I wasn’t going to comment on Rep. Rashida Tlaib saying A Swear Word because it is self-evidently a petty, pissy little story, the sort of quick skillet-fried story that a certain brand of conservative punditry relies on but which would pass without comment in nearly any other American context. But then Liz Fucking Cheney, Torture Apologist weighed in on it, and that was a bit much, so here we are.
“You’ve had very foul language used,” said House GOP chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose dad, former Vice President Dick Cheney, in 2004 told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to “fuck yourself” while the two were on the Senate floor for a group photo.
The first thing to know about Rep. Liz Cheney is that she is a torture apologist, and not at all muddied on the subject. She exists in politics because her father, a still-unindicted war criminal directly responsible for the deaths of many thousands of human beings after a campaign of gaudy lies and deceptions, is one of the nastiest works to be ever carved from conservative stock and, therefore, an icon of the movement. She has been a grotesque, cynical human being her entire career, the sort of person who would cheat you out of a dollar just to prove she could, a long line of conservative half-criminals whose begrudging tolerance for democracy relies on just how much they can squeeze out of it, all the while wrapped tight in a flag and protesting in raised voices about how anyone who objects to their antics must obviously hate America, apple pie, and their own mothers.
Obviously, Rep. Liz Cheney does not give a damn about foul language used by a United States Representative. In the slightest. Instead, this is yet another instance of the performative amorality of the conservative movement she so effortlessly slithered into. Like Trump, like her father, like each of the two-bit swindlers tapped for and booted from administration positions in which longtime lobbyist priorities are balanced, and not well, with petty theft—the only ethical lines are what you can get away with, and every moral question can be answered by querying whether the person doing it is a Republican or Anybody Else.
And it is dull and boring, and it is inherently corrupt, and anathema to democracy itself, and it is the performative stage on which every last televised and written-about public debate is carried out in America today.
It goes something like this: Donald Trump is under multiple federal investigations, there is already ample public evidence his campaign at least sought to collude with hostile foreign agents in a plot detrimental to our nation, he is foul-mouthed and racist, an adulterer and a con-man and an incompetent whose daily acts revolve only around his own narcissistic delusions and the reliable fits of rage that occur whenever his acts butt up against the rest of the observable universe, but so-and-so over here said motherfucker and really isn’t that the same thing, or worse?
Worse than child detention camps? Than the torture of war prisoners? Using a national podium to egregiously mislead the American public? What we have here, with these motherfucker remarks, is a failure of civility. And civility is defined, as it always is, based on the premise that if two children die while under substandard government detention, that is a work of nature, but if the architects of such atrocities find themselves on the muddy side of a tossed motherfucker or an interruption of the soup course, that is evidence of a societal breakdown that needs to be addressed absolutely immediately.
I have been writing variations of that last sentence for a decade plus, now. It never subsides; it never gets worse or gets better. It was the slow bleed of anything resembling base morality from an entire movement, and we all watched it happen, and we watched as Dick-then-Liz and a hundred other nasty little grifters leaned into it with motherfucking gusto, the whole time, only to get a bit wigged at the end as a genuine sociopath appeared who did it all better by stripping out the if and but parts and letting the inherent cruelty of the premise scream out.
This version of conservatism is, itself, sociopathy. It advocates for horrors to be inflicted on others, defined as anyone but themselves, and does so regularly. It insists on frugality towards the poor and pampering of the wealthy; it dons faux-intellectual glasses and drones on about the latest would-be evidence supporting racism, of the old systemic kind and of whichever new shudder is currently in vogue. It is for torture, and against emotional public objection. It is for child detention camps, and against dinner interruptions. It obliges child deaths while its spokesthings condemn the heated language of their foes.
It is performative. It is inherently insincere. But above all, it is stakeless. It is premised on a theory that absolutely not a damn thing, not a stick of it, matters—that there is no act of corruption, of violence, of deception, or of vicious cruelty that is of consequence, and that objections to each of those things can be trivially paired against an opponent, somewhere, being rude. Rude is the mortal danger to the American existence; all else is commentary.
It is meant to waste the national time. It is meant to degrade morality by insisting that violence against the other, or scandal, or cruelty is consequenceless and that disapprobation of the us is, if anything, the thing that will bring down the whole American house of cards.
It is dinner-party government. Advocate for child detention camps or observe that an American president likely could, if they so desired, torture the young children of a prisoner if torturing the man himself was not yielding the preferred answers, and you will still have a slot on the op-ed pages and in the important magazines. Those things do not ruin dinner parties. Condemning those that advocate for such things, though—that is an uncomfortableness that the Beltway cannot stomach.
And so we get things like the newly enfogged and now furiously stakeless Atlantic bemoaning the state of the discourse and comparing The Opposition to Trump, as if what made Trump such a malevolent force was the swear words, and wondering if The Opposition was on the cusp of going too far.
And we get things like Rep. Steve Scalise refusing to address his very obvious public falsehoods because while he would be happy to do that, several of his opponent’s no-named online observers are too mean, which after all is of more immediate import than whether he, one of the most powerful of House Republicans, publicly lied.
And we get whatever the hell Lindsey Graham has turned into.
And we get, of course, the professionally insincere and cynical Rep. Liz Cheney, now in Congress for reasons best delved into elsewhere, on the Sunday shows, where she dismisses talk of impeachment by declaring it “political.”
So look, I think that at the end of the day they need to understand and recognize that impeachment is not a political thing, it never should be, that it tears at the very fabric of our Constitution if it is.
If any Democratic president did half of what Donald Trump has done, Liz Cheney would be leading the charge for his impeachment. Mitch McConnell would be clearing the Senate schedule. The movement would be beside itself in rage at such obvious malfeasance; Fox News talking heads would, in discussing campaign overtures to Russian agents, acidly muse about the prospects of hanging. We all know it; we all have watched as conservatism turned into a movement not just capable of such cynical evasions, but defined by them. The political act is to watch Trump’s band of cronies crawl atop every previous assumption of what the American system could tolerate and knock each down, in turn. The political act is to go on television and defend acts which, if done by an opponent, would be declared unforgivable.
Nobody gives a damn that someone in public life said motherfucker. Nobody. None of the people who supported torturing likely-innocent war prisoners give a damn. None of the people summoned to the Sunday shows to put the death of two children in U.S. custody “in context”, or who breeze past federal workers working without pay while the nation absorbs yet another spurious tantrum, gives a damn. None of the people whistling past reporters as Rep. Jim Jordan attempts to skate by accusations of ignoring sexual abuse gives even a wee, tiny damn. It is all a play, a rough approximation by people with not a stitch of personal morality of what outrage over an immoral act might look like, if they ever found one.
And this particular movement, of performative amorality and stakeless, consequenceless violence and corruption, has been going on long enough that the grifters who invented it now have kids of their own now. Those kids are also in politics, and those kids grew up exactly as you might have expected them to.
I have been writing this same description of the decay of conservatism since the first Bush term. I have written it perhaps twenty times, or thirty; it is not “worse” now, but it is more explicit. It is what every Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson bases his petty, mean little career on; it is what every Liz Cheney uses to pretend at the moral center that she imagines other people might have. It is every Mitch McConnell speech ever given on the Senate floor, and every sniffling defense of Brett Kavanaugh after the threat of consequences for past acts mortified, en masse, a movement that relies on dodging even the slightest responsibility for past acts.
It is a movement that abandoned each ethical norm, one after the other, after one leader or another found them restricting. We are supposed to simultaneously believe that there is no violation of law or norms by the powerful that is truly worth punishment or consequence, but that incivility towards liars, con-men or racists is a threat we must we ever-watchful for, lest it drag us down into a new national coarseness that torture or child detention camps could not reach.
The people who suggest these things, and who take to the public microphones to warn of these things, are motherfuckers. If you love your nation, by God, ignore them.