Shortly after his Republican colleagues voted to expel Democratic Tennessee Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, another Tennessee Republican, Rep. Scott Cepicky, made an astonishing utterance, now preserved on audio, as he and his fellow Republicans heaped verbal abuse on one of their own, Rep. Jody Barrett. The record of that colloquy was well summarized in a must-read post by Community Contributor Charles Jay.
Cepicky angrily told his Republican colleague, “You gotta do what’s right, even if you think it might be wrong.”
The cause of Cepicky’s ire was the fact that Barrett had not voted for the expulsion of Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson. As a result of Barrett’s single "no" vote, only Pearson and Jones were expelled, while Johnson, a white woman, was not. Barrett, apparently in Cepicky’s view, had committed an unforced error in preventing Tennessee Republicans the public deniability they needed to justify their patently racist action.
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The context for Cepicky’s quote is explained in this article from Knoxville’s NBC affiliate, WBIR:
Barrett said that he chose not to vote to expel Johnson because he said he didn't want to vote "on a resolution that I know is wrong." He said that lawmakers had not established that she did more than approach the "well" during the protest.
"These resolutions got copied and pasted. All they changed was the names," he said in the audio. "1,000%, I did the right thing."
Cepicky then started speaking, according to the Tennessee Holler.
"If you don't believe we're at war for our republic, with all love and respect to you — you need a different job. The left wants Tennessee so bad, because if they get us, the southeast falls and it's game over for the republic. This is not a neighborhood social gathering. We are fighting for the republic of our country right now, and the world is staring at us. Are we going to stand our ground?" he said. "I'm going to have to swallow this, seeing Mr. Jones back up here walking these hallowed halls, that the greats of Tennessee stood in, and watch them disrespect the state that I chose to move to ... You gotta do what's right, even if you think it might be wrong."
The statement is disturbing in several ways, not simply because it shows the Republican Party to be firmly in the grip of paranoid fantasies about “the left,” but because it inadvertently reveals just how toxic and dangerous the consequences of such thinking can be. Cepicky is telling his colleague that nothing matters more than party loyalty, and that party loyalty—doing “what’s right” by the party—must always preempt an individual’s judgment about what is truly right or wrong, good or evil. In that one sentence, then, Cepicky demonstrates the entire mindset of the current GOP.
It would be naive to believe that internal politics isn’t a series of trade-offs. Membership in a political party often means taking a position that aligns with the rest of one’s colleagues, even if it conflicts with one’s own personal views. In the context of the modern Republican Party, however, that process has become thoroughly toxic as the party adopts more and more extreme positions, egged on by its own media, which now continually channels the contrived grievances and resentments of its virulent base. Embracing and amplifying these resentments has now become mandatory for membership within the GOP, which is why there are simply no “moderates” left.
But unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republican policies now almost exclusively focus on deliberately harming, diminishing, or controlling other Americans. Protecting the “rights” of gun owners at the expense of those killed by guns. Forcing people to give birth after unwanted pregnancies. Denying the validity of elections. Voter suppression. Book bans. Attacking transgender people’s right to even exist. All of these policies are deeply offensive and intrusive assaults against other Americans of whom Republicans disapprove, and they all violate basic, longstanding principles of morality and decency.
All of these policies should give any well-adjusted and decent human being serious pause, if not inspire complete revulsion. But Republicans have intentionally decided that it’s in their party’s interest to sublimate human decency to party loyalty. So even if somewhere in the deep recesses of their minds they may actually believe what they’re doing is wrong, it doesn’t matter. They must bow to the needs of the party. That’s exactly what Cepicky said here.
It’s not a coincidence that most of the Republican Party’s “social” agenda is rooted in measures to impose forcible control on others. It is a party, after all, that now encompasses most of the old Confederacy, and is now reinforcing that scurrilous heritage in laws targeting, for the most part, the same people they used to enslave. There is no means of control that can quite compare to slavery, and these descendants of virulent slavers have never quite forgotten that. It’s embedded in their bones and their mythology.
But there is no evil that cannot be justified under this type of mindset. This is why you have a Texas governor moving to pardon a convicted murderer. It’s why many in the GOP (including its leader Donald Trump) now lionize or espouse pardons for the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. It’s why this year has seen ever more brazen efforts by the GOP to subvert democracy, whether by denying valid elections or passing laws to cement their power in perpetuity. It’s why violent white supremacists are now taking over several local governments. And it’s why despite overwhelming public opinion against them, Republican-led states continue to pass more and more draconian laws enshrining the proliferation of firearms and eliminating the rights of those who can become pregnant.
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With this kind of soulless, nihilistic mindset, absolutely nothing is off the table for these people. What they are doing in states where they do hold sway should be a crystal-clear warning to the rest of the country for what they would do if they ever again attain national power.
One of the great ironies of Cepicky’s tirade was when he cited his father’s participation in World War II: “My father was D-Day Plus-4 and he fought for this freaking country and many of his friends died,” he declared. What Cepicky doesn’t seem to understand is that by putting blind, thoughtless party loyalty over basic human decency, he and his ilk in the Republican Party have become the same people his father fought to protect this nation from.
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