Two votes this week make that clear. On Tuesday, 120 House Republicans voted against removing the busts of Confederate leaders and other white supremacists from the Capitol. On Wednesday, 190 House Republicans voted against setting up a special committee to probe the Jan. 6 riot. Taken together, these two votes show that the GOP has become a white-power party that is hostile to American democracy.
Neither vote was surprising, but both should still shock anyone who remembers the days — not so long ago — when the GOP was nominating the likes of John McCain and Mitt Romney. The radicalization that has occurred in the past few years is dizzying and dismaying.
Tuesday’s vote wasn’t about whether we should teach the history of the Confederacy. No one disputes that. It wasn’t even about whether we should teach what Republicans call critical race theory. Let’s acknowledge that there are differences of opinion over that.
The real issue is whether we should honor men such as Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy and a traitor to the United States, and Roger Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the notorious Dred Scott decision, which denied citizenship to any African American, free or enslaved. How can a majority of Republicans possibly defend statues dedicated to these white supremacists? Actually the question answers itself.
“All of the statues being removed by this bill are statues of Democrats,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) noted. That’s true, and it was a telling point against the majority of his own caucus. It highlights the fact that Republicans and Democrats have switched positions on racial issues since the 1860s. Back then, Democrats were the white-power party; today, it’s Republicans.
McCarthy made that clear when he offensively equated “the racism of the past with the racism of critical race theory.” Are critical race theorists stringing up or enslaving white people? If so, I must have missed it. Again, you can legitimately object to critical race theory — if you can define it — but you can’t in good conscience equate it with the racism of the past. By doing so, McCarthy diminishes the horror of what African Americans experienced during slavery and segregation — just as Republicans who equate vaccination cards with yellow stars of David diminish the horror of what Jews experienced during the Holocaust.
At least McCarthy did vote, along with 67 other Republicans, to remove the statues. But the next day he joined all but two of his GOP colleagues in voting against a special committee to investigate Jan. 6. It makes you think that one of McCarthy’s objections to impeaching Trump — "No investigations have been completed. No hearings have been held” — may not have been entirely sincere. This is, after all, the second time that he and most House Republicans have voted against investigating the attack on the Capitol.
On Wednesday, Republicans justified their “nay” vote by claiming that the special committee would be, as Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) said, “rigged from the start.” Of course, the only reason House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is setting up a special committee is that Senate Republicans blocked approval of a bipartisan compromise to create an independent commission with five Republicans and five Democrats. Most House Republicans, including Fischbach, also voted against the commission. Now, they will have to live with a committee of eight Democrats and five Republicans appointed “after consultation” with McCarthy. (The GOP leader has reportedly threatened to punish Republicans who serve on the Jan. 6 committee at Pelosi’s invitation. Yet he won’t discipline Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) for consorting with a notorious Holocaust denier.)
Most Republicans object to any investigation of Jan. 6, no matter the particulars, because they still support the former president who instigated the riot and continues to spread the “big lie” about the election. Twenty-one House Republicans even opposed a resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police officers who defended them on Jan. 6. Some Republican members of Congress have suggested that the attack was a “normal tourist visit” or the work of FBI operatives. D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten unconscious by the Capitol “tourists,” asked McCarthy to publicly denounce such conspiracy theories; the Republican leader refused. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.), one of the chief conspiracy-mongers, refused to even shake Fanone’s hand.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who voted for the special committee and will now serve on it, noted that Trump’s “attacks on our Constitution are accelerating. Our responsibility is to confront these threats, not appease and deflect.”
But the Republican Party is in full deflect-and-appease mode — appeasing both racists and authoritarians. Appeasement may be too kind a description, actually, because it suggests a tactical maneuver. All too many Republicans give every appearance that they are promoting despicable views out of conviction, not expediency.