After she was stripped of her committee assignments for making a range of racist, antisemitic, and generally batshit-crazy public statements, Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene said that she had been “freed.” Weird flex, but OK, let’s go with it.
“I feel free because you know what’s happening on these committees? You see, we have basically a tyrannically controlled government right now,” she said. “They don’t care what Republicans have to say, they don’t care about what our districts and our voters have to say. They only care about pushing their socialist agenda through.”
Well, Greene has certainly walked the walk since then. She has demonstrated no interest in governing, policy, procedure, or advancing the interests of her constituents or the American people. Instead, she has reduced her political career down to what she sees as the essential mission: How much she can troll Democrats and own the libs? This week, Greene’s miserable time in Congress sank to arguably its lowest point yet—no small achievement for a congresswoman best known for her adherence to the canon of QAnon conspiracy theory—when two reporters from The Washington Post witnessed Greene chasing after Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As the paper reported:
Two Washington Post reporters witnessed Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) exit the House chamber late Wednesday afternoon ahead of Greene (Ga.), who shouted “Hey Alexandria” twice in an effort to get her attention. When Ocasio-Cortez did not stop walking, Greene picked up her pace and began shouting at her and asking why she supports antifa, a loosely knit group of far-left activists, and Black Lives Matter, falsely labeling them “terrorist” groups. Greene also shouted that Ocasio-Cortez was failing to defend her “radical socialist” beliefs by declining to publicly debate the freshman from Georgia.
“You don’t care about the American people,” Greene shouted. “Why do you support terrorists and antifa?”
After this event came to light, Greene continued going after Ocasio-Cortez, calling her a “chicken” for refusing to debate her online. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez then requested additional security, citing Greene’s harassment of another Democrat, Cori Bush, who had asked her to wear a mask. (Greene has also harassed a third Democrat, Marie Newman, over transgender rights; Newman has a trans daughter.) Greene—who, remember, has absolutely nothing better to do—continued to escalate, tweeting that Ocasio-Cortez’s request for security was proof of the foolishness of defunding the police. And, of course, she demanded that Ocasio-Cortez debate her once again, as if Greene had any ideas at all.
Greene is doing what she thinks she has been sent to Congress to do: to waste lawmakers’ time, harass her ideological opponents, and chase Very Online fame by demanding the kind of performative “debates” that right-wing YouTubers see as the ne plus ultra of political activity. Greene embraces that troll life, and her antics rake in money, which she then uses to … waste more time. But Greene is actually on the cutting edge of GOP thought leadership, and her hallway stunts point to a bleak future for our legislative bodies as their ranks swell with wave after wave of Republican conspiracy-mongers and social media–addled cranks.
Greene is hardly the only Republican member of Congress to approach their job in this manner. The recently scandalized Matt Gaetz wrote in his 2019 memoir, Firebrand, that flooding conservative media was the key to success: “It’s impossible to get canceled if you’re on every channel,” he wrote. “Why raise money to advertise on the news channels when I can make the news? And if you aren’t making news, you aren’t governing.” Madison Cawthorn, elected to Congress at age 25 last year, informed his colleagues that “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation.” As the GOP continues its retreat from governance, this is the sort of “content” that will fill the space where the wonkery of Paul Ryan once resided.
These Republicans are often compared to Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad,” but the analogy is insulting, to put it mildly. Those Democrats have clear policy ideas and are interested in advancing them. Where Greene trolls on social media, Ocasio-Cortez uses the medium to explain to her constituents how she goes about preparing for congressional hearings. It’s a stark contrast: While Greene and her confederates may rant about the threat of “socialism,” they have no policy ideas of their own at hand and no plan to formulate any in the future. They exist solely to build personal brands, appear on cable television, and use their personal brands and cable television appearances to rake in cash from Republican donors who want their legislators to spend their working hours owning the libs.
The return of earmarks might provide a welcome remedy: Surely Greene’s constituents want a bit more from their elected representative than for her to spend all of her time screaming at her opponents. After all, voters cannot survive on viral videos alone—districts need bridges, public investment, and other forms of infrastructure. The earmark ban was put in place in the hopes that it would improve the public’s perceptions of Congress, but the move largely failed to decrease the cynicism of voters—and it left lawmakers with few ways to actually score points with voters beyond demonstrations of ideological purity.
Bringing back the pork might keep these rambunctious congresspeople in line, by provoking a more substantive competition among them to do what Congress is supposed to do: allocate money. There are signs that even the Troll Caucus might be brought into the light. Look no further than Republicans’ embrace of the recent stimulus bill, despite the fact that it didn’t have GOP support. (Cawthorn, for instance, touted the bill’s benefits for his district, despite the fact that he didn’t vote for it.) The appeal of pork is that it could, at least in theory, rein in Greene—a certain level of chaos is to be expected, but the congresswoman clearly needs some busy work.
But the power of pork may not be enough to restore decorum to the halls of power, let alone rid it of the dysfunction that flourishes there. Greene, Cawthorn, and Gaetz don’t care about the finer points of legislation and see little value in participating in the legislative process in any way. They are outliers now, but as long as their donors’ checks clear and allow them to fend off primary opponents who might provide alternatives to their misrule, they are also the future of the Republican Party.