House Democrats last week took the unprecedented step of removing a colleague, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from her committee posts for controversial statements and conspiracy theories she had posted, largely to Facebook, in the years before she was elected to Congress.
The move sets a new low for the House of Representatives, whose work so far this year has been largely characterized by slap fights and manic political theater over anything particularly substantive.
What Greene posted on Facebook were, indeed, conspiracy theories — something she owned up to in a floor speech, calling the QAnon posts she shared “misinformation, lies, things that were not true,” noting that “these things do not represent me. They do not represent my district and they do not represent my values.”
“I’m sorry for saying all of those things that are wrong and offensive, and I sincerely mean that,” Greene said in a genuine and candid press conference the next day. “I’m happy to say that. I think it’s good to say when we’ve done something wrong.”
Greene has conceded to her mistakes and misstatements. In a political climate where the only incentive is to never admit wrongdoing and instead blame everyone else, that deserves some acknowledgement.
Her willingness to admit she was wrong is a strength, and a notable one in a city where Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., still defends sending thousands of Americans to die in Iraq, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., continues to peddle outright falsehoods about Russia electing Donald Trump to the presidency.
Greater Washington, of course, will intentionally overlook this and continue to paint Greene as a “dangerous and powerful” conspiracy theorist who represents the entire Republican Party – ignoring that, as a freshman member of the House, and in the minority, Greene is hardly in any positions of authority. But Greene is a useful anecdote to further their case that anyone who has engaged in wrongthink must be summarily deplatformed from public life. And so it will go.
There is more going on here, however, than a hyped up, hypocritical, and partisan moral panic. And it should give thoughtful Americans pause. In her floor speech, Taylor Greene discussed what led her to start trusting QAnon:
And so, what I did is I started looking up things on the internet, asking questions, like most people do every day, use Google. And I stumbled across something and this was at the end of 2017 called QAnon. Well, these posts were mainly about this Russian collusion information. A lot of it was some of what I would see on the news at night and I got very interested in it, so I posted about it on Facebook. I read about it, I talked about it. I asked questions about it, and then more information came from it.
But you see, here’s the problem, throughout 2018, because I was upset about things and didn’t trust the government, really because the people here weren’t doing the things that I thought they should be doing for us, the things that I just told you I cared about. And I want you to know a lot of Americans don’t trust our government and that’s sad.
In other words, Greene , who was then simply another American mom and business owner, was like all of us, trying to sort through information, and understand what was happening to the country, as well as within it. She was looking for someone, or some entity, to trust. But like so many Americans, her faith in the institutions and media outlets that once provided this had bottomed out.
Elected members of Congress ran on platforms they never intended to implement. Our government institutions became partisan weapons in the hands of powerful elites. Journalists at corporate outlets began to see their jobs as an avenue to humiliate, demean, and self-promote, rather than simply report objectively on the day’s events.
In turning to QAnon, Greene is merely one of thousands of Americans who are facing a crisis of trust in institutions and in a government they believe no longer represents or speaks for them. This is an enormous social problem for America, one in which our ruling class is entirely culpable but has demonstrated no intention of acknowledging or addressing.
They would rather have us blame our fellow countrymen for being too dumb, racist, backwards, and illiterate to parse conspiracy from fact. They want us to believe this because it absolves them of any participation in degrading the bedrock of trust that holds us together.
This is obvious in the talking point being dutifully chattered out by every talking head in DC: Greene is a “symptom” of what ails the GOP and proof that the entire party is made up of racist conspiracy kooks.
Her prior comments are indeed a symptom, but of the breakdown in the social consensus that must exist for self-government to thrive. Acknowledging that requires a level of honest self-reflection that party leaders, media executives, and institutional heads are both unable and unwilling to do.
They’d rather use the moment to double down on enforcing their own viewpoint, censoring, silencing, jailing, and expelling anyone who disagrees as a “threat to democracy.” Such actions will not end conspiracy theories. They will only encourage them.
Moreover, by failing to look beyond anything but political opportunism, these same leaders will ensure that the institutional distrust – and the chasm between the rulers and the ruled – only continues to grow, fracturing our consensus, our trust in one another, and eventually, the very foundation of self-government.