A couple of years ago, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar made some ugly comments about American supporters of Israel having “allegiance to a foreign country.” What was more significant is what happened next. Omar said, “I unequivocally apologize,” and then her party voted for a House resolution denouncing “the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States–Israel alliance” as a form of antisemitism. Omar supported the resolution.
Conservatives like to bring up Omar, especially when a conservative says something antisemitic, which occurs with increasing frequency. Even if you accept the parallel between Omar’s most offensive statements and the kinds of wild antisemitic conspiracy theories that circulate in right-wing circles — I find the equivalence strained — the comparison breaks down completely when you consider how the two parties have responded to these offenses.
Just this past week, a false rumor that Kanye was debanked by JP Morgan (in fact, Kanye quit the firm publicly) inspired the right-wing media to rally to his defense after he spewed a series of threats and libels on the Jewish community.
Also this week, Donald Trump once again complained about American Jews being ungrateful and lacking the good sense of either their Israeli compatriots or Evangelical Christians. This is one of Trump’s favorite themes to make about the Jews, along with noting Jews are good with money, naturally loyal to Israel, and own Congress. All these comments are far worse than the worst thing Omar ever said about Jewish people, but the idea Trump would ever apologize, or that Republicans would even ask him to, let alone vote to condemn his remarks, is beyond implausible.
Needless to say, however unwilling they may be to call out and stigmatize antisemitism within their own ranks, Republicans are even more blasé about expressions of racism against Muslims, Latino immigrants, and Black people. This week, Tommy Tuberville appeared at a Trump rally and claimed, as though it were obvious, that Black people as a whole are criminals and that Democrats support crime because they see crime itself as a form of social justice: “They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit! They are not owed that.”
None of these comments drew a rebuke from any important corner of the party. No-enemies-to-the-right is the operating principle.
Perhaps the most revealing indicator of the Republican Party’s complete inability to control bigotry is the rise and rise of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a representative from Georgia. Greene is a self-described “Christian nationalist,” an ideology that proposes frankly to give Christians a privileged status while confining adherents of any other religious belief to formal second-class citizenship. She has mused that “an unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists, and Zionist supremacists has schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation, with the deliberate aim of breeding us out of existence in our own homelands” — imagine if Omar said that one! — and, more notoriously, that the Rothschilds planned a series of forest fires using space lasers in order to buy up land.
Robert Draper’s reporting, from his forthcoming book, “Weapons of mass Delusion,” shows that Greene holds an even stronger position within the Republican conference than previously known. At one party meeting, she launched a lengthy and impassioned defense of the QAnon conspiracy theory, after which “about a third of her colleagues rose to applaud her as she took her seat among them.”
Republicans are already on record promising to reverse a punishment the Democratic majority meted out to Greene by restoring her committee privileges. She is being floated for a position on the House Oversight Committee, perhaps the choicest committee in Congress, given its role as a platform for various investigations and likely impeachment proceedings against the Biden administration.
James Comer, the committee’s ranking member and likely next chairman, told Draper, “If Americans entrust Republicans with the majority next Congress, we look forward to the Steering Committee adding new GOP members to the committee like Representative Greene with energy and a strong interest in partnering with us in our efforts to rein in the unaccountable Swamp and to hold the Biden administration accountable for its many self-inflicted crises that it has unleashed on the American people.”
Draper also reports House minority leader Kevin McCarthy “assiduously courted her support, inviting her to high-level policy meetings (such as a discussion about the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Department of Defense policy for the year) and, according to someone with knowledge of their exchanges, offering to create a new leadership position for her.” McCarthy officially denies having offered her a leadership position. But the power dynamic is clear. McCarthy needs Greene more than she needs him. Her position with the party is secure, while his is wobbly.
There is a longstanding myth on the right that the conservative movement achieved power and seriousness after William F. Buckley purged the John Birch Society. The reality is closer to the opposite — Buckley courted the Birchers and was afraid to alienate them, instead trying to placate the group’s huge, nutty membership while gently easing out its even nuttier leader, Robert Welch. Still, the idea of exiling the Birchers specifically, and actively maintaining some standards that would exclude kooks and the worst racists, has long played a role in the right’s self-conception.
One effect of the Trump era has been to abandon any pretense of this. The gates are a smoldering ruin, and the kooks have overrun every corner of the party. If anything, the non-kooks are being weeded out — Liz Cheney is being shown the door even as Marjorie Taylor Greene is being courted.
There are bigots and extremists on both sides. But one party is able to denounce and punish bigotry. (Look at how Biden forced three Los Angeles City Council members to resign after their racist comments leaked.) The other party isn’t even trying.