Today, I voted in California’s primary election. As I marked the bubbles on my ballot, it felt strange to exercise my direct role in American democracy — because every other day of the year I spend online, following stories of political cowardice, corruption, dissembling and ruin far beyond my control. Given my leftist leanings, I am frustrated by the ineffectual, tone-deaf Democrats, yet still assailed by the shameless diversions of the right, which are almost universally based on projection. The GOP are, as a rule, guilty of any accusation they level.
It takes no effort to pick out examples; we are drowning in them. This week, a Republican-led petition for more restrictive voting laws — allegedly to combat fraud — fell apart when it came to light that 20,000 of its signatures were themselves fraudulent. Right-wingers also threw a tantrum over images of Pride Month drag shows for kids, continuing to argue that liberals are “grooming” the youth into underage sex and LGBTQ identities. But at the same time, vocally anti-pedophile Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene hired Milo Yiannopolous, who once defended the prospect of adult men having sex with 13-year-old boys, as an intern. Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted “Take your children to CHURCH, not drag bars,” perhaps overlooking the fact that thousands of children have been preyed upon in churches versus approximately zero in drag clubs — and her own husband’s jail stint for exposing himself to young women in a bowling alley. Their colleague, Rep. Jim Jordan, is alleged to have played a role in the coverup of decades of sexual harassment and abuse of college wrestlers at Ohio State University.
What makes the hypocrisy so exhausting is that it’s constant, complete and baked into the very institution of modern conservatism, dating back at least to Richard Nixon. On Monday, Fox News confirmed that it will be the only major network not airing live coverage of the congressional hearings on the January 6th Capitol riot, which begin on Thursday. Instead, they’ll have their primetime personalities deliver conspiracist counterprogramming and leave the historic event to the Fox Business Network, which is watched by millions fewer. Democrats wasted no time pointing out that Fox ran upward of a thousand segments on the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi between that day and the committee hearings on it, which they showed for hours in hopes that Hillary Clinton would be forced to admit she was guilty of treason.
It’s disgraceful, of course, and noting the obvious bias is a good way to rack up likes, but then what? It’s like trying to doggedly fact-check Donald Trump: This becomes a full-time job with minimal benefits, carried out with a rote formula that numbs us to the insult. I know these people are liars, manipulators and zealots whose agenda does unspeakable harm. I’m not sure how many times I can re-learn it while continuing to feel the appropriate outrage. I’m beyond believing they might be compelled to adopt any standard of decency through these “gotcha” reversals, or that GOP voters might suddenly balk at the intellectual bankruptcy of the party, even as I realize the importance of combating disinformation and propaganda. It sucks.
This tweet is the one I keep coming back to lately, as it sums up the problem neatly. Observing the inconsistency and insincerity of the right doesn’t banish the behavior. And it seems to reinforce our own learned helplessness: By locking into this pattern, we come to accept that things can be no other way. If we weren’t busy listing the journalistic malpractices of Fox News, maybe we’d devise a strategy to topple and dismantle it, or just reduce its overall impact.
Ultimately, calling out the likes of Boebert, Greene and Jordan for their phony principles is less important than knocking them out of their seats by supporting viable opponents. In the long stretches between actual votes, we run the risk of assuming that steady proof of the other side’s hypocrisy moves the needle, only to find that the same old polarity endures. By all means, we have to do the tedious work of exposing their wrongs. But we can’t settle for that much.