We keep hitting new lows.
So perhaps we ought not be surprised that the GOP, the party that brought us the insurrection of Jan. 6, now presents the public, if figurative, execution of Liz Cheney. At this writing, she is not yet politically dead, but the vultures are certainly tying their bibs.
Cheney, you understand, committed no sin against her party’s retrogressive orthodoxy. She is still as anti-abortion and pro-guns as the next hard-line conservative.
No, the new low here is that she is being stripped of her role in the party’s leadership for a failure to lie. Which is to say, she won’t parrot the inane claim that the election of 2020 was “stolen,” and that the 45th president was ousted by deception and fraud. As if that were not bad enough, she also accepted a fist bump greeting from his Democratic successor, President Joe Biden, as Biden entered the House chamber for a speech before a joint session of Congress. In other words, she was civil to a political opponent.
For heresies such as these, Cheney stands pilloried as a traitor by a political party whose distinction from a Jonestown- or Waco-like cult grows ever more difficult to discern. It is a sign of how truly fakakta things have become that Republicans like Cheney, former President George W. Bush, former Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Adam Kitzinger and Sen. Mitt Romney have become symbols of courage on the left — and treason on the right — simply because their principles are insufficiently elastic to let them deny reality.
This moment has been long in coming. You can trace the devolution of the GOP back at least 25 years, to when Speaker Newt Gingrich mandated that his troops treat opponents like enemies and politics like war while an upstart cable news network called Fox began offering its audience a steady diet of utter cattle droppings.
Things have only gotten worse since then. In 2008, imbecility ran for vice president on the Republican ticket. In 2016, white supremacy was elected president on the Republican ticket. In 2021, Republicans scarf cattle droppings like buttered popcorn.
It was a secession from morality, an abdication of responsibility, a crime against democracy, but the party, thrilled by the jolt of energy derived from combat politics, imbecility, white supremacy and cattle droppings, ignored all that, along with the consequent signs of its own growing degeneracy: reflexive rage, lack of ideas, intellectual incontinence, gratuitous cruelty and descent into anti-factual realms where no conspiracy theory is too bizarre to be believed. These days, you must bend the knee to delusion to be a Republican in good standing.
One is glad to see Cheney’s refusal to do that, especially knowing that it is likely to cost her her role in the leadership and, eventually, her seat. But one wishes she and other Republicans had spoken up sooner, before their party became the party of idiocy and insurrection. One wishes they had been braver back when bravery might have accomplished something.
That moment seems to have passed us by. The barbarians are not at the gate; they’re in the living room with their feet up on the furniture. The Republican Party is an unsalvageable mess, manifestly unfit to govern and a clear and present danger to this country. So our only hope is to hold it at bay until a new — sane — center-right party can be erected in its place.
Otherwise, we may soon end up writing an epitaph for this democracy. Again, these are new lows.
How long till there’s nowhere left to fall?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org