Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
For the last four years, it has felt as if the world has been careening toward madness. Then, it got worse. The global pandemic seemed like a fitting, dystopian final act. But on January 6, in a grotesquely cinematic climax, violent insurrectionists attacked the US Capitol. The assault followed the strangest political campaign in memory and a large-scale disinformation operation by the loser and his minions, falsely claiming the election was stolen.
Is the madness now about to end?
This week showed us two diverging paths in America. Indeed, life is now moving much closer to normal, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention easing mask recommendations for vaccinated people, as the number of vaccinated Americans increases and the number of Covid cases drops.
But it also confirmed that the political insanity that gripped the United States during the past administration has entered the bloodstream of the Republican Party. Watching the GOP — now home to Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and other, shall we say, “unique” personalities — we reexperienced that sense of disbelief that was our daily fare over the past few years.
So while Covid restrictions may soon recede into the past, the Republican Party seems determined to stay in the surreal era, with a cast of characters that impress far more for their outrageous behavior than for any thoughtful proposals.
There’s Gaetz, the devout Trumpist, now under investigation over a series of sordid allegations that have triggered a probe by federal investigators. Gaetz has not been charged and denies all the accusations, but his onetime friend Joel Greenberg now plans to plead guilty, and is preparing to cooperate with investigators, which could complicate matters for the congressman.
In happier days, Gaetz proudly showed his congressional colleagues cellphone photos of naked women he claimed he had slept with, CNN reported. Now, Greenberg is speaking to federal prosecutors, who are looking into allegations that he and Gaetz had encounters with women who had sex in exchange for gifts or cash. If proven true, Gaetz could be in very serious trouble.
As if to underscore that he’s not alone in making headlines, Gaetz has developed a double act, rallying alongside Greene, the congresswoman who made a name for herself by expressing support for QAnon — ironically, the group of outlandish conspiracy believers obsessed with pedophiles.
Greene’s mind works in mysterious ways, as she has suggested the preposterous idea that Jewish space lasers started forest fires in California and that school shootings were staged by Democrats to impose stricter gun laws. But it’s not just her mind-boggling beliefs and bizarre ravings — her behavior is becoming increasingly disruptive. This week, she aggressively confronted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, prompting calls for her to be disciplined. As CNN reported, her taunts started even before she became a member of Congress.
Republicans once had an ideological mooring, which women like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming fortified. But then the party that once branded itself as the defender of conservative “family values” chose a leader who bragged of grabbing women without their consent and was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women (all accusations he denies).
Now, principled figures are becoming pariahs. US Sen. Mitt Romney was recently booed in his home state of Utah. And Cheney was just expelled from the House GOP leadership while warning that former President Donald Trump presents “an ongoing threat.” Trump, she said, is prepared to destroy US democracy to return to power.
Cheney refused to sign onto the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Now the party leaders, who one by one have made a Faustian deal with the man in the pink castle, are doing his dirty work — helping Trump wreak vengeance. This leaves the GOP with “luminaries” like Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, whose Twitter comment on Cheney’s expulsion from the leadership is a jaw-dropping display of immaturity.
The lies now tumble from the mouths of Republican elected officials like rabbits out of a magician’s hat. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, perhaps thinking we all slept through the past few months, said this week that the raging mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6 looked like something perfectly ordinary. “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the sixth,” he declared, “you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”
Then there was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who made our heads snap when he emerged from a meeting at the White House and told reporters, astonishingly, “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.” He made the claim even as just this week the former president feverishly fired off a statement from his seaside retirement home, claiming the election was stolen.
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Politicians have always put their professional advancement and survival front and center. And they have been willing to stretch the truth if it helped their political ends. But now, one party in the United States has knowingly injected itself with a toxic substance. The poison of the “Big Lie” is sickening the GOP, but it is also endangering America’s democracy.
As more Americans get vaccinated, as states and localities loosen restrictions — and with the former president no longer monopolizing our attention — we can begin to think about a return to normalcy, perhaps even living at a lower emotional voltage. But there’s still nothing normal about what’s happening in the party that put the former president in office and has decided to tie its own future to his tarnished and ultimately doomed brand.