Republican chaos is purposefully designed to dampen voter engagement

The Washington Post ran an illuminating story on Sunday titled, “In a swing Wisconsin county, everyone is tired of politics.”

A more honest headline would’ve been, “In a swing Wisconsin county, everyone is tired of Republican politics.”

With conservative nihilists either actively destroying our institutions, like the Freedom Caucus and the U.S. House of Representatives, or promising to do so, like Donald Trump, it should come as no surprise that people are growing increasingly tired of this.

Still, traditional media outlets remain wary of ascribing proper blame, doing a disservice to people who take that “both sides do it” coverage to heart. The Washington Post article featuring people in Wisconsin’s Door County, which is between Milwaukee and Green Bay, exemplifies that. It is one of just nine counties in the country that have voted for the winning presidential candidate since 2000. Let’s take a look.

The pandemic and inflation have already rattled folks, and the broader political backdrop — the impeachments, Trump’s torrent of falsehoods about the 2020 election, the Capitol insurrection, the band of hard-right Republicans ousting their speaker — has blocked out notice of what both sides cast as accomplishments, such as the billions of dollars poured into updating the nation’s roads, bridges and ports. Even as the economy grows at the strongest pace in two years, and jobs continue to proliferate, signs of progress are easy to miss amid what voters see as screaming matches.

So what are these screaming matches voters tell the Post are distressing them? Impeachments, Trump’s 2020 lies, the insurrection, and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster. What do all these items have in common?

The answer is obvious: They are all things conservatives do. Even the pandemic was exacerbated by anti-science Republicans. Yes, voters refuse to see positive news on the economy because of those Republican screaming matches, but that’s on purpose. Republicans have every interest in making sure Democrats don’t get credit for being responsible stewards of our economy.

Here is the next paragraph:

They long for compromise. They want to feel heard and understood. Most Americans, for instance, desire access to abortion, tighter restrictions on guns and affordable health care. Many wonder why our laws don’t reflect that.

Access to abortion, tighter gun restrictions, and affordable health care? Which party is fighting for that, and which one opposes all those things?

Again, the article shouldn’t be about how people are disenchanted with politics, but with how Republicans are poisoning the electorate that otherwise supports the core Democratic agenda.

Nichols, a 58-year-old caregiving service manager in the city of Sturgeon Bay, sees Biden as “not super impressive” at a time when she aches to be reassured. She wants a leader who can bring the sparring factions together — a feat no one seems to be close to accomplishing. (Her favorite thing about Biden, though: “He’s not always in the news.”) Trump, on the other hand, was guilty of “mean girl behavior,” she thought, picking fights with even his own party while racking up criminal charges.

The government in general reminded her of the reality series “Big Brother” — “with all the lies and deals behind the scenes.”

“You don’t know where to turn or who to believe,” she said.

So … she longs for a leader who can bring everyone together, but she is upset by “all the … deals behind the scenes.” Politics isn’t about facts and figures, it’s about vibes. That entire sentence is nonsensical, yet this voter absolutely believes it. It doesn’t mean she’s stupid or unsophisticated; we need to stop thinking of voters that way. (I used to do so, and I’m increasingly realizing that it is not helpful in achieving our goals.) It means Republicans have done a great job of muddling the political landscape so that it repels people who are natural Democratic supporters.

Talking about Washington, [League of Women Voters advocates] decided, isn’t the best way to nudge Door County voters to the polls. But when the group focused on hot-button issues, Kohout noticed, residents seemed eager to listen. Chairs filled up at their event focused on mental health and opioid addiction.

Investment in mental health and opioid addiction? Again, those are government investments Democrats are happy to make, and Republicans are eager to block.

Henderson had liked Trump’s outspokenness at first — she would have voted for him in 2020 but was recovering from surgery on Election Day. Now she resents his “cockiness” and wishes he and other politicians would channel more energy into addressing the soaring cost of food. Two months ago, she’d had to lift the price of every menu item by 50 cents, and now her barbecue chicken Mother Clucker sandwich cost $10.75. Customers, she knew, wouldn’t pay much more than that.

Inflation is a serious issue, and arguing that the United States has the lowest inflation rate of any industrialized nation doesn’t do much to assuage those concerns. But we also know that a big part of inflation is corporate America taking advantage of it to artificially raise prices, leading to record Wall Street profits. One party would do something about that, the other wants to give corporations unfettered ability to price-gouge Americans.

The article then meanders around some Libertarians in the area, because sure, why not talk to a Libertarian about (checks notes) abortion rights, tighter gun restrictions, affordable health care, corporate price gouging, and mental health and opioid programs?

The LGBTQ+ community here is small, [Owen Alabado] said. As a gay man with Filipino roots in the overwhelmingly White town of Baileys Harbor, he stood out. It felt personal when Door County’s board of supervisors voted in September to restrict what flags can be raised on county poles, effectively banning the Pride rainbow. Then lawmakers in Washington elected a House speaker who had previously suggested criminalizing gay sex.

Alabado was sick of the division, he said. Neither party, he thought, seemed capable of fixing it. He wished he could be excited to vote for Biden, rather than feel obligated to do so to defend “basic human rights.”

“I can’t really speak to anything he has done,” he said, “because I’ve tuned it out, like a lot of people have. We’re so tired of the us-against-them politics.”

One party is banning the LGBTQ+ flag and trying to criminalize gay sex, but sure, both parties are part of the problem. And “I don’t know what Biden has done because I refuse to pay attention” is a weird flex. But again, vibes. People are fed up with the toxicity of our politics and they want to tune out. Who does this benefit? Republicans. Conservatives are doing this on purpose.

The single most successful Biden moment over the past three years hasn’t been any of his actual and very real policy accomplishments. It was the Dark Brandon meme.

We can lament the lack of sophistication among key voters, chastising them for not doing politics right, or we can understand that nihilist conservatives are destroying our institutions precisely to drive down voter participation and engagement.

If it takes Dark Brandon to combat that, sign me up. And over the next year, we’re going to have to find ways to talk to people in a way that calms and reassures them while also driving home the existential threat to our democracy that Trump represents.

Does that seem like an impossibly contradictory task? It is. But that’s what the country wants, and it will be our job as liberals and Democrats to find the solution.

Republicans are challenging labor leaders to fights and allegedly physically assaulting one another. Donald Trump says he will abolish reproductive rights entirely and is openly calling for the extermination of his detractors, referring to them as “vermin” on Veterans Day. The Republican Party has emerged from its corruption cocoon as a full-blown fascist movement.