right extremists like Greene. But the fact that the Republican party embraces and elevates people like her constitutes an acute danger to democracy.

  • Thomas Zimmer is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, focused on the history of democracy and its discontents in the United States, and a Guardian US contributing opinion writer

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