Opinion: A falsetto GOP chorus still singing Trump’s praises
It is not often that an obituary of a deceased politician captures the character of a living one. Journalist H. L. Mencken’s farewell to William Jennings Bryan, the religious firebrand and defense attorney in the 1925 anti-evolution Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tenn., is a stunning portrait of former President Donald Trump.
“He was, in fact, a charlatan,” writes Mencken, “a mountebank, a zany without sense or dignity. It was hard to believe … that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed … full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not. What animated him from end to end of his grotesque career was simply ambition. He … had the trick of inflaming half-wits.”
Today’s half-wits are the GOP, or as some put it, the GQP, in recognition of the party’s embrace of QAnon’s dementedness and its representative in Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Add liar and hypocrite to half-wit, and you get GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Louie Gohmert, Andrew Clyde and a score of others who have undergone a moral lobotomy since Jan. 6, severing the brain connections responsible for memory, candor, ethics and self-respect.
While the rioters were storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a desperate McCarthy phoned the president at the White House and beseeched him to call off the mob. Trump, intent on a violent coup, dismissed him: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” McCarthy was livid: “Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” McCarthy called for Congress to censure Trump, saying “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
In contrast, here is McCarthy’s lobotomized version on Fox News three months later, after he’d visited Mar-a-Lago: “What I said is that the president had some responsibility when it came to the response. I was the first person to contact him when the riots were going on. He didn’t see it.” Really? No televisions in the White House? McCarthy whined that in dealing with Trump the job of House minority leader involves walking “the tightest tightrope anyone has to walk.” McCarthy’s just petrified that one wrong word and Trump will make him walk the plank.
Half-wit might be too kind for McCarthy’s GOP compatriots. At a congressional hearing on May 12, Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., redefined vacation travel, claiming that the mob assault on the Capitol and its officers, killing one and maiming more than 100, was “a normal tourist visit.” One wonders whether Clyde also thinks that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Crimea was just a normal tourist visit to the Black Sea. Not to be outdone, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, downplayed the attack on the Capitol as “not an armed insurrection. There have been things worse than people without any firearms coming into a building.” Right. How about people coming into a building with stun guns, chemical sprays, metal poles, batons, crowbars, clubs and baseball bats aiming to kill the speaker of the House and drag the then vice president outside to hang him from the gallows? At best, if they really believe their own words, Clyde and Gohmert are mere dolts. At worst, if their words are deliberate spin, they are malevolent dupes, willingly carrying bilge for Trump and his Big Lie.
Indeed, having declared war on the truth, the GOP’s lone manifesto is now the Big Lie. If you call it out publicly, as Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., did, you are effectively excommunicated from party and power. Cheney lost this battle, but may win the war. She has exposed the GOP’s shameless abasement to Trump and his central, raging self-obsession: Deny the election, deny the insurrection. That’s called whitewashing history, not governing. It won’t pave roads, build bridges, bring broadband to rural America, defeat COVID, advance breakthroughs in science and medicine, address climate change, safeguard U.S. security or fuel democracy. More bluntly, Cheney has unclothed for all to see what Charlie Sykes, editor in chief of The Bulwark, aptly termed the “House GOP castrati under McCarthy.” The surgery was self-inflicted. The chorus is now falsetto — emphasis on false.
— Leonard Krishtalka is director emeritus of the Biodiversity Institute and professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas.