Gather round, children. In 1987, at the height of Reagan America and its “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, the administration released a commercial in which a father catches his son with weed. The father is upset: why would his son buy marijuana? And the son yells out, “I learned it by watching you!” Yes, your poor choices can inflict Reefer Madness on your children.
As hilarious as that is now, the commercial does make me think of Never-Trump Republicans like John Boehner, George Conway, Joe Walsh, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and others. Sure, they’re appalled now by the crazies, the rampant bigotry, the blind adoration of Donald Trump. But when this racist, nativist, anti-science movement was building, they either did nothing or encouraged it.
Boehner may have published a book this year that noted the obvious — that Michelle Bachmann is deranged — but he sure didn’t voice that out loud when it might have made a difference, like when she ran for freaking president in 2012 or grandstanded in preparation for it. Boehner may be telling Texas Senator Ted Cruz now that he should go fuck himself, but in 2013, he followed Cruz off the cliff and precipitated a pointless government shutdown.
I thank George Conway for the endless goading he gave — and still gives — #PresidentCrybaby and for his part in the Lincoln Project, which helped get Trump out of White House and into the doghouse. But he was strangely silent when his wife was enabling Mr. Potatoe [sic] Head himself, Dan Quayle, during his vice presidency, or when she was working to elevate the duplicitous and hypocritical Ted Cruz — he of the pointless government shutdown, the deregulation of guns, and the erasure of the separation of Church and State, the Tea Party and Eagle Forum darling — to the presidency. (God, the only choice even worse than Trump!)
Joe Walsh, shock jock turned Illinois Republican congressman, lost his seat to Tammy Duckworth (now U.S. senator). Walsh says he’s trying to atone for his sins. And there sure are plenty of them! Promoting birtherism, rampant Islamophobia, the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was “a secret Muslim” — whatever that means, the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, the conspiracy that there’s a war on Whites, a 1/6-style insurrection in 2016 if Trump lost. I’m not even going to get into Walsh’s questioning of Duckworth’s heroism, a woman who left her legs in Iraq while she was fighting there.
Walsh’s hero, Ronald Reagan, pioneered the racist tropes of the Black Welfare Queen and the lazy, unemployed Black “Strapping Young Buck.” The racism that permeates Grandpa’s Old Party didn’t emerge fully formed coming down an escalator in 2015, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead. It emerged with Ronald Reagan. (You can explore Reagan’s Racist Hits with legal scholar Ian Haney López here.)
But none of these Never-Trumpers seemed to notice back then, when it was only slightly more veiled. Said Haney López in 2014: “We used to understand that the biggest threat in political life was the power of concentrated money… but now, Republicans for 50 years have been telling voters the biggest threat in your life is minorities are going to hijack government.” No wonder the GOP is so blatant about wanting the power to overturn elections where the “wrong” candidates win! It’s what their members want; they don’t even disguise any more that “voter fraud” in GOP speak translates as “a Democrat won.”
As to Liz Cheney, I’m not even going to bother with her Johnny-come-lately conversion. If you want, you can read all about it: New York Times columnist Charles Blow lays it out in his May 5 column, “Liz Cheney, We Have a Memory. You’re No Hero.”
So now, when Fox News is telling its viewers that animal-human hybrids (a la Island of Doctor Moreau), a Venezuelan-style autocracy, magnetization from COVID-19 vaccines, rampaging Black and Brown people, and CRT-infused reeducation camps for kids are right around the corner, it’s a little too late for you would-be heroes. All of this got here because they learned it from you.
All images in the featured image come from Wikimedia Commons: George Conway (The Circus on SHOWTIME, CC BY 4.0); John Boehner (Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0); Liz Cheney (US House Office of Photography, Public domain); Joe Walsh (United States Federal Government, Public domain)