It’s hard to argue with GOP messaging recently. To be clear, the messages themselves are easy to argue against—limiting voting rights is simply wrong, for instance, especially in response to the most secure election in American history—but it’s hard to argue with the messengers when their entire arguing strategy consists of emphatic repetition with little-to-no basis in fact.
Judging by all the Fox News appearances and tweets of late, top Republicans have internalized the worst from Donald Trump’s example: inherent infallibility, untethered from reality. They seem uninterested in proving that conquests like turning last year’s antiracist reading list into this year’s banned lessons list are actually merited. Instead, they understand that in a post-fake-news world, rightness is in the eye of the beholder. All that matters is making the right people angry the right way. Who needs to be right when you can just be wrong loudly and consistently enough that an entire constituency absorbs the message, and brings it to the voting booth?
Take for instance the following tweet from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday:
Critical Race Theory goes against everything Martin Luther King Jr. taught us—to not judge others by the color of their skin. The Left is trying to take America backward. pic.twitter.com/ZUx9Wu319Q
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) July 12, 2021
This message is wrong in several ways—fundamentally misrepresenting both what Critical Race Theory is and what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for. It’s also smarmy and condescending, presenting McCarthy as an authority on these concepts, more so than demonized journalists like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nikole Hannah-Jones, who have written at length and to wild acclaim about race and history, in addition to actually experiencing the world as Black people. And the tweet is so easy to refute, it makes people want to write back fact-filled corrections, as if getting the facts straight were even something that mattered to McCarthy.
Essentially, it’s the Republican party of 2021 in a nutshell.
How does one even respond to a statement like that? A lot of well-meaning people on Twitter took a stab at it, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice King.
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of a sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
– Martin Luther King Jr, 1967 https://t.co/kvNpxyBQe1
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 13, 2021
In a good-faith exchange, McCarthy might ask how it’s possible that CRT teaches people to hate whites just for the color of their skin, when Dr. King explicitly urged everyone not to do that. Any number of people might then explain back that this is an incredibly reductive way to describe CRT, reflective of conservatives’ efforts to turn it into a catchall phrase for any ideas about race that they disagree with, and that King’s speeches often lined up with those ideas. In the next phase of this ridiculous hypothetical, McCarthy would become horribly embarrassed at how wrong he’d been, and vow to learn more about such important subject matter before ever commenting on it again, let alone trying to legislate against it. End of conversation.
But that would obviously never happen.
McCarthy need never learn what Critical Race Theory actually is, or which ideas Martin Luther King Jr. actually taught; he’s plenty comfortable with his party’s interpretation. In fact, he gives no indication that he even wants to be right when engaging on these topics, only that he wants to win. And if being loudly wrong is what it takes to win, helping the latest talking points circulate through the GOP bloodstream, he’s more than willing to be wrong all day long.
Unless you’re in a courtroom—like the one where Donald Trump was forced to admit to a bunch of falsehoods in 2007, or the virtual one where Trump’s lawyers were grilled this week over 2020 election fraud claims—a person cannot win against such bogus, bad-faith arguments. Go ahead and tweet back that perfect rebuttal or scream at the TV, but either option is a waste of time. It’s impossible to set the record straight for people who don’t want it straightened.
Unfortunately, it’s not just McCarthy who is stuck in destructive troll mode, but most of his colleagues and the stars of his party’s dedicated media outlets.
Tucker Carlson keeps “just asking questions” about vaccine safety, even though the answers are right there, if he’d ever care to look. Many of his Fox News colleagues similarly lend their pipes to the deadly Greek chorus of vaccine skepticism that is now keeping the U.S. susceptible to the delta variant. Being right in right-wing media is far less of a priority than being on message.
Sometimes the arguments are insultingly incoherent. When they have nothing to say but still need to keep the base riled up, Republicans have taken to just conjugating villainous buzzwords like slam poets; incensed at the radical left socialist, cultural Marxist, BLM/Antifa wokeristas. Heavy words clumsily smashed together and tossed from the tongue, interchangeably, with no regard for disambiguation, let alone accuracy.
Rep. Ronny Jackson describes Democrats as "socialist communist Marxist" pic.twitter.com/C5owdD9wHv
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 9, 2021
Could any of the prominent GOP members who are constantly fear-mongering about Marxism even define it? Doesn’t matter; they don’t have to.
Last week, for instance, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee painted a bleak picture of Marxist America in an interview with Breitbart. “When I’m talking to my friends who are musicians and entertainers, I say, ‘If — if we have a socialistic government, if we have Marxism, you are going to be the first ones who will be caught off because the state would have to approve your music.'”
She went on to further warn that in Marxist, socialist societies, “they” do not allow women to dress or sing. Aside from the improbability that Blackburn has friends who are musicians and entertainers, her statements are abjectly wrong in their characterization of what Marxism and socialism are, and how close Joe Biden’s America is to abandoning capitalism in favor of such systems. Once again, though, being wrong is just an uninteresting minor detail.
It’s all part of the Trumpian strategy of confidently acting like you’re in the right, even when you’re demonstrably, objectively, aggressively wrong.
Why do they behave this way? Frankly, because it works.
For instance, Politico’s Punchbowl News reported on Wednesday morning that Kevin McCarthy raised $16.5 million from 28,000 small donors last quarter, out of a $43.6 million total this year (which he claims is a record, though that’s unverifiable). In addition to the grifty financial benefit, these figures reveal how soundly McCarthy’s trollish remarks land with voters. They’re clearly on board for this ride into fantasyland, and perhaps wouldn’t have it any other way.
On Monday evening, Doug Mastriano, state senator for Pennsylvania’s 33rd district, sent a letter to President Biden requesting a meeting before Biden’s big speech on voter rights the following day. In the letter, Mastriano stated that “millions of Pennsylvanians” have “serious doubts” about the accuracy of the 2020 election, citing a poll from Muhlenberg College as proof. It doesn’t matter what actually happened in the election. All that matters is what Mastriano’s constituents believe. Never mind why they believe so, which has a lot to do with what their representatives and preferred media tell them. How could anyone convince those constituents that something they feel in their heart is untrue?
As far as conservatives in 2021 are concerned, to paraphrase Ben Shapiro, feelings don’t care about your facts.