Bret Stephens is still indignant over President Biden calling out Republican extremism

Bret Stephens is still indignant over President Biden calling out Republican extremism

We’re all going to be long dead before Republican Party officials and pundits get over their outrage at President Joe Biden’s condemnation of Republican extremism. You can already see it building into the sort of mythology that has led to past claims like “You being rude to Mitt Romney made me vote for a narcissist, racist, tax-dodging incompetent blowhard” and “I didn’t want to become a Nazi, but the casting choices in the new Lord of the Rings show left me no choice.”

The Republicans most responsible for guiding their party into convenient hoaxes over irritating truths and casting aside every agenda not explicitly premised on retaliation against enemies are still going strong in their complaints that calling “MAGA” Republicans “semi-fascist” was just too unbearably rude. So here comes The New York Times poster boy for insincere rhetoric, Bret Stephens, who still hasn’t gotten over his resentment—and he’s going to make that everybody’s problem.

Those who choose to read Stephens’ complaints don’t even need to make it to the first ad break to remember why we here have learned to ignore the Times opinion pages. From the invocation of Abraham Lincoln as an example of how, with class, you should call out seditionist nation-killers, to the first petty snipes that Joe Biden Isn’t Being Bipartisan, the theme of this and every column is that it doesn’t matter what grotesquely malevolent things Republicans might propose or actually do, if you don’t meet them halfway on it then perhaps it is you who are the problem. Tsk, and so forth.

Yes, the problem is that Biden cast too wide a net in disparaging MAGA Republicans, insulting not only “those who cheered the attack on the Capitol” and “Oath Keepers” and “Proud Boys” but also Republicans whose do-good religious convictions simply require America to adhere to their personal religious beliefs and no others, enshrining anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ convictions in U.S. law.

Well that’s not very fair now, is it? It’s not very nice to condemn not just the people who insist that they be allowed to start killing their political opponents, but also the nice Jesus folks who simply want to institute religious rule that criminalizes beliefs that aren’t theirs. In the same speech, you say? Shocking.

Incidentally, there appear to be exactly zero conservative demands for a government theocracy based on any of the actual stuff in their holy book, and that still remains puzzling. There are no “faithful Catholic or evangelical Christian” groups whose “deeply held moral convictions” are founded on a belief that the United States government must, as a matter of religious conviction, feed the poor unconditionally or heal the sick even if the sick can’t pay for it. None. It is not a thing—pick any New Testament red-lettered text and you will find exactly zero faithful conservative groups demanding that the American government abide by those words right now. No Marco Rubio Bible quotes deployed to demand anti-poverty programs. No evangelical rallies demanding bread and fishes for everyone. Zip, nada, zilch.

Instead, the demands of the conservative “faithful” revolve solely on all matters sexual and on hard-gripped demands that the government enables their own preferred discriminations. That doesn’t sound like “faithful” religious fervor at all; that sounds like culture-war fervor that’s been tucked under a religious veil so as to sell itself as something more dignified than it is.

So here’s a thought, while we’re at it. Maybe until we see these large-scale conservative religious rallies demanding government better feed the poor, at the very least, we don’t need to give a unique level of respect to religious “faithful” who have determined that the most important parts of their faith are the parts where everyone else needs to do as they say. Maybe these people are no better than the other groups who want to remake America into an anti-democratic state rather than accept cultural losses. Maybe we are allowed to have contempt for them that is equal to their contempt for us—bless their hearts.

Anyhoo, Bret The Indignant soon makes his way to the central point of his column, which is the same as every other column by conservatives insisting that no blame be placed for all that stuff they, personally, have done to lead the movement into a cesspit of hoax promotion and fascist ideology. Bret’s assertion is that “Biden claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them,” a partisan dig that “may resonate with partisan Democrats who have never seen a conservative they didn’t consider a bigot or a fool.”

That’s not true, Bret. In addition to the bigots and the fools, there are also the insincere and the enablers—public voices who press conservatism to believe untrue things, like supposed conspiracies about climate science or insistence that COVID-19 (which has killed over one million American citizens) is being exaggerated in danger because conservatism’s enemies just, uh, hate barbershops.

No, Bret’s point is that, as someone “who has long thought that Trump represents a unique threat to democracy” because of his whole attempted-violent-coup thing, Republicanism and its enablers are blameless here. Or at least blameless in comparison, so stop being mean to them.

No really, that’s his point.

“The gravest threat American democracy faces today isn’t the Republican Party, MAGA or otherwise. It’s Trump. He’s one man, sinister but also buffoonish. To defeat him, the core task is to make him seem small, very small. Biden’s misbegotten speech did precisely the opposite.”

And here we see why Bret Stephens is, without question, one of the most thickheaded, dishonest, and useless pundits in the current sphere—and why The New York Times opinion pages are at this point considered the scribblings of stubborn and pampered children. It may not be possible to misread the current moment any worse than Bret Stephens has—and it is such a brazen misreading that, like much of his other work, it cannot possibly be innocent or gullible.

No, Bret Stephens would very much like you to blame Donald Trump, the man, for the nationwide collapse of Republicanism into anti-democratic hoax promotion and party-enabled sedition, and treat “the Republican Party, MAGA or otherwise,” as innocent bystanders to the chaos.

Again, this is so insincere as to almost assuredly be malicious. If this is punditry, then punditry is nothing. If this is punditry, it would be better for the Times and other papers to replace their editorial pages with advertisements or straight-up pornography.

Donald Trump is one man. That much is certain. And one man, without the complicity of others, could do exactly jack to destabilize the country or to mount an attack on the U.S. Capitol. If it was one man who attacked our democracy and stormed the Capitol, American law enforcement officers would have shot him dead at the first barricade, and the rest of us would have moved on with our lives without bothering to remember his name.

But Donald Trump is not the only fascist here. He is not the sole criminal. He is not the one changing election laws to enable party-overseen do-overs based on notions of bamboo-impregnated false ballots or, in Georgia, a straight-up determination that if the state is trending against Republicans, Republicans need to institute whatever new rules are necessary to claim that trend is “fraudulent.”

Donald Trump was the one who attempted to extort the wartime Ukrainian president into announcing a politically useful hoax—and it was the Republican Party, from partisan officers to the House to the Senate, that validated the act and immunized him from punishment. Donald Trump was the one who rallied a known-to-be-armed crowd of militia members, organized thugs, and enough cannon-fodder rabble to sufficiently overwhelm police lines—and it was the same Republican Party that insisted again on no punishment and attempted to block each investigation of the facts, and to this day insists that every investigation of the violence is partisan and illegitimate.

That is not Trump. It is not Trump who is running in hundreds of statewide elections, flatly lying to the public by claiming that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected because unseen forces “stole” the election from Republicans. It is not Trump parroting, again and again, claims that vote counts in minority-heavy areas were fraudulent while the vote counts in white conservative neighborhoods were, of course, legitimate.

Donald Trump does not control Fox News, and is not the core promoter of a neo-Nazi conspiracy theory suggesting that Democrats or “globalists” are packing the country with refugees in order to dilute white “culture.” Trump is not the one giving standing ovations to European protofascists, is not the one cheering madly whenever the free press is denounced as enemies of the state, is not the one retooling Florida schools so that respect for gay teens is strictly barred by law. He is not the one demanding the banning of books by Black authors. He is not the one appearing on national airwaves, even now, to insist that a Republican president scraped out of the White House after promoting a violent attempted coup has every right to take the most classified of national security secrets with him to be used in whatever future manner he personally sees fit.

And what of the voters, then? What of them.

Are we to truly claim that those who still scream at Trump rallies, those who still cheer when Republican candidates shout out disproven hoaxes and demands for political vengeance on law enforcement—are we to claim, then, that those members of the Republican base who still back Donald Trump and those who continue to elevate Donald Trump even after Trump attempted, unsuccessfully, to erase a United States election are not at fault here.

Are we claiming that the millions of members of the Republican base who are throwing out the few Republicans willing to punish Trump for a coup—Republicans like Liz Cheney and others—in order to install hoax-promoting, coup-backing replacements are mere bystanders here? An entire party base that has purged, relentlessly, those who would stand in the way of Trump-styled fascist overthrow—are we insisting now that chastising them is too far?

So Jim Jordan is not to blame. Kevin McCarthy is not to blame. Lindsey Graham and his call to Georgia officials, the Republican-controlled state governments who feted Rudy Giuliani and other crooked fabulists on their tour to discredit our elections, the Republicans of the Senate continually allowing Trump to go further rather than reproaching him for his anti-American acts, a Republican National Committee that backs Donald Trump even after a coup, Republican elected officials far and wide that back Donald Trump even after the coup—all of it is beneath mention, all of it would go away if that man would simply crawl into a golf course sand trap and die.

What a lovely thought. What an absolutely smashing premise: The Republican Party, “MAGA or otherwise,” ought not to be criticized as agents of fascism no matter what acts they have done or what fascist measures they have screamed support for. It is not a problem; a dignified approach would be for the non-conservatives to meet the Republican Party halfway, treating them with respect, ignoring their reflexive and now Republican primaries-mandated protection of Trump’s every corrupt act, treating the attacks on civil rights, on the non-“faithful,” on schoolchildren, on books, on scientists, on journalists, on facts themselves as separate and apart from the fascist moment it has brought us to.

How very wonderful it must be to have a perch from which you can oversee an entire movement’s descent into corruption-fueled dishonesty and hoax promotion and insist that it is all quite reasonable, none of it is linked to the outcomes we now see, and treating it with more dignity instead of less is what the great Abraham Lincoln would have done up the very day a seditionist terrorist murdered him. Others might take a different message; when faced with once-government officials announcing that they would no longer abide by the results of United States elections and would instead be forming a new government that ignored those results, Abraham Lincoln sent the United States military to defeat the seditionist movement by force of arms.

Is the sitting president not sending U.S. troops to capture not just Donald Trump, but each of the Republicans who are still announcing that our elections are invalid and that they no longer need to abide by them? No? Then it seems to me we are still meeting modern Republicanism at a proper middle ground.

The Republican Party attempted a coup and continues to defend a supposed right to do so. A Republican base insists that the coup was valid and insists on an ability to erase future elections that they, personally, do not deem valid. It is all based on movement leadership that continues to intentionally boost false hoaxes over true information, and one that especially focuses on the demonization of enemies with claims of “groomers” and “indoctrination” and “replacement.”

It is a fascist movement. Republicanism, the “conservative” movement, is aligning itself with fascist propaganda techniques, targeting longstanding fascist enemies, embracing theories of justified violence and justified nullification of democracy. If Trump died tomorrow, Republicans would align behind the next cruelest voice they could find and continue.

And Bret Stephens and the other would-be “conservatives” who insist even now that these acts are mere foibles, compared to deeper conservative ideologies that the punditry has refused to acknowledge simply no longer exist, continue to enable the continued degradation of the party with the insistence that it not be condemned for its own acts. The only fascists here, according to Stephens, are … who? Trump, and perhaps those that engaged in literal violence to topple the government, and absolutely none of the powerful Republicans who time and time again made sure that Trump’s most corrupt acts went unpunished so that he could move on to attempted coup and ongoing national security crisis.

The truest form of punditry, and the type of column that pundits favor above all others: We can’t be blamed for this. We may have advocated for it, we may have used it to our advantage, and we may have based a career around a willingness to ignore facts in favor of power-seeking delusions until the technique became the very basis of all political news coverage, but it’s not our fault. It is appalling that anyone now is talking about blame or chastisement merely because it all went to absolute hell, yet again.

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