Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
If Democrats lose the US House of Representatives in this fall’s midterm elections, 2023 is going to be rough – not just for liberals, but for American democracy and the country’s overall stability.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, has already vowed to remove three prominent Democrats – Eric Swalwell, Adam Schiff and Ilhan Omar – from important committee assignments, simply – it seems – as vengeance.
“The Democrats have created a new thing where they’re picking and choosing who could be on committee. Never in the history have you had the majority tell the minority who could be on committee,” McCarthy told the right-wing Breitbart News.
This would be a radical move under just about any circumstance, but it’s coming at a critical moment, when American democracy is at its most fragile in generations. One party is seeking to maintain our democratic system of governance and the institutions and norms that enable it. Another has steadily sought to undermine them.
This latest threat is one more warning sign: The GOP is on the path to become an antidemocratic party. We miss that fact at our nation’s peril.
McCarthy’s threat is in retaliation for Democrats removing two Republican members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, from their committees, after Greene and Gosar made a series of inflammatory and disturbing comments that demonstrated their general unfitness for office.
Gosar posted an anime video online that showed him attacking President Joe Biden with a sword and appearing to murder his colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Greene’s forays into violent and conspiratorial rhetoric are too numerous to list in their entirety, but they include lending credence to the QAnon conspiracy that promulgates the theory that Democrats are tied to a child sex ring (she has since distanced herself from QAnon); making several anti-Semitic comments, including comparing Covid-19 vaccination requirements to Nazism (which she later apologized for) and blaming California wildfires on Jewish space lasers; and indicating her support for executing several prominent Democrats before even running for Congress (in a tweet, Greene said, “Over the years, I’ve had teams of people manage my pages… Some did not represent my views. Especially the ones that CNN is about to spread across the internet.”).
In a saner democracy, comments like Gosar’s and Greene’s would make them personas non grata within their party. Instead, GOP leadership has, for the most part, made weak condemnations of their comments and then continued to embrace them. McCarthy, for example, said that Greene’s comments “do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference” and claimed to “condemn those comments unequivocally.” But while he was happy to pay lip service to the concept of condemnation, he refused to actually do anything about Greene or Gosar and objected to the bipartisan move to strip them of their committee assignments.
And now, instead of simply letting those chips fall, he’s seeking vengeance on Democrats who have not done anything comparable to Greene or Gosar – and have certainly not suggested they support violence against their colleagues.
It’s not just McCarthy and his threats of retaliatory power-grabbing that signal the GOP’s demise into antidemocratic darkness. A great many Republican elected officials have dug in on the Big Lie that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election; 147 of them voted to overturn the results of a free and fair election, simply because their guy lost.
Some Republican members of Congress have justified or downplayed the events of Jan. 6. They have faced no consequences from their party, and some are now running for reelection, despite the fact that the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution states that no one “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress … to support the constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.”
Some Democrats and voters are finally saying, “enough.” In North Carolina, a group of voters are requesting that Rep. Madison Cawthorn be disqualified from running for his connection to the insurrection. Cawthorn spoke to the crowd gathered in Washington, DC on Jan. 6, claiming that Trump had really won the election, after having tweeted “it’s time to fight” in the days prior. Later that day, Trump supporters went on to storm the Capitol complex, where five people were killed.
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Cawthorn hasn’t learned his lesson and seems to have no remorse for his actions. “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes your duty,” he said in September, as he also warned of “bloodshed” because Trump didn’t win. Those arrested for their insurrectionist acts on Jan. 6, he said, were “political prisoners” and there should be plans to “try and bust them out.” A spokesperson for the representative said this week that, “over 245,000 patriots from western North Carolina elected Congressman Cawthorn to serve them in Washington.”
Republican members of Congress are openly encouraging violence and attempting to subvert American democracy. Republicans could clean house and declare that no one who attempts to undermine a free and fair election – let alone the American democratic system itself – should serve in Congress with an R next to their name. But instead, the party’s leaders are taking vengeful aim at Democrats with threats of stripping them from committees.
This isn’t an issue of partisan divide. It’s a fundamental question of what America should be. And the behavior of many Republicans, including several of its leaders, suggests that the GOP’s answer is something other than “a free democratic nation.”