NOTSo long ago, fake news was routinely suppressed, simply by being ignored by the biggest newspapers and major television networks, with their stories safely confined to the National Enquirer and its competing tabloids.
Rogue lawmakers with a history of racism or addiction to conspiracy theories have generally met the same fate for the same reason — no one gave them ink or airtime. Their leaders in the House and Senate could complete their marginalization.
These guardians did not have perfect judgment, but in our time it has become apparent that they provide essential protections for democracy. The internet and its infernal algorithms are the main reasons why no institution or congressional leader retains the power to protect the public from outright insanity.
Robert Draper’s new book about Washington in the 18 months since January 6 is about the fatal consequences of the brave new world created by the Internet, in which Republican outliers like Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar and his mentee , Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, are far more likely to be rewarded for “outrageous, factless behavior” than penalized for it.
The author, contributor to the New York Times magazine, begins with an admission: all his previous books and articles on the Republican Party “tended to bear the telltale influence of my father, a lifelong Republican.”
Since it focuses on “the tension between the reality-based wing of the party and the lost-spirit wing,” this confession reinforces the idea that all of the harsh judgments in the book come from an unbiased observer.
But later in the book, it sounds less like a confession and more like a mea culpa, when Draper describes three common notions about Donald Trump’s successful putsch: the idea that it was accomplished by “force and surprise » ; the notion “that the party was fully functioning and had a purpose” before Trump took charge; and the assertion “that the GOP was not responsible for the crime committed against him.”
As Draper writes, “Each of these notions is wrong.”
Unlike Mark Leibovich’s recent book, Thank You for Your Servitude, which covers much of the same territory but fails to tell us anything new, Draper provides pungent new anecdotes and original analysis of the most outrageous, like Gosar and Greene, and their main enabler, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Gosar spent a decade in Congress “building a portfolio of outrageous conduct even before the social media ‘attention economy’ was fully capable of rewarding him for it.” A Gosar staff member was “advised by a top Republican agent, ‘You gotta get out of there, this man is crazy.” Another GOP aide called the congressman “my candidate to be that guy who walks in one day with a sawed-off shotgun.”
But what Draper finds most amazing is that Greene, who attributed the wildfires to space lasers (perhaps connected to Jews) and openly promoted QAnon conspiracies, would only need a year in Congress before becoming “the party’s loudest and most memorable messenger outside of Trump himself.” ”.
Draper provides an excellent description of how Greene’s personal wealth and determination allowed him to move to a nearby district and win the primary after the incumbent retired. She loaned $500,000 to her own campaign, and by March 2020, the extreme House Freedom Caucus had contributed nearly $200,000 more.
After winning the first round of its primary, before the second round, Politico published this concise summary of its greatest successes: Greene “suggested that Muslims don’t belong in government; thinks black people “are held as slaves to the Democratic Party”; called George Soros … a Nazi, and said she would feel “proud” to see a Confederate monument if it was black because it symbolizes progress since the Civil War”.
McCarthy and the rest of the House leadership spoke out against her. But then a funny thing happened – “or rather didn’t happen – in Georgia. The attack on Greene by “fake news” and “equally fake Republicans” thrilled her new voters and she won the runoff by 14 points. At her victory party, she said of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “We’re going to kick that bitch out of Congress.
The intellectual bankruptcy of the Draper Chronicles revolves around McCarthy, whose blind ambition to become the next speaker leads to a series of despicable choices. First, he decides he needs to kick Liz Cheney out of the Republican leadership because she refuses to claim that Trump lost the election because of fraud. Afterwards, he does everything he can to mend his friendship with Trump and turns a blind eye to Greene’s outrage because he’s convinced he can’t win a majority in the House without Trump’s wildest supporters.
Draper makes a few small mistakes, describing an amendment that McCarthy opposed that would have removed “language that could allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ members of the military.” The amendment would have effectively prohibited military contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ+ employees, and it was debated five years after Congress finally ended discrimination against gay and lesbian sailors and soldiers. He also describes New Jersey Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski as Jewish. He is not.
The exact moment the Republican Party lost its soul likely came after rioters on Jan. 6 tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to the duly elected new president by storming the Capitol — and hours later, seven Republican senators and 138 representatives still voted to support false objections to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, were not among those election deniers — although McCarthy had voted earlier to oppose the Arizona results. But their refusal to convict Trump at his subsequent impeachment trial, or to stand up to any insurgent allies, has secured their party’s reliance on the lie that the presidential election was stolen.
Draper performed an essential service by documenting the details of this singularly destructive cowardice.