Saturday, the world had a look at two alternative futures of America in general and the Republican Party in particular. A multiverse of madness, if you will, or of humanity.
In the blue state of New York, a young white man with an assault rifle, a flak jacket — and a manifesto of racial hatred increasingly mainstream in Republican and Christian circles — opened fire in a supermarket in a mostly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.
He killed 10 people before surrendering to police. Who somehow managed to take a heavily armed white dude into custody without shooting him or crushing his windpipe.
A few hours later, in the red state of Utah, a straight white Mormon Republican woman got a bit of a rock star welcome on the stage of the LoveLoud Festival at the Vivant Arena in downtown Salt Lake City.
She reached out to express love and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ people that the annual event exists to celebrate and protect. She spoke on behalf of herself and her boss, who just happens to be the governor of Utah.
Gov. @SpencerJCox and I want our LGBT friends to know that we love you. We see you. We care about you. And YOU make Utah a better place.— Lt. Gov. Deidre M. Henderson (@LGHendersonUtah) May 15, 2022
Your worth isn’t determined in the halls of government. Your worth comes from within, and you are valuable. #LOVELOUD2022 pic.twitter.com/9BizLjSqEf
The message of humanity from Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and the spasm of violence from some guy whose name I prefer not to type were, sadly, moments. It will take more than a speech from a politician, even if it was a courageous thing to do in super-conservative Utah, to heal us. And the deaths in New York are likely to soon fade into the abyss of all those mass shootings we can’t keep straight any more.
But moments add up. It is possible, though we will never know for sure, that Henderson’s outreach, and the celebration it was part of, may wind up saving as many lives as the New York assault took.
It would, of course, have carried a lot more weight if she and her boss had worked a lot harder to stop the Legislature’s blatant gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts, which is where the power to do real good lies.
These two events put into sharp relief the competing futures we have before us. And illustrate how much of the power to make that choice resides in the hands of Republicans, conservatives and self-described Christians.
The Buffalo murders were clearly a result of some weak-minded soul taking seriously the latest garbage ideology of the far right, something called the Great Replacement Theory. It is widespread online and the core of the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party.
The point is to undermine democracy itself, on the grounds that majority rule will mean the subjugation of white people.
It is old cheese in new packaging, warning of a series of events, perhaps plotted out by an evil cabal, that will destroy the political, economic and social dominance of white male Christians in favor of whatever minority or ethnic group you happen to fear. Jews. Hispanics. Arabs. Women. Gays and lesbians. Hollywood. Vegans.
All us old white guys are supposed to live in terror of an ever-greater number of people who aren’t exactly like us gaining power over media, business and government. They are streaming across the border, taking over Disney World and, perhaps most insidiously, reproducing at a greater rate than white Protestants. (Hence the renewed push to ban legal abortion.)
Yes, the American population is becoming more diverse and there are estimates that, by 2045, the share of those who are categorized as white may fall to as little as 44%. Which will matter in politics only if all the Blacks, Hispanics and Asians vote as a bloc to install one another in power and never vote for a white candidate.
It is possible that few among these ethnic groups would ever vote Republican, not so long as so much of the conservative ideology remains dedicated to opposing a multi-ethnic society and working to hold outsized amounts of power in white male hands.
Or a Republican platform that stressed individual responsibility and individual rights, respect for the entrepreneurial spirit, freedom of thought and conscience — all old school stuff — could very well attract the votes of enough Hispanic, Black, Asian and Middle Eastern people to keep the GOP competitive just about everywhere.
To accomplish that, Republican leaders such as Cox and Henderson will have to spend a lot more time and energy, not just reaching out to some marginalized communities, but explicitly and forcefully denouncing Great Replacement Theory and all who espouse it. Including elected officials and candidates in their own party.
If they fail at that, they will lose their party, and we may all lose our nation.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, lived in Buffalo for a few years. He found the de facto segregation of schools and neighborhoods striking.