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Civics Lesson

The Republican Meltdown on Martha’s Vineyard

When the residents of the tiny island town responded to Ron DeSantis’s stunt with a clinical demonstration of civic virtue, the right just about lost their damn minds.

Volunteers on Martha's Vineyard set up shop to help Venezuelan migrants sent to the island under false pretenses.
Jonathan Wiggs/Getty Images
Volunteers on Martha’s Vineyard set up shop to help Venezuelan migrants sent to the island under false pretenses.

So this is what it’s come to with the Republican Party. The so-called party of Lincoln has been reduced to staging inhumane tricks in a dubious effort to get people to hate liberals.

I was in the supermarket Saturday, and I saw a copy of the New York Post with some blaring headline about liberal hypocrisy being laid bare on Martha’s Vineyard. I didn’t buy it or read it, so I really can’t say how deeply reported this piece of journalism was; but I can say based on my many years of experience as a Murdoch media watcher that from the moment the news about these misdirected Venezuelan migrants broke, it was obvious that the Post was going to produce that kind of cover, no matter how badly reality needed to be contorted. That was the whole point of the stunt: to give the right-wing media an opportunity bray about supposed liberal hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, what actually happened on the Vineyard? If you read non-right-wing media, it sounds like most people were quite sympathetic to the migrants’ situation. Reporters on the scene for CNN referred to a “massive effort by locals to provide for them.” Residents from the island—where, by the way, the median household income is somewhat higher than the U.S. average but not by anywhere the amount a lot of the recent coverage would have you believe—worked to raise $175,000 for the migrants. They were transported to a military base on Cape Cod last Friday not because the Vineyard residents were racist hypocrites but because there were facilities on the Cape capable of handling the influx that didn’t exist on the island. The migrants were given cell phones and $50 Visa cards.

So let’s compare and contrast. On the one hand, we have a group of governors and operatives who hired a mystery woman to lure people—who were seeking asylum from the harsh political repression they’d endured in their home country as well as a dangerous journey of some 3,000 miles—onto airplanes and buses with phony offers of jobs and a future. On the other, we have a few thousand people who, by all nonideological accounts, helped these poor people out for a few days. Which of these groups behaved admirably? Was it the people with fraudulent offers of charity and kindness—or the people who stepped in to provide it?

Moreover, there have also been a number of reports that as these buses have rolled since April, many migrants have not traveled all the way to Northern blue states but have rather hopped off in Georgia and Tennessee and other red states where the living is cheaper. And guess what? The locals got mad, GOP politicians threw gas on the fire, and in some cases the buses quit making stops in those states. But you see, since they’re open in their contempt for brown people, they’re not hypocrites, so it’s all right.

Stop and think for a minute about what kind of mind it takes to come up with a scheme like this. A few Republican operatives are sitting around fretting that they might lose the midterms. They start tossing out ideas about what they should do. Some policy idea that will solve a problem and help their voters? Be serious; that bird flew two generations ago. Some phony promise to lower gas prices? They’d have no more power to do that unilaterally than Joe Biden does, but at least it has something to do with people’s daily lives.

No, they come up with this. It ticks every key box of modern fascist Republicanism. It’s based on lies (the lies that were told to these migrants); it places trolling the libs above all else; and it’s inhumane to a group of powerless nonwhite people. The neo-Goebbels propaganda trifecta.

I invoke Goebbels because this is the kind of thing he did. He was a master at it—all those “rapes” of German women by Poles along the German-Polish border in August 1939, making it “necessary” for Germany to invade. This is how the reactionary fascist mind works.

It’s how it worked in the American South in the early 1960s, when, as you may have read in recent days, some white Southerners organized “Reverse Freedom Rides” to send Black people north on exactly the same logic used by today’s GOP governors. And it’s how it works in Russian troll farms, which, as The New York Times reported Sunday, worked to sow division among participants in the 2017 Women’s March by having writers who “posted as Black women critical of white feminism, conservative women who felt excluded, and men who mocked participants as hairy-legged whiners.”

Republicans have hit new low after new low in recent years, really over the course of this entire century. But this is something different. This callous stunt signals a new phase. The American right has long been trying to create an alternate reality to actual reality. They’ve just never used suffering human beings to do it. We still need to learn more details about who Perla is and who hatched this plot. I suspect that when we do, we’ll see that their motivations were born of malevolence, hatred, and—remembering that this is all about obtaining political advantage in the midterms—fear that the voters will deliver a genuinely democratic verdict against them.   

Meanwhile, the people of Martha’s Vineyard—and beyond; remember, these buses have been coming north for a few months now, months during which the response among Northerners has been to try to get these people the assistance they need—have met a crisis manufactured to embarrass them and score political points with decency and civic virtue.

Let’s recall that confabulatory headline on the pages of the New York Post: This is nothing more than the product of a mental breakdown that ensued after Ron DeSantis’s stunt failed in its mission to break a liberal community and expose some imagined hypocrisy. It ended up revealing two things. First, it showed the world a community that was prepared to demonstrate what true citizenship looks like. More importantly, it exposed just how much the right needs its adherents to believe that the liberals they despise are, deep down, as cruel and as vindictive as they are.

Some will be fooled. But I think most voters, including most swing voters, can see the truth with their own eyes. And if this is the best that the Republicans can do, then I guess we’ll keep seeing this truth reveal itself.