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Quentin Green
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  • From top to bottom, the party has stoked the embers of extremism. They have worked to convince their supporters that Democrats are monsters, they have to delegitimize the mainstream press and replac
  • From top to bottom, the party has stoked the embers of extremism. They have worked to convince their supporters that Democrats are monsters, they have to delegitimize the mainstream press and replace it with fact-free alternatives, and they have embraced extremist politicians and commentators who have condoned violence in the name of putting down the Democratic “threat.” This is not just a question of “that’s how we got Trump” (though this is in fact how we got Trump). It’s that the party leadership has knowingly and willfully created an entire segment of the electorate that is prone to violent and dangerous conspiratorial thinking.
  • From top to bottom, the party has stoked the embers of extremism. They have worked to convince their supporters that Democrats are monsters, they have to delegitimize the mainstream press and replace it with fact-free alternatives, and they have embraced extremist politicians and commentators who have condoned violence in the name of putting down the Democratic “threat.” This is not just a question of “that’s how we got Trump” (though this is in fact how we got Trump). It’s that the party leadership has knowingly and willfully created an entire segment of the electorate that is prone to violent and dangerous conspiratorial thinking.
  • From top to bottom, the party has stoked the embers of extremism. They have worked to convince their supporters that Democrats are monsters, they have to delegitimize the mainstream press and replace it with fact-free alternatives, and they have embraced extremist politicians and commentators who have condoned violence in the name of putting down the Democratic “threat.” This is not just a question of “that’s how we got Trump” (though this is in fact how we got Trump). It’s that the party leadership has knowingly and willfully created an entire segment of the electorate that is prone to violent and dangerous conspiratorial thinking.
  • But even the “responsible” leaders have often been complicit. Lest we forget, Romney courted Trump’s endorsement during his 2012 presidential run — while Trump was in the midst of his birther crusade against Obama. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), famous for his thumbs-down vote on Trump’s Obamacare repeal proposal, is the man who unleashed Palin on the world by making her his vice presidential pick in 2008.
  • The assembled Republicans did not greet the president with horror or anger; instead, he was met with cheers.
  • Republicans across the country found that a plurality — 45 percent — approved of the storming of the Capitol.
  • 51 percent of Republicans agreed with the claim that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” Forty-one percent said that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.”
  • If you are a rank-and-file Republican, the kind of person who listens to your party’s elected officials and friendly media outlets, you have been marinating in anti-democratic beliefs for years: that Democrats are fundamentally hostile to the American way of life, that people telling you otherwise cannot be trusted, that you have an obligation to fight against tyranny on your own.
  • In 2009, for example, Alaska Rep. Don Young signed a letter claiming that “should our government seek to further tax, restrict or register firearms ... the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government.” The letter’s author, Alaska-based militia member Schaeffer Cox, was later convicted of plotting to kidnap and kill federal agents. Young is still in Congress; in fact, he is currently the longest-serving House member in the GOP’s history.
  • ust think about everything that’s been said on Fox and talk radio in the past decade: Glenn Beck arguing that AmeriCorps would become Obama’s SS, Rush Limbaugh claiming that Obama and Hillary Clinton were responsible for Benghazi, and — of course — the spread of Donald Trump’s claim that Obama wasn’t born in America, something 56 percent of Republicans still believe.
  • Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their book How Democracies Die, talk of “mutual toleration”: the idea that, in a democracy, both parties respect the other one’s right to win elections and hold power. In the United States, Republicans have all but told their supporters that Democrats do not, in fact, have a right to rule — that they are fundamentally hostile to the American way of life.
  • These arguments do not merely attack Democratic policies; they attack the very idea that Democrats can be legitimate leaders of the American government. Among some Republicans, they bleed into baroque conspiracy theories about Democrats as individuals, explanations for how people like Obama and Hillary Clinton can support such heinous policies. Obama isn’t merely a liberal Democrat; he must be a Kenyan Muslim anti-colonial plant pushing America toward full communism.
  • The difference is that casting the opposing party as an existential threat, a demonic force bent on destroying the very fabric of a free society, has become an accepted part of conservative rhetoric at the highest levels of the party. Yes, you’ll see an example here and there, but there is simply no comparison with how Democrats talk about Republicans; polarization in the United States is profoundly asymmetric.
  • In 2014, Ted Cruz claimed that Obama’s use of executive orders was creating “an imperial presidency [that] threatens the liberty of every citizen.” In 2019, the National Republican Congressional Committee — the official arm of the party responsible for House races — all but accused Democrats of being murderous Stalinists:
  • In 1961, Ronald Reagan warned that the passage of Medicare would be the end of liberty in America: that if federalized insurance for the elderly were to become law, “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
  • First, there is the argument, offered by mainstream Republicans at the highest levels, that freedom itself is on the ballot: that the Democratic agenda is so catastrophic that it might spell the end of America as we know it.
  • In 2010, during the height of Tea Party fervor, then-Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) told talk radio host Lars Larson that she believed Americans might need to take up arms against the tyranny of Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress: You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around?
  • The animating force of modern Republicanism is this: Democratic Party rule is an existential threat to America and is by definition illegitimate. It is a belief that explains much of what we’ve seen from the GOP in the past few decades, the glue that binds together Republicans ranging from shitposters in the QAnon fever swamps to much of the GOP congressional caucus.
  • On the morning of January 6, first-term Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican chiefly notable for her support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, tweeted that the efforts to overturn the 2020 election results amounted to a new American Revolution. “Today is 1776,” she wrote.
  • Republicans — not just Donald Trump, but the entire political movement — own that mob.
  • They knew who they were enabling. In 2016, Ted Cruz called Trump “utterly amoral” and a “pathological liar.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) described him as a “race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot.” And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in comments that proved prescient, describes him as someone who was inciting violence among his supporters: I think we also have to look at the rhetoric coming from the frontrunner in the presidential campaign. This is a man who in rallies has told his supporters to basically beat up the people who are in the crowd and he’ll pay their legal fees, someone who has encouraged people in the audience to rough up anyone who stands up and says something he doesn’t like. … But leaders cannot say whatever they want, because words have consequences. They lead to actions that others take. And when the person you’re supporting for president is going around and saying things like, ‘Go ahead and slap them around, I’ll pay your legal fees,’ what do you think’s going to happen next?
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