OP-ED: When Congress becomes a circus
I know a thing or two about the intoxication of instant fame. When then-President Donald Trump blocked me on Twitter a few years ago — I am a survivor of stage 4 cancer who had posted a comment criticizing his latest health care plan — it briefly became an international story.
It was sort of thrilling, so I do get why Republicans in Congress enjoy the media stoplight. But still, the question should be asked, “What is your spotlight for?”
This year’s cast of QAnon-flavored Republican stars are conducting a reality-show circus, where showmanship is the purpose and we’re the unwilling audience. They have put their desire for attention above all else. Passing legislation and constituent services is an afterthought at best. They are focused more on building their personal brands and becoming stars of the TV circuit and Twittersphere.
Consider two of the GOP’s rising stars: QAnon-friendly extremist Congresswomen Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.
In September 2019, Boebert grabbed the mic from presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at a rally in Aurora, four hours away from her home in Rifle, and rocketed to online fame. She jumped into a GOP primary to keep the spotlight. Unfortunately for Colorado, she won.
Boebert has no interest in legislation. She spoke out against the Equality Act on the floor of the U.S. House, but missed a vote on the act itself while tweeting through it. Along with more than a dozen other Republicans, she was too busy heading off to the cameras at CPAC in Florida to bother doing her job.
Following Taylor Greene’s support of hate speech and violence against Democrats, her committee assignments were stripped away. She did not care, exclaiming, “I’ve been freed.” What she was freed to do, it turns out, is to continue the trolling and stunts to get more press and TV cameras.
Meanwhile, freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina has created a whole TV-ready backstory around his disability. But like the top reality stars, his self-created story is reality-adjacent at best; he has misrepresented his personal and business history, and misled the public about training for the Paralympics.
And Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is more concerned about decrying “cancel culture” than doing his job; in 2017, he cast the lone vote against a bill to stop sex trafficking, an offense for which he has been credibly accused. Gaetz has reportedly told associates that he is considering not running for reelection to take a job at Newsmax, a right-wing media outlet.
All of these Republican politicians have learned from the best: Our former reality television star president, Donald Trump, blazed the trail for those seeking to use the spectacle of public office to cash in.
No ethos? No worries, run for office anyways! No policies? No problem, as long as you maintain hold of the microphone. In their pursuit of 15 minutes of fame, they treat the lives of everyday Americans like the rest of us as collateral damage.
But we can’t just watch the show; this isn’t a television program. The words and their votes of these elected officials have real-life repercussions. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was bounced out of Republican leadership for being a little more attuned to reality than reality TV, but current leadership has left reality behind.
After four years of Trump’s antics, many Americans have turned down the volume and changed the channel, but his mid-season replacements continue. It’s on all of us, the voters in the audience and the show producers in the media to say enough is enough, and cancel them all.
— Laura Packard is a Denver-based health care advocate and progressive digital consultant, senior adviser to Be a Hero, co-chair of Health Care Voter and founder of Health Care Voices. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.