It's not just Donald Trump and his minions attempting to cripple American democracy, but also millions of Republicans perpetuating the lies.

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I’ve watched with morbid fascination as an entire American political party—the GOP—has slid, apparently irretrievably, into a deep well of ethical relativism and easily debunked lies.

The vast majority of Republicans have clearly decided that virtually nothing is wrong if it aligns with what Donald Trump desires—although the former president’s Teflon coating appears to be thinning.

They’re not just inured to the bald-faced lying to Americans on a massive, unprecedented scale. Not to cowardly death threats (including toward their families) inflicted on political rivals via the internet—or intimidation of witnesses in congressional hearings or court cases. Not to intimidation of election officials nationwide to steal a fair election (and partisan cronies improperly implanted to sway future elections). Not to incitement of supporters to violently attack the U.S. Capitol when lawmakers and even the U.S. Vice President were starkly vulnerable inside.

No. Republicans are all-in with all of it.

We know this because vanishingly few have stepped up to full-throatedly condemn any of it; only two prominent Republicans have, in fact: Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyoming) and Adam Kinzinger (Illinois), who now sit on the U.S. House special committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. A very few others have uttered mostly qualified peeps.

Of course, you’ll recall that right after the Capitol attack, the Senate GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in stern public speeches laid blame for the insurrection squarely at the feet of Donald Trump. But, then, they immediately made about-faces and rescinded those sentiments when it became clear such integrity would be a big political liability in the coming GOP midterm elections and the 2024 presidential vote.

“When do we get to use the guns? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”

trump attendee at a conservative rally in Idaho, according to a New York Times report

The GOP: A case study in ethical relativism

Indeed, nearly 70% of Republicans now believe the disgraced, defeated, insurrection-inciting former president should remain the leader of the party, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, and some 44% think he should run again in the 2024 presidential vote although he’ll be 77 years old on election day.

The corrosive cynicism that has infected the entire party—the “ethical relativism” mentioned above—is not new in the world. It often precedes revolutions, which often end badly and with unintended drastic consequences to standard morality and public safety.

To understand what this is, read Encyclopaedia Britannica’s description:

Ethical relativism, the doctrine that there are no absolute truths in ethics and that what is morally right or wrong varies from person to person or from society to society.”

In other words, your team—whichever side you’re on—is always right, by definition.

Columnist Jeet Heer, who writes for progressive The Nation magazine, does a post-mortem on the effects of moral nihilism and mendacity now consuming the GOP from the inside out.

Heer writes that The New York Times, which is “habitually given to framing all political disputes as the fault of both parties, was frank about the role of the GOP” in the current jagged zeitgeist.

GOP intimidation ‘commonplace’

Heer quoted a Nov. 12 article in the Times, “Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream”:

“From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party. Ten months after rioters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, and after four years of a president who often spoke in violent terms about his adversaries, right-wing Republicans are talking more openly and frequently about the use of force as justifiable in opposition to those who dislodged him from power.”

So, increasingly, anything goes in service to resurrecting the vanquished “Jim Jones of the GOP.” The Times piece ominously notes:

“[I]n Congress, violent threats against lawmakers are on track to double this year. Republicans who break party ranks and defy former President Donald J. Trump have come to expect insults, invective and death threats — often stoked by their own colleagues and conservative activists, who have denounced them as traitors. From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party.”

And although political violence has been part of American politics for centuries, the current spasm of personal mean-spiritedness, intimidation, and even cruelty is different in its vast prevalence within the GOP.

“[H]istorians and those who study democracy say what has changed has been the embrace of violent speech by a sizable portion of one party, including some of its loudest voices inside government and most influential voices outside. In effect, they warn, the Republican Party is mainstreaming menace as a political tool.”

Mendacity from the president on down

In the same Times article, Omar Wasow, a Pamona (California) College professor who is an expert on protests and race, contrasted the current destructive political climate with earlier divisive eras, as in the 1960s and the advent of the Civil War.

“What’s different about almost all those other events is that now, there’s a partisan divide around the legitimacy of our political system,” Wasow told the Times. “The elite endorsement of political violence from factions of the Republican Party is distinct for me from what we saw in the 1960s. Then, you didn’t have — from a president on down — politicians calling citizens to engage in violent resistance.”

And the right-wing media is helping to incite the faithful, spreading falsehoods like manure on the enormous and fertile field of largely white Christian nationalist Trump supporters.

In a January Washington Post piece, Eric Wemple describes the incestuous (with Trump) nature of the Fox News organization’s shrill and dishonest “reporting” leading up to and after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Wemple opined that Fox’s uber-popular on-air personalities spewed a blizzard of easily debunked lies and disingenuity that they clearly knew their rage-distracted viewers could not reasonably decipher for truth content.

The Post quoted a recent monologue on CNN’s Sunday “Face the Nation” program in which host Jake Tapper kept alive the issue of Fox News complicity in the Jan. 6 attack:

“It was a joint effort between the Trump team and MAGA media,” said Tapper, who played multiple clips of election-theft conspiracy theorizing on Fox News Media. “Multiple dead bodies later, no contrition, no apologies, no acknowledgment of what they did.”

Polling shows that “30 percent of Republicans, and 40 percent of people who ‘most trust’ far-right news sources, believe that ‘true patriots’ may have to resort to violence to ‘save’ the country — a statement that gets far less support among Democrats and independents,” the Times reported.

‘When do we get to use guns?’

This lethal attitude was on full display at a conservative November rally in Idaho when a young rightist asked when he could start killing Democrats.

“When do we get to use the guns?” he said to loud applause, the Times reported. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” The local state representative, a Republican, later called it a “fair” question.

If this is the brave new world of America, I’m fearful for its future.

Keep in mind that the election—objectively, irrefutably—wasn’t “stolen.” Every single top state election official, including Republican secretaries of state, declared the 2020 vote one of the freest, fairest, and most secure, in U.S. history. Even the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, tossed out every Trump-demanded legal challenge of the election.

The GOP is tragically mistaken in all of this as they keep screaming that the sky is falling, and I am certain this historic unforced error will come back to haunt them. This is the dark place ethical relativism leads to.

Yet, the rank hypocrisy is perhaps more malodorous than all the bald-faced lying.

Right-wing media complicit

Times writer Frank Bruni said the spectacle is demoralizing, watching Fox News‘ most popular prime-time hosts express their private horror at the Jan. 6 attack as it happened but then continue the next day on-air whipping the fraudulent stolen-election meme.

“You can delve into the weeds of this or you can pull back and survey the whole ugly yard,” Bruni wrote in his Dec. 16 newsletter post (available by subscription). “And what you see when you do that—what matters most in the end—is that Fox News has helped to sell the fiction that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and there’s a direct line from that lie to the rioting. There’s a direct line from that lie to various Republicans’ attempts to develop mechanisms to overturn vote counts should they dislike the results.

“That lie is the root of the terrible danger that we’re in, with Trump supporters being encouraged to distrust and undermine the democratic process. And that lie has often found a welcome mat at Fox News.”

Certainly, right-wing media is horribly complicit in this unconscionable spasm of political illegality orchestrated and embraced by the GOP. But the real villains in this attempt to cripple American democracy and replace it with an autocracy is not just Donald Trump and his minions, but the tens of millions of Republican so willing to worship mendacity with such mindless zeal.

If they aren’t stopped—to quote, ironically, from Trump’s speech to his rabid faithful Jan. 6 immediately before they stormed the Capitol—”you won’t have a country anymore.”

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...

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