By now, you and everyone’s dog knows how it goes: A Republican compares basic health and safety measures during a pandemic to the Holocaust, people are outraged, and that Republican gets free advertising on social media and a potential boost from voters. This time round, it’s Marjorie Taylor Greene — the one who thought Jewish space lasers might’ve caused forest fires in California — who said on a recent podcast that she thought Nancy Pelosi’s decision to continue mask-wearing in Congress was comparable to genocide. “You know, we can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens — so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany, and this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about,” Greene said, adding that she thought Pelosi was “mentally ill” for instituting the rule after finding out that less than half of Republican representatives are vaccinated.
Greene is hardly the only GOP member given to such offensive comparisons. Let’s not forget the brave ones who came before her, including Alaska Republican Ben Carpenter, who asked of stickers showing that someone had been screened for Covid that day in May 2020: “If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get public shaming too? Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?” A Kansas newspaper owned by a Republican Party chairman in July 2020 responded to the local Democratic governor’s lockdown law with a cartoon of Jewish people being put onto trains accompanied by the text: “Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask… and step in the cattle car.” And in March of this year, Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn said of the idea of vaccine passports: “Proposals like these smack of 1940s Nazi Germany.”
Grasping for a Holocaust comparison every time you’re asked to follow basic safety procedures to protect others from a virus is both offensive and intellectually lazy: that much is clear to most people. But it’s also shocking enough that it’s guaranteed to create headlines. Members of one’s own party are forced to respond in order to distance themselves — Liz Cheney (recently ousted by the pro-Trumpers of the GOP) tweeted that Greene’s remarks were “evil lunacy”; Peter Meijer said the remarks were “beyond reprehensible”; Adam Kinzinger called them “absolute sickness”. The American Jewish Congress called on Greene to apologize. Former Republican representative Denver Riggleman simply tweeted: “What do you expect from a truther, Q believer, and gaslighting conspiracy theorist?”
All of this has become an excellent opportunity for Greene to get her name out there (again), trending across social media and clicked on by right-leaning potential voters who love it when people “wind up the libs”. It’s also an excellent opportunity for those “never Trump” Republicans who are still being penalised for their opposition to the former president within their party. Those members of the GOP have made a bet that the Trump recovery period might last a year or so, but will probably be over by the 2022 midterms and certainly by the next presidential election. Republicans lost states like Arizona in 2020 through the kind of trolling roulette Greene and her compatriots continue to engage in. Firmly ensconced in a warm and cosy blanket of denial, they now cling to the “Big Lie” in order to not have to deal with the real consequences of their actions.
Like the Cheneys of this world, the Big Lie Republicans have also made a bet. They’re betting that Donald Trump whipped up enough divisive anger to last into the next election. They’re hoping that if they amp up the volume every time something as inoffensive as wearing a mask during a pandemic comes up, the music will play them right back in to the White House. Consider what Greene and alleged sex offender Matt Gaetz are actually doing with themselves right now, media appearances about Nazi Germany aside: They are championing an audit in Arizona — or a “fraudit”, if you prefer their punny term for it — and holding rallies where they encourage people to chant about Trump being America’s legitimate president. “You know, that’s how we feel in Georgia too,” Greene said during the rally, when she’d established that everyone in the room felt like Trump must’ve won in 2020. “As a matter of fact, that’s how Michigan feels, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. I think that’s how at least 74-plus million people feel.” As political editor David Knowles put it, “honouring how people feel” was “the theme of the night”.
The political right used to be big on that phrase beloved of Ben Shapiro, “facts don’t care about your feelings”. It was used to shout down those on the political left again and again, on issues ranging from white privilege to gender roles, and it was so popular that Shapiro titled two books with it. But these days, facts and feelings have become synonymous for the GOP. Indeed, at rallies like Greene’s and Gaetz’s, feelings don’t care about your facts — whether that concerns election fraud or the basic biology of how a virus spreads.
What Greene et al are desperately hoping is that those feelings will get strong enough to inspire personal victories in 2022 and 2024. They are positioning themselves as pariahs, victims of the liberal media elite, and most especially as victims of the collaborators within their own party. And they also know that few will stay silent — few in politics especially can afford to stay silent — when they make wild comparisons with Nazis, gas chambers and yellow stars.
What they say isn’t especially important, in other words; what’s important is the reaction and the cycle of inevitable condemnation. What’s important is to remain an “outsider” on the inside. But what’s unclear is whether a perpetual victim complex can be kept alive in a political environment so much less erratic than Trump’s.