Show me a bully, I’ll show you a crybaby. Few events have demonstrated the accuracy of that observation like the caterwauling on the right in response to President Biden’s recent speech warning voters against “semi-fascist MAGA Republicans.”
An awful lot of them appear to have gotten their little feelings hurt. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was prominent among the aggrieved. “He basically called us bad people,” she complained. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens objected that “Biden has decided the best way to seek partisan advantage is to treat tens of millions of Americans as the enemy within.”
Poor babies. It’s tempting to say “(Bleep) your feelings” and leave it at that. Republicans whining about Joe Biden’s bad manners? Please.
Besides, the president made it perfectly clear who he was talking about. Not them.
“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” he said a few days later. “They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.
“They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies.”
Truth is, the F-word carries little bite anymore. Newt Gingrich has been calling Democrats “fascists” for years, starting with Bill Clinton. Tucker Carlson can hardly get through a show without using the word.
If Biden had really wanted it to stick it to the MAGA crowd, maybe he should have turned his speech into a Jeff Foxworthy-like comedy routine.
“If you’ve ever worn a MAGA hat to church … You might be a fascist.”
“If you’ve ever stabbed a cop with a flagpole …”
“If you’ve ever plotted to kidnap a Democratic governor …”
I could go on.
But Biden wasn’t talking to Trump cultists; he was trying to persuade everybody else what’s at stake. He specifically urged “Democrats, independents, [and] mainstream Republicans” to band together to save American democracy. People like Haley and Stephens. In other words, conservative Republicans who may inwardly shudder when the Big Man promises to grant blanket pardons to the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, calls Biden himself an “enemy of the state” and denounces Justice department attorneys and FBI agents as “vicious monsters.”
Patriots understand that the United States government isn’t a pro-wrestling spectacle pitting make-believe good against theatrical evil. What is QAnon, after all, but Jerry Falwell’s “The Clinton Chronicles” overlaid with an aura of necromancy and superstition? If a prominent holy man can depict the president and first lady as drug smugglers and murderers, then why not a worldwide conspiracy of pedophiles?
Me, I didn’t start getting hate mail and death threats from crazy people when Trump took office, but when Clinton did. The more lurid the allegation, the greater some people’s need to believe it. The professional wrestling crowd, that is. And a very large crowd it is.
And then came Fox News, a 24/7 propaganda operation superficially resembling a news broadcast: anchormen, crawling headlines, blondes on couches, etc. A Donald Trump, basically a pro-wrestling shill on steroids, was bound to arrive. Alas, he turned out to be infinitely more reckless than the politer Republicans imagined.
What’s more, when Trump finishes self-destructing another would-be strongman will surely come along.
By this time, the MAGA audience demands one.
Unless, that is, Biden can persuade a clear majority of voters to reject Trumpism at the polls, and by so doing help the Republican Party save itself. That’s what his “semi-fascist” speech was all about. If Biden can turn the 2022 midterm elections into a referendum on Trump, then the Republican Party may be able to begin healing.
Early indications are that it could be working. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken a few days after Biden’s Pennsylvania speech showed a majority of Americans agreeing that Trump’s MAGA movement represents a unique threat to American democracy. Fifty-eight percent of respondents, including 25% of Republicans, see Trumpism as a danger to the Constitution.
How political parties heal is by losing elections. If President Biden can pull this off, the Bret Stephenses and Nikki Haleys of the GOP will owe him more than they’ll ever be willing to admit.