A less kind but more accurate characterization is to argue, as Edward Luce did in the Financial Times, that “Republicans have become the party of nihilism.” Like the Joker, a lot of Republicans just like “to watch the world burn” — quite literally, in the case of their climate denialism. Republican anarchism is also on full display with regard to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the covid-19 pandemic.
On July 27, four police officers delivered harrowing testimony before a House select committee about how they had been assaulted by insurrectionists. In the past, these heroes might have been championed by the party of “law and order.” But it turns out that Republicans only “back the blue” when officers are accused of employing excessive force against minorities. When officers try to stop a Trumpist lynch mob, Republicans bash the blue.
Newsmax’s most popular host, Greg Kelly (son of a former New York City police commissioner), accused one of the officers of being “wrapped too tight.” Fox’s top host, Tucker Carlson, said they were “lying” and literally snickered at their testimony. Also giggling was professional provocateur Dinesh D’Souza. Fox host Laura Ingraham sneered that the officers deserved acting awards for their “third-rate theatrics.”
The only thing missing was to have these right-wingers call the officers “pigs,” as 1960s radicals did. Oh, wait — Carlson earlier employed that very epithet to describe Gen. Mark A. Milley after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dared to defend the teaching of critical race theory at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Of course, that’s almost mild compared with the vituperation then-President Donald Trump directed at the FBI for investigating his ties to Russia — he called FBI agents sleazebags, traitors and a “disgrace to our country.”
The right these days bashes not only the military and law enforcement but also every other institution that it accuses of having been taken over by “the left” — which means almost every national institution except the Supreme Court and, heaven help us, Fox “News” Channel.
Corporations earned the right’s ire for condemning Georgia’s voter suppression law and for deleting right-wing social media accounts that incite violence. Schools and universities have become objects of rightist wrath for teaching about America’s history of slavery, segregation and continuing racism — which conservatives denounce as “critical race theory.” The media establishment has long been an object of hatred but all the more now for exposing Trump’s lies — the “enemy of the people,”Trump called us. Scientists have faced threats and harassment for showing that global warming is real and needs to be addressed.
Most sinister of all, the medical establishment has become a target for attempting to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 613,000 Americans. The night after Tucker Carlson mocked the officers who defended the Capitol, he accused Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, of having “helped to create covid in the first place.” It’s a lunatic charge, but one that has become popular on the right. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called Fauci an “enemy to our nation” and said he “deserves to go to jail.”
Why demonize Fauci? In part to absolve Trump of responsibility for mishandling the pandemic. But this is also part of a wider attempt to delegitimize the medical community’s guidance on how to fight the outbreak. In the name of “medical freedom,” Republicans are protecting the freedom to spread the plague.
In Florida, which on Friday broke its one-day record for new covid-19 cases and on Sunday broke its record for hospitalizations, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) just issued an executive order to stop school districts from mandating masks. This comes after he signed legislation banning “vaccine passports” — and started selling anti-Fauci merchandise.
Of course, a mask mandate wouldn’t be necessary if more people were vaccinated. A large part of the reason they’re not is the right’s bizarre anti-vaccine animus. Religious-right commentator Eric Metaxas sounded very much like a 1960s radical when he explained why people shouldn’t get vaccinated: “If the government or everybody is telling you you have to do something ... if only to be a rebel, you need to say, ‘I’m not going to do this.’”
There are many ways to describe this attitude — childish, irresponsible, destructive, nihilistic — but “conservative” isn’t one of them. Republicans, who once upheld authority, are now tearing it down. They give no indication of caring about the fate of American democracy, or about the fate of individual Americans. Their slogan might as well be “Burn, baby, burn.”