When John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, he inadvertently created the Idiot Wing of the Republican Party. Until then, the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic tradition within the GOP was kept at bay by the free marketeers dedicated to profits instead of populism. With Palin, the politics of resentment found a champion. Eight years later, Trump grabbed the mantel and the Idiot Wing is now ascendant.
Palin wore her ignorance as a badge of honor, spouting misinformation freely. She said exactly what was on her mind, no matter how misinformed or wrong. In interviews that created fodder for late night television, she attracted the loyalty of Americans with who saw themselves in her. Educated people might find her funny and ridiculous, but uneducated people didn’t care about the veracity of what she said. They cared about the sentiment behind it.
Palin embraced patriotic symbols like the flag and the eagle without much clue about their meaning. She claimed to revere the Constitution but really only cared about the Second Amendment. Like her supporters, she claims to be a patriot with little understanding of patriotism.
She and her ideological descendants like Madison Cawthorn and Lauren Boebert are neo-Patriots, embracing iconic images without knowledge of the symbolism behind them. Like Trump, they hug the flag but reject plurality. They cite the Constitution as if it were written in stone while ignorant of the ambiguities within or the compromises that made it possible.
As Lauren Boebert tweeted last week, the neo-Patriots believe we are a Christian nation despite being founded on the principle of religious freedom and explicitly rejecting a state religion. In a nation of immigrants, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, clearly of Irish descent, claimed today’s immigrants are an “invasion” that’s creating a “silent revolution.” Like a 1950s re-run of history, they are decrying socialism despite hailing from districts largely harmed by free trade deals and propped up by government money for schools, prisons, health care, and social services. Marjory Taylor Greene released an ad of her blowing up a car with the word “Socialism” painted on the side. I’m sure the Idiot Wing was delighted.
In North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn has made his ignorance his rallying cry. He’s verbally harassing school boards across the state over mask mandates while routinely ignoring his Congressional duties. He tried to take a gun on an airplane as if his elected office gives him some privilege denied other Americans and he took a knife into one of those school board meetings in blatant disregard for school policy. And while a self-proclaimed “history buff,” Cawthorn most consistently spouts historical inaccuracies.
All of these people would be laughable if the GOP had responsible adults to call them out. Instead, Republican leaders have remained silent as their language has gotten increasingly threatening. People who should know better are now allowing neo-Patriots to drive the Republican narrative and empower street thugs like the Proud Boys and paramilitary organizations like the Oath Keepers. The former establishment should be ashamed but that would require character, a virtue Republicans have abandoned.
The Idiot wing of the Republican Party is in control of the GOP. They are not only anti-science and anti-intellectual, they are anti-democracy. They embrace flags, eagles, and guns without understanding the principles on which the nation was built. They care less about truth than their gut instinct that the rantings of people Madison Cawthorn, Marjory Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Louie Gomert have merit. And they are violent, threatening civil war and accusing people like Nancy Pelosi of terrorism. Unchecked, they will get people killed.