When Georgia voters elected Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate recently, a state that had been a reliably Republican stronghold for decades flipped the Senate to a bare majority for the Democratic Party.
Georgia is a former “solid South” Democratic state that had voted for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 as a reaction against civil rights gains. The Peach State has consistently voted for the GOP in state and national campaigns for decades, but this year Georgia sent two Democrats to Capitol Hill: a young Jewish man who was mentored by civil rights activist John Lewis and an African-American minister who was pastor of the church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached for years before his assassination in 1968.
The symbolism of a longtime Republican and Southern state like Georgia electing a Jewish politician and a black minister is telling. The civil rights movement sprang from the Black churches in the South, but many of this nation’s Jewish citizens were early and active supporters of the movement. Some even gave their lives in the struggle. Two of the three civil rights workers who were murdered during the desegregation campaign in Philadelphia, MS in 1964 were Jews from New York; the other was a young Black activist from the region. Anti-Semitism and racism have a long history in Georgia, including the infamous 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man falsely accused of murder in Atlanta. Now Georgia’s election of a Jewish man to the U.S. Senate has cast a better light on an often benighted state. Even “Saturday Night Live” gave a humorous compliment to Georgia with a comedy skit in which one character said, “You know what we do with Jews in Georgia—we elect them.”
Now Georgia voters are in the spotlight again, but this time the Peach State politician who draws both laughter and tears is Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Her advocacy of “QAnonsense” conspiracy delusions has earned her the ire of many of her Capitol Hill colleagues, who stripped her of her committee assignments. Still, many Republicans continue to back Greene. Her false conspiracy fantasies, calls to execute top Democrats and contentions that school shootings were “false flag” operations against gun ownership all seem to be of no concern to the hard-core right wing of the GOP in Georgia and across America.
Today, the GOP is a party in which white supremacists and political extremists can feel comfortable and can call themselves patriots. In his 1954 book The Nature of Prejudice, psychologist Gordon Allport delineated such citizens and politicians: “Extreme bigots are almost always super-patriots… The easiest idea to sell anyone is that he is better than someone else. The appeal of the Ku Klux Klan and racist agitators rests on this type of salesmanship.”
White supremacists, militia members, conspiracy believers and right-wing extremists made up much of the MAGA mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an angry effort to thwart the results of the 2020 election and stop the inauguration of Democrat Joe Biden. That mob and their sore loser 45th president showed what British statesman Edmund Burke meant more than two centuries ago when he said, “Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, can never willingly abandon it.”
Long before the elections of 2016 and 2020, Americans were warned about domestic terrorism and home-grown hate groups. A 2015 report from the New America research group warned of “attacks by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-government radicals.” In 2010, The Progressive magazine presciently warned about the possibility of fascism in America, saying, “Here are some things to watch out for: more armed rallies, mob violence… the accommodation of some elected officials with supporters of that violence” and the celebration of political mob violence by right-wing media “cheerleaders on Fox or talk radio.” Just last year, the Department of Homeland Security called violent white supremacy the most persistent and lethal threat in America. Today, when citizens swallow snake-oil poison peddled by politicians under the guise of patriotism, the words of Burke still ring true: “Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.”
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