The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans are wearing cruelty as a badge of honor

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Hollywood, Fla., on July 23. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg)
4 min

Many in the media had a meltdown when President Biden called the MAGA movement “semi-fascist.” They tut-tutted because they said his speech in Philadelphia was too “divisive.” In reality, the fault in Biden’s speech is that he was not tough enough on Republicans.

Biden seems to believe there is a mass of normal, non-MAGA Republicans out there. If there is, it is a small minority in the party. Most are all too comfortable with the extremism and violent rhetoric of their peers.

Donald Trump and his flunkies have predicted violence if he were prosecuted for hoarding highly classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort. He did it again Thursday, declaring that if he were indicted, the country would have “problems ... the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before.” He added that Americans wouldn’t stand for prosecution.

His statement is an incitement to violence, plain and simple. It echoes the same rhetoric he deployed in the run-up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. No pundit or Republican official who continues to defend Trump or who feigns outrage at characterizations that his movement is “fascist” can claim ignorance.

Scores of Republican election deniers are on the ballot, including many who actively sought to overturn the 2020 election (e.g., Doug Mastriano, candidate for Pennsylvania governor; Adam Laxalt, candidate for Senate in Nevada). To call these individuals “conservatives” or to treat them as garden-variety candidates is to conceal that they, too, are a threat to democracy.

The horror show does not stop there. The Post reported last week, “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) claimed credit Thursday for flying dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off Massachusetts, to make a political point about the record influx of those coming across the southern border.” Some called it “depraved”; others labeled it “inhumane.”

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library hit the nail on the head with an apt historical comparison:

Let’s put it this way: Sending migrants to “liberal elites” attempts to use non-White human beings as “punishment.” This conduct is not only dehumanizing; it is racist.

As Jonathan V. Last explains at the Bulwark, DeSantis used migrants as “props” because “he saw that he could use them as a means to the ends of his personal ambition.” He concluded, “I’m trying — really trying — not to get too hot here. But Christians should look at this act and be revolted. They should be horrified.” Some are, no doubt, but the MAGA base is delighted, which is why DeSantis is doing it.

DeSantis is not alone. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has repeatedly tried the same stunt. He first shipped busloads of undocumented people to D.C. and New York City in April. And Thursday, he sent them to Vice President Harris’s residence. It is no mystery why he chose the first African American vice president as the recipient of his stunt. This is how he chooses to spend taxpayers’ money (when he is not bullying LGBTQ children or forcing women to give birth against their will).

But there is more. Perhaps in tribute to Vladimir Putin, Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters of Arizona declared Thursday that he wants to “see all the generals get fired. You take the most conservative colonels, you promote them to general.” And presto, you have a Praetorian Guard! What could go wrong with such a thoroughly politicalized military, like those found in Russia and other dictatorships?

Meanwhile, another spasm of bigotry from Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance of Ohio was uncovered last week. Back in January, he let loose this stream of bile that managed to merge racism, antisemitism and forced-birth extremism:

And I haven’t even bothered with the most notorious MAGA loudmouths, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake or the election deniers running for secretary of state in Arizona and Nevada.

One wonders when the media will stop calling these Republicans “conservatives” and affix a more accurate label. With all due respect to the president, there is nothing “semi” about their brand of fascism.