His non-entertainment career was defined largely by a string of casino bankruptcies and multiple failed brands named after himself — steaks, water, an airline, a university — but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t a politician, and he promised to bring to the Oval Office all of the things voters perceived that the government lacked: efficiency, ruthless dealmaking and a sympathy for working people and entrepreneurs who felt the private sector was better at getting things done than the slow, cumbersome government, perpetually bound by red tape.
This was not a new development. Republican orthodoxy is that free markets are better at solving most problems than the government, and that private business practices are nearly always better than anything the government does. They argue for almost total privatization of government functions, the systematic reduction of government itself to its smallest possible unit, and policy “profitability” in terms that are very literal and do not necessarily account for the value of public goods.
But it turns out that Republicans don’t really believe government should be run like a business in every case. The clearest recent example is the party’s failure to hold members of Congress accountable for directly contributing to the failed Jan. 6 insurrection and continuing to propagate anti-democratic lies while actively endangering the lives of their colleagues. GOP leaders are tolerating behavior that no private business would ever stand for.
In the House, GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.) have been the worst offenders, along with Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in the Senate. All of them should face serious consequences, but it’s Greene and Boebert, both in their first few weeks on the job, who fully illustrate both the danger and the hypocrisy of Republican failure to act.
Greene has done things both at work, and outside of work, that would be unacceptable in any corporate setting. She has promoted social media posts calling for the execution of prominent Democrats, including a post (by someone else) suggesting Nancy Pelosi deserved “a bullet to the head,” and she responded favorably to a commenter’s suggestion that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be hanged. She met with racist far-right commentator Katie Hopkins (who has compared migrants to cockroaches and responded to the Black Lives Matter movement with, “Dear black people. If your lives matter why do you stab and shoot each other so much,” and was permanently banned from Twitter for violating its hateful conduct policy) two days after the riots and said she had no regrets about what had happened. Greene told Hopkins she “would love to trade you for some of our White people here that have no appreciation for our country.”
Greene conflated the Jan. 6 violence with nonviolent Black Lives Matter protests and said Democratic Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), plus Vice President Harris and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), were to blame, labeling antifa and Black Lives Matter terrorist organizations. (The odd grouping of these particular elected officials and the introduction of Harris specifically, makes you wonder if Kaine was added as an afterthought because the other four elected officials involved have a primary commonality: They’re all women of color.) She has said Black people are “slaves to the Democratic Party,” harassed Muslim elected officials who she believes should not be allowed to hold government positions, and advanced anti-Semitic theories, some of which predictably involve George Soros. She even once alleged that Jewish bankers used space lasers to start the California wildfires.
Republicans and Democrats alike are sometimes ambivalent about holding people accountable for things they did before they got to Congress, but that’s usually because of how long ago the offenses happened. Greene, on the other hand, has called the Parkland shooting a “false flag” operation and was filmed harassing survivor David Hogg while suggesting that she was carrying a gun, which would be restraining order material in a private context. But this was no youthful indiscretion — Greene, who’s 46 now, did it less than two years ago.
Both Greene and Boebert have made appearances with white supremacists, and Boebert has prior connections to anti-government extremists in groups involved in the events of Jan. 6. Both have endorsed QAnon conspiracies, some of which call for violence against government officials and the putative “deep state.” Greene has done so explicitly, and Boebert has expressed general approval of the conspiracy movement. They have refused to wear masks, thereby endangering their colleagues and violating House rules, and Boebert attempted to violate House prohibitions on carrying firearms on the floor of the chamber. Boebert also appeared to revel in the insurrection as it was happening, tweeting about Pelosi’s location and proclaiming earlier in the day, “Today is 1776,” suggesting the possibility of an armed revolt.
In the private workplace, any single one of these things would be a fireable offense, and some would result in police reports. Endorsing or making death threats against a co-worker in any other setting, it shouldn’t need to be said, would never be tolerated. Neither would making openly racist and homophobic comments that could precipitate discrimination lawsuits, harassing people outside of work, refusing to follow company rules regarding masks and firearms, and being repeatedly insubordinate to leadership.
These things are simply not tolerated in the private sector — not because they’re immoral, though many of them are, but because they’re bad for business and threaten the viability of the entire enterprise. They threaten the health and safety of employees, and they damage the company brand. The same thing happens when members of Congress act this way, but lawmakers have an even higher standard, in theory: Morality also matters, because the public interest matters.
On Wednesday, Fox News obtained a draft letter directed to U.S. senators who will try former president Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The letter, which was put together by a group of House aides and whose authors are still gathering signatures, describes the events: “Our workplace was attacked by a violent mob trying to stop the electoral college vote count. That mob was incited by ex-president Donald Trump and his political allies, some of whom we pass every day in the hallways at work.”
The report doesn’t specify whether the aides were Democrats or Republicans or both, but the use of “workplace” seems intentional. If GOP senators can’t or won’t think about Congress as a place that protects its denizens as a matter of protecting democracy, then maybe they can be persuaded to think about it as a feature of private enterprise: a workplace, which it is. It’s appalling that these aides think they have to do that to get Republican senators to confront the gravity and danger of what’s happening, but they do.
Of course, Greene, Boebert and their ideological comrades are elected by voters, and their behavior may be a reflection of the attitude those voters have toward Congress. Their constituents appear to have elected arsonists with the specific intent to burn it all down — a sentiment that may be popular locally, but one that’s fundamentally anti-democratic and dangerous. So even if constituents want it, voter will alone cannot dictate that elected officials subvert the democratic process itself. It cannot dictate that Greene and Boebert can threaten or harm their colleagues, any more than it could dictate that a member of Congress could assassinate the president. Republicans who genuinely do not understand the gravity of this situation in a government context could put on their free-market hats and think about what would happen if people were allowed to behave like this in a Fortune 500 company.
If Republicans are invested in bringing corporate values to government, they can start with simple, easy-to-follow rules that even small businesses routinely adopt. GOP lawmakers often caterwaul that the parameters of what a labor lawyer would term a “hostile work environment” are an example of liberal overreach, but surely even the lowest bar for “hostile” behavior includes endorsing the murder of a colleague. Surely it includes saying racist, dehumanizing things about people of color, some of whom you work with. It has to include bringing a gun into a workplace where guns are not allowed, an offense that can often land people who are not members of the House of Representatives in jail.
Our system of government makes it very difficult to fire people for even the very worst offenses, for a reason: We want the voters to make those decisions where possible, and accountability for elected public officials at the federal levels consists heavily of norms that are not codified into law. But the founders developed nonelectoral remedies because they understood that certain threats to democracy had to be addressed immediately and couldn’t just wait till the next electoral cycle. Impeachment and expulsion are break-glass-in-case-of-emergency provisions, to be sure, but this is precisely the kind of emergency the founders feared.
Trump likely violated more norms in office than any prior president, and it was incalculably damaging to democracy and the stability of our government. These senators and House members are norm-busting just as much as Trump did, though, and the consequences will be dire if they’re allowed to continue. More people will get killed; five are already dead from the events of Jan. 6. A good talking to, which House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) says he will give Greene, is not remotely adequate. Neither is censure, which could hardly shame into good behavior someone who is completely unapologetic for her bad behavior.
Greene should not be treated as though her despicable and dangerous actions are some breach of etiquette that warrants a warning note on her performance review. She has expressed open hostility toward her co-workers, been clear about her intents and bigotries, and openly endorsed violence against people who are her colleagues.
If the government were really run like a private business, she’d already have been escorted to the door by security, the contents of her office boxed up for her at the door and her email shut off. What are Republicans waiting for?