It’s a fact of the 21st century: any news outlet will tell you that the United States is a country deeply divided, perhaps more so than ever before. It seems as if reports are constantly full of “what the Republican base wants.” Every diversionary or stalling tactic that Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy put into play is always a result of demands from their supporters, to hear them tell it. Every off-the-wall conspiracy theory that Marjorie Taylor Greene spews is in line with the beliefs of GOP voters. Ditto Jim Jordan’s wingnut pronouncements. In short, they’re simply giving the people what they want.
I learned in Public Speaking 101 that the most effective way to communicate information to a group is to follow three steps:
- Outline for the audience what you’re going to convey in your speech.
- Relate your subject matter.
- Recap what you’ve just told them.
Or, as my prof put it, “Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them, then actually tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Keep the message tight, laser-focus on the topic with no deviations, and repeat. Of course, “short” and “simple” are also keys to comprehension and retention.
The Republican party has internalized the above strategy to a truly remarkable degree. With very few exceptions, they are always, eternally, on message. They are monolithic that way. Outliers are quickly suppressed, which is why Liz Cheney no longer has any status in the party. Is this welded-together front merely a vehicle for relaying to the world the wishes and beliefs of the GOP base?
The teaser for a NY Times article on August 31st reads, “As several Republican-controlled states confront their worst [virus] outbreaks yet, their leaders — following the base — have doubled down on resisting vaccine and mask requirements. [emphasis mine]” I submit that such a statement is disingenuous in the extreme. I highly doubt that, in the spring of 2020, some anonymous Republican supporter in some town spontaneously decided that COVID was a hoax, then roped in all his friends and family, and they convinced all their connections, and so on, and so on, until the majority of GOP voters nationwide began condemning masks and social distancing, and only at that point did Republican representatives throughout the country take up the refrain. No, I think the screaming demands for “freedom,” and then the escalation to armed protests in various statehouses, which have morphed into militant anti-vaxxing rallies, just MIGHT have had something to do with the manic spewing of the former occupant of the Oval Office. Call me crazy, but I’m convinced that the troglodyte followers of the Orange One took their cue from him. And then, knowing on which side their bread was buttered — or from where their campaign war chests were coming — the rank and file of the GOP fell into line behind their dear leader.
Likewise, the concept of the Big Lie arose, not from a voter or two in podunk precincts, but rather, from the continual, relentless, bawling insistence of the Orange One that he was robbed of a second term, covered on all news and social media platforms. He said it, then Rudy said it, then McCarthy said it, and on down the line. Invocation and endorsement of the Big Lie has become a litmus test for any GOP candidate hoping to survive a 2022 primary.
The hysteria that spawned the January 6th insurrection didn’t originate with run-of-the-mill Republican voters. It was wholly created at the top and stoked at every level below. It wasn’t the original will of the people that the Capitol be attacked; rather, extremist groups and rabid individuals watched the narcissist-in-chief and learned that radical, violent actions were not only acceptable, they would be glorified. They got their inspiration and encouragement from the person supposedly in charge of the country, who formed a vast echo chamber and feedback loop to implement his will. Eventually, denial of the cause and the violence of the attack became synonymous with betrayal of the party. Even supposedly moderate Republicans, such as Mike DeWine of Ohio, refused to point a finger at TFG.
My point here is that every time a source of any kind, any media outlet that speaks with authority, goes along with the fallacy that Republicans are totally receptive to and reflective of the beliefs, wants, and desires of their base, the nation moves further from the truth. Left-of-center pundits, publications, and social media platforms that let this fallacy slide are reinforcing GOP propaganda. It’s simply lazy to fail to call out the mealy-mouthed canard that Republicans live to serve their followers, that their raison d’être is the well-being of the little guys. It’s also dangerous, compounding an error that gives legitimacy to an authoritarian movement. Mitch, Kevin, Marjorie, Jim, DeSantis, Abbott, et. al., want us to buy the story that they don’t make opinion, they just bow to it. In reality, they make up the tinfoil-hat claims, push them down to their followers, and then seize on and amplify the craziness when it echoes back to them. It’s an inside-out perversion of the process of conveying information. We need to call them on that twisted ploy at every opportunity if we don’t want to see history completely rewritten and national divisions cemented forever.