Paul Gosar’s bizarre AOC anime shows exactly what’s wrong with the Republican Party
Growing up in Mussolini’s Italy, the late novelist, social critic, and philosopher Umberto Eco learned a thing or two about extremism – which is why, when he published an essay in 1995 describing 14 properties common to this which he called “Ur-fascism” or “Eternal fascism”, his words carried weight.
Eco recently came to mind in light of Republican Rep. Paul Gosar’s latest tweet, in which he fantasized about physically attacking his infinitely more distinguished colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He did this by posting an edited anime with his faces and AOCs layered together, making it look like he was killing his Democratic candidate in the cartoon. Gosar’s digital director, Jessica Lycos, mocked the tweet, suggesting it was a joke and “everyone needs to relax.” If anyone is feeling relaxed after seeing this deeply weird cartoon then let me know.
(Unsurprisingly, Ocasio-Cortez quickly and effortlessly shredded Gosar, noting that “a creepy member I work with … shared a fantastic video of him killing me … This guy is just ‘a collection of wet toothpicks. “)
The right-fringe rot in the GOP, however, has spread far beyond unbalanced plot upchuckers like Gosar. From Florida man Matt Gaetz, who may soon be charged with sex trafficking, to QAnon’s kook, Marjorie Taylor Greene, sedition apologists Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, Madison Cawthorn and so many others, Republicans are now pushing boundaries that have never been pushed before.
How clear is it that many Republicans and their twice-indicted Goblin King flirt with most, if not all, of the characteristics of fascism that Eco presented three decades ago? We’ll take a look:
1. “The first characteristic of Ur-Fascism,” Eco wrote, “is the worship of tradition. Of course, the sense of tradition in itself is hardly fascist. A society without traditions is not a society that most of us would like to be a part of. But when a political party extols an ingeniously vague refrigerator magnet slogan – Make America Great Again – into an article of faith, the very notion of tradition goes out the window.
2. The second characteristic is, in Eco’s words, a “rejection of modernism”. For the fascists, Eco argues, “the Enlightenment, the age of reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity.” Of course, for some Republicans, modernism is synonymous with a relentless torrent of “leftist” depravity like paid family leave, critical racial theory, taxing the rich, fighting climate change or getting vaccinated. How to make America even more beautiful? Travel back in time, ideally to the 1800s.
3. Eco cites “the cult of action for the sake of action” as a key feature of eternal fascism. (Worship is found to be deeply linked to Eco’s conception of fascism.) “Action being beautiful in itself,” Eco notes, “it must be taken before, or without, any prior thought. Thinking is a form of emasculation. We’ve all heard extreme right-wing figures bleating in recent months about what they see as the “emasculation” of American boys and men. But when looking for an example of insane “action for action”, is there a clearer and more thoughtless example than the bogus and ineffective border wall of the former president? As a defense against just about anything, however, it’s a bust. But hey! Action!
4. “At the origin of ur-fascist psychology,” Eco maintains, “there is an obsession with a conspiracy, perhaps international. The partisans must feel under siege. Mandatory victimization has become a big part of the GOP in recent times. Can’t win a fair election? Shout that it is “stolen”. Are you afraid of a vaccine? Denigrate this famous Big Pharma sidekick, Big Bird. Caught on video waving Confederate flags and wearing MAGA clothing while violently attacking the Capitol and killing and maiming cops? Blame Antifa, Soros, and the cops themselves. For today’s perpetually aggrieved far right, intrigue is everything – the more convoluted and ridiculous, the better. (“You can’t PROVE that there aren’t lizards in Congress drinking children’s blood for breakfast. Can you? Huh? Can you?”)
5. “By a continuous shift in rhetorical orientation,” writes Eco, “the enemies [of fascism] are both too strong and too weak. This matches up well with, say, endless warnings about ‘socialists’ taking over our schools, from kindergartens to universities, while simultaneously portraying these same usurpers as egg heads and soft elites. and decadent.
Other properties that Eco identifies as fascist, or permitting fascism, include “fear of difference”, “appeal to a frustrated milieu [or working] social class ”,“ contempt for the weak ”(eg undocumented refugees fleeing war, famine, mass rape) and the cult of“ machismo (which involves both contempt for women and intolerance and the condemnation of non-standard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). “All of these, in one form or another, underpin the rhetoric and reflect the politics of the Republican Party today.
No sane person believes that every Republican in America is a fascist. But anyone who downplays the insurgent violence of January 6, or reinforces the seditious myth that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’, or supports a disgraced former president who, to this day, is trying to carry out a coup. extremist before our eyes – each of these people is playing a risky game.