Veteran journalist and one-time Republican laments the extremism that’s overtaken his former party
What does it say about a political party that defends a member as toxic and repulsive as Paul Gosar?
What does it say that 207 of the 210 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives — including the other three from Arizona, Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko and David Schweikert — stood in defense of a man who last week tweeted an animated video that depicted his avatar violently slaying one of his political opponents and congressional colleagues?
What does it say that only two Republicans in Congress spoke out against Gosar’s actions and saw through his defense of “it was only a joke, lol” to denounce his violent rhetoric?
The sad truth is that it says exactly what we already know: Today’s GOP is not the party of moral character and truth that it once pretended to be — that I believed it was for much of the time I was a registered Republican voter — but is instead a cesspool of amorality that is driven by fear.
Fear of change. Fear of immigrants. Fear of inadequacy — electoral or otherwise. Fear of growth. Fear of understanding. Certainly fear of Donald Trump.
But mostly fear of the electoral monster that controls the party. Fear that daring to criticize Gosar for this — or anything, like his blatant embrace of racist ideology or his stoking the Jan. 6 insurrection or his fondness for QAnon — will lead to charges that they’re “woke,” the label most offensive to a Republican this side of correctly pointing out the racism that underpins what passes for their ideology.
Republicans are desperate to avoid the wrath of a voting base that has been fed lies about the election, lies about American history, lies about science — and told that anyone who tells the truth about those things is evil and literally trying to destroy America.
There’s an entire propaganda media ecosystem that excels at manipulating its viewers and readers into accepting a completely fact-free worldview — one where COVID-19 vaccines are more dangerous than the illness, where grade-schoolers are being taught college-level academic studies of racism in America, where white people are the truly oppressed in this country and where Trump is an altruistic and morally righteous billionaire who won the 2020 election.
Dissension is not tolerated, and those who don’t adopt the talking points built on the alternate reality are apostates. It’s why Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich are traitors in the MAGA world — and it’s why not a single Arizona Republican leader will say a bad word about Gosar, no matter what he’s done.
Republicans don’t care that the rhetoric they’ve used and exploited has led to actual violence. After all, the new conservative truth is that there was a perfectly peaceful transfer of power, the homemade gallows and chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were perfectly normal things for regular tourists to say and the violent criminals who are sitting in jail are really political prisoners.
They don’t care that the rhetoric Gosar used to defend his video — that he was speaking out against the destruction of America through immigration — is practically indistinguishable from the rhetoric of the El Paso Walmart mass shooter, or the Christchurch mass shooter, or the Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooter.
This is the ugly heart of the Republican Party today: It not only can’t condemn white male violence, it revels in it and seeks to normalize it.
Jim Small is an award-winning journalist and the editor-in-chief of the Arizona Mirror, which first published this essay.