Tolerance for shock tends to heighten with increased exposure, the same way it does for nicotine, alcohol, and other stimulants. In the summer of 2017, it was shocking when President Trump tweeted a video depicting himself body-slamming an effigy of CNN—a silly but wildly inappropriate manifestation of his contempt for media. After four years of similarly violent provocations—including a memorable one by Kathy Griffin that enraged the right—it now apparently takes a Republican congressman tweeting a video depicting himself murdering a colleague to shock people in the same way.
Or at least it shocked some people. House Republicans appear decidedly un-shocked by the violent video Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted on November 8, an anime featuring New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s face edited onto a body, which a Gosar avatar nearly decapitates. (The avatar also swings swords at President Biden, without ever connecting.) Throngs of refugees and migrants appear in the video, sending the message that Gosar—the only politician to speak at a white nationalist fundraiser this year—is willing to “defend America” by any means necessary, from those who, like AOC, welcome refugees into it. During a Wednesday hearing on whether to censure Rep. Gosar, his fellow Republicans appeared less shocked by the contents of the video than appalled at being asked to condemn it. Apparently, this kind of workplace harassment is acceptable to half of this Congress, just as long as it’s directed at the other half.
“It’s pretty cut and dry,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said during a fiery but measured six-minute speech. “Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?”
“It's pretty cut and dry: does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable? Would you allow that in your home? And if it's not accepted there, why is it accepted here?”
Watch Rep. AOC’s full speech on Rep. Gosar’s censure below. pic.twitter.com/EdGWwFHOGy
— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) November 17, 2021
The outcome of the hearing unequivocally answers this question: Yes, literally hundreds of people in the House of Representatives find this behavior acceptable. The final vote came down to 223 against 207, in favor of censuring Gosar and stripping him of committee assignments, with only GOP reps Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois crossing the aisle. (Ohio Rep. David Joyce, a fellow Republican, voted present.) Considered black sheep within the party ever since voting to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol Riot, Cheney and Kinzinger telegraphed their votes in advance, a doomed effort to bring others on board. Instead, from House Leader Kevin McCarthy on down, the Republican reps provided a litany of ridiculous reasons for why they couldn’t condemn Gosar for his actions.
“There’s an old definition of abuse of power: rules for thee but not for me,” McCarthy said early in his speech, for the first of many times. His distaste for one-sided rules was notably lacking over the last five years when, just for instance, an abundance of Trump’s team—including Trump himself—were revealed to be using private email servers, or when McCarthy himself admitted to dragging the Benghazi hearings out for years just to make Hillary Clinton appear less trustworthy, despite being quite eager now to leave the January 6 insurrection in the past.
McCarthy also offered as defense of Gosar the fact that Democrats sometimes do things he finds outrageous. He pointed out, for example, that California Rep. Maxine Waters, an outspoken Democrat, told Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis last year to “get more confrontational.” Of course, only this party would jump immediately to the most loaded possible interpretation of “get confrontational,” while working themselves into contortions to find the most charitable ways possible to interpret Gosar’s tweeting an unambiguous depiction of himself murdering a colleague.
Some of the other reasons GOP reps gave for not condemning Gosar:
- Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert finds Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar offensive, therefore Omar might as well have tweeted a video depicting the murder of one of her colleagues.
- New York Rep. John Katmo said that a majority party removing minority members from their committees would set a worrying precedent, despite the actual precedent being that if a Democrat tweets a video depicting themselves murdering a GOP colleague, they too might be subject to the same discipline.
- Michigan Rep. Fred Upton claimed the punishment did not fit the crime, which is only true in that if any random office worker ever tweeted a video depicting themselves murdering a colleague, they would be immediately fired and probably deemed unhirable.
- Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs said that violence is a defining element of anime, which he knows from having once lived in Japan, and thus, tweeting a video depicting the murder of one’s colleague is merely co-opting art, not being offensive.
- Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert claimed the video was unintelligible, and he couldn’t discern just what it depicted, but he noted that protesters have been mean to him in the past, and Democrats didn’t condemn them at the time, which is apparently the same thing as a Democrat tweeting a video depicting themselves murdering a Republican colleague.
- Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said the video was “despicable,” but since Gosar removed the video after a vast public outcry, he shouldn’t be punished, which is kind of like saying that it’s despicable to rob someone’s house, unless of course the robber returns the stolen items after being caught.
As for Gosar himself, he defended his actions thusly: “For this cartoon, some in the current Congress suggest I should be punished. I have said decisively there is no threat in the cartoon other than the threat that immigration poses to our country. And no threat was intended by my staff or me. I voluntarily took the cartoon down, not because it was itself a threat, but because some thought it was. Out of compassion for those who generally felt offense, I self-censored.”
Not only does Gosar plead ignorance at the idea that anyone could interpret a video depicting himself murdering a colleague as a threat, he also plays into the GOP victimhood boilerplate that everything is Orwellian, and everyone has to censor themselves now, as though not saying certain things in certain moments, depending on the situation, hasn’t just been a foundational aspect of polite society since forever.
If Gosar did feel a sense of compassion for those who felt offense at his video depicting the murder of a colleague, though, it didn’t seem to take. Immediately after the trial, he retweeted the video again, harassing his colleague anew.
And according to all but two of his fellow Republican colleagues, he was well within his rights to do so.