Monday, August 16, 2021

For the GOP, It's Trolling All the Way Down

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), responding to the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, asks what he calls a "serious question": "Is Joe Biden capable of discharging the duties of his office or has time come to exercise the provisions of the 25th Amendment?"

Biden can justifiably take his share of lumps for the Afghanistan pullout. We can talk about how Trump set the wheels in motion, we can talk about how the military leadership screwed the pooch, but Biden is President right now and so the ultimate buck stops with him. But saying he's mentally incapacitated and needs to be involuntarily removed from office? Seriously?

Well, not seriously, but perfectly expectedly coming from someone like Rick Scott. Yet not everyone agrees with me on that score. CNN reporter Ryan Nobles, for example, says that such a call is "startling" coming from Scott: "Scott is a major Biden critic, but not a flamethrower."

For my part, I'm startled that Nobles, who watches politics for a living, is startled. As Brian Beutler notes. Rick Scott tried to overturn the election -- this isn't even the first time this year he's spuriously decided that Joe Biden cannot be allowed to serve as President because he doesn't like him. What could be less startling?

That Rick Scott is trolling is utterly unsurprising, because trolling is all the GOP is capable of at this point. To be clear, I don't think Scott actually thinks Biden is mentally incapacitated. That's not what's happening here. Rather, it's "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" directed at the calls to invoke the 25th following Trump's encouragement of the January 6 insurrection. Those were serious, this is not, but that's the point: the fundamental unseriousness of Scott's call is meant to make the entire discourse unseriousness -- the sort of thing only trolls do -- and so retroactively make the suggestion that the 25th might have to be invoked to stop Trump from literally destroying American democracy the stuff of trolls too. Tit-for-tat, both sides do it. 

The same logic applies to the resonance with the "sleepy Joe" narrative Trump ran on in 2020 (and the parallel claim that Kamala Harris would be the true power behind the throne): it's meant to be absurd, smirking, winking, because in doing so it suggests that everything is absurd, smirking, and winking -- even that which should be deadly serious. That was Trump's genius as a political actor, and the GOP is nothing if not Donald Trump's party. What Sartre said of the antisemite applies to Rick Scott, and virtually the entire Republican Party, as well:
Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

Perhaps Nobles is surprise because he views Rick Scott as falling pretty far down the line of the GOP troll depth chart. He might be right -- the competition is stiff -- but that only illustrates just how deep the GOP's bench is on that axis. Rick Scott doesn't stand out as a GOP troll, but that's only because among the GOP trolling has become so normalized being a troll doesn't stand out anymore. 

In short: when it comes to frivolous, unserious taunting, the GOP is trolls all the way down. A political reporter like Ryan Nobles should have figured that out by now.

UPDATE: Paul Campos makes essentially the same point.

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