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An army of Donalds

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Ben Mathis-Lilly has an amusing piece about the gallery of crackpots who make up a substantial portion of the House Repubican freshman class:

In every town, midsize city, or urban neighborhood has one, or, perhaps, a family of them: the nuisance litigants, the business owners who address zoning board hearings while visibly intoxicated, the parents who ruin PTA meetings by accusing The Polar Express of encouraging demonry. They are the regulars in the police blotter section of the newspaper, the ones who have been banned from multiple softball leagues for reasons that somehow involve child support. They are America’s local ding-dongs and loose cannons. And, increasingly, they represent the Republican Party’s interests in Congress.

The demands of politics have always made “popular” figures out of the kinds of people who the average voter would find off-putting in person, and Mr. Psycho Goes to Washington is not a wholly new story. Five-term Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar is apparently such a not-great guy to be around that six (!) of his siblings filmed campaign ads urging his constituents not to vote for him. (In February, Gosar was the featured speaker at a conference organized by a “white identity” fanatic who described the deadly Capitol riot as “awesome.”) It’s not a purely Republican phenomenon, either: onetime Democratic Florida Rep. Alan Grayson was known for both his caustic partisan rhetoric and tendency to appear in headlines like “Grayson Loses $18 Million in Fraud Scheme” and “Grayson Accuses Wife of Bigamy.” Going back further, there are figures like California Rep. John Schmitz, a 1970s Republican so extreme that he was removed from the John Birch Society’s “national council” because the group had gotten tired of dealing with the bad publicity generated, in the words of a 1982 UPI article, by his “statements against homosexuals and Jews.” Schmitz had two children out of wedlock with a woman who’d taken his college political science class and, with his actual wife, fathered ’90s tabloid character Mary Kay Letourneau.

As the late Roman Hruska would remind us, “there are a lot of addled lunatic gun-themed restaurant owners and Young Republican sex pests and adulterous CrossFit bloggers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”

The entry about MTG is particularly instructive:

Grim/colorful backstory: Ah, Christ. I mean, where to begin.

A long recent profile in Politico begins in 2019 with Greene staging a one-woman, self-videotaped protest of a “Drag Queen Story Hour” event for children at a local library, deploying the time-honored annoying person catchphrase “I’m a taxpayer” during the course of arguing with a police officer and a library staffer. In 2012, she filed for divorce while reportedly conducting open affairs with two men she’d met through the CrossFit program. (The Daily Mail recently published a Facebook photo of one of them flexing while naked, buttocks shimmering toward the camera, in a waterfall. The Mail reports that he is currently in the Seattle area “running a gladiator-style bootcamp called The Ludus where he teaches sword fighting.”) She has since reconciled with her husband, who runs a siding business founded by her father; during a period in which she was listed as its chief financial officer, the state of Georgia filed two tax liens against it, and she and her husband have been delinquent on property taxes five times. (Greene’s father, incidentally, has published a 600-page novel related to his belief that the fluctuations of the stock market are influenced by gravity.)

Greene became active online by blogging and posting on social media about CrossFit, segueing into far-right politics—a subject she’d never shown any previous interest in—after Donald Trump’s election. In 2019, she gained notoriety by launching a campaign calling for Nancy Pelosi to be impeached for treason, and she has at various points suggested that Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and FBI agents who were disloyal to Trump should be executed. She also infamously traveled to D.C. in 2019 to film herself shouting at school shooting survivor-activist David Hogg, who she referred to online as “#LittleHitler.” Originally a resident of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, she initially suggested she would run for office in the 7th District before eventually filing in the 14th, which she now represents.

Biggest current legislative priority: For some reason, Greene moves to adjourn the House every day.

Indicative quote: “A laser beam or light beam coming down to Earth I guess. Could that cause a fire? Hmmm, I don’t know. I hope not! That wouldn’t look so good for PG&E, Rothschild Inc, Solaren or Jerry Brown” —a narratively crucial passage from Greene’s now-famous “Jewish space laser” Facebook post about 2018 California wildfires.

Greene was an essentially apolitical person radicalized by by Trump, and once that happened she quickly absorbed every crackpot theory the Wingnut Media Industrial Complex sent down the pike, up to and including QAnon and Sohrab Ahmari’s lunatic obsession with drag queens doing public readings.

Greene exemplifies how Trump is really sui generis. It is not inaccurate to describe him as a bad candidate — he managed to lose an election heavily skewed in his party’s favor in the midst of a pandemic that is producing a positive rally effect for most leaders, including many who screwed up the response pretty badly. But he’s not just a generic bad candidate who leaves politics without a trace — as Bill James once wrote about the long-term tendency of the San Francisco Giants to develop an incredible amount of young talent and then trade most of it away for boxes of Rice-a-Roni, he yokes extraordinary strengths to extraordinary weaknesses. Most people hate him but he can attract significant numbers of people into politics and instantly radicalize them. How this will play out over the next decade or two is impossible to say know but for both better and worse we can’t assume that old patterns will hold.

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