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.
The United States has performed impressively in its efforts to counter Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. The combination of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s miscalculation, Ukraine’s bravery and Washington’s effective global leadership is reshaping the geopolitical landscape in a way that favors democracy, strengthens a NATO alliance that is now attracting new members and restores America’s place as the leader of the world’s democracies.
Unless, that is, you look at what is happening within the United States.
A White man allegedly drove more than 200 miles to a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, last week, looking to kill Black Americans, according to social media posts the suspect is believed to have made in the months leading up to the attack. He shot 13 people, killing 10. He was allegedly fueled by the racist and anti-Semitic “replacement theory,” which weaponizes a normal, centuries-old pattern of migration and ethnic diversity to perpetuate the idea that White people are slowly and intentionally being replaced by minorities.
Racism, anti-Semitism and a resentment of immigrants are nothing new. What is new is that in America, a land of diversity and immigrants, what used to be a fringe theory has found sympathetic voices in one of the two main political parties.
As if to confirm the dangerous trajectory of the Republican Party, which is steadily moving away from its more reasonable ideas and leaders and embracing extremism, primary elections in several states this week showed a clear pattern. Republican voters overwhelmingly supported fierce proponents of the “Big Lie” who rejected the legitimate results of the 2020 election.
In Pennsylvania, for example, voters backed Doug Mastriano, a far-right election denier who is now the Republican nominee for governor. In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, who won the GOP Senate primary, shared a baseless claim about Dominion Voting Systems in a text to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the days after the 2020 election.
The country is deeply polarized. But it’s not just a matter of diverging views about policy. Something else, something much more dangerous is happening.
Sure, there are people in the Democratic Party who espouse views that many view as radical. And there are Republicans who are reality-based conservatives. But looking at the GOP as a whole, the fringe has become more and more the mainstream.
Voters are falling in line behind people like House Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik, who has promoted the replacement theory, and far-right Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who has referenced and drawn from the replacement conspiracy on numerous occasions as part of his apparent efforts to stoke White fear. (A day after the Buffalo shooting, Stefanik’s senior adviser denied that the congresswoman “advocated for any racist position” and told the Washington Post, “Any implication or attempt to blame the heinous shooting in Buffalo on the Congresswoman is a disgusting low for the Left, their Never Trump allies and the sycophant stenographers in the media.” Carlson, on the other hand, tried to distance himself from the document allegedly written by the Buffalo shooting suspect.)
And Republicans are increasingly embracing the anti-democratic falsehood that the 2020 election was rigged – a lie pushed by the party’s most influential figure, former President Donald Trump. And all of this is happening while the country is awash with weapons.
It’s a dangerous cocktail of cultish authoritarianism, extremist ideology, readily accessible firearms and a willingness to deny inconvenient truths.