Never forget that Liz Cheney helped produce Trumpism — and could be worse in the long run

Praising Cheney to the skies won't change who she really is — possibly a more insidious force than Donald Trump

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 24, 2021 6:00AM (EDT)

Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Last Wednesday, House Republicans voted against a bill that would establish a commission to investigate the coup attempt and attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That outcome is in no way surprising. As a rule, criminals do not want to subject themselves to investigations and potential punishment.

The Jan. 6 commission bill finally passed the House on a vote of 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting in favor. Mitch McConnell has vowed that Senate Republicans will block the bill. 

As expected, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, recently ousted from the GOP leadership, was among the Republicans to vote in support of a serious investigation. With that vote, Cheney's star continues to rise with the news media and the chattering class. Desperate for "reasonable" and "good" Republicans, they have spent weeks elevating Cheney into a civic hero who will somehow save American democracy from the evils of Trumpism.

Cheney's recent Washington Post op-ed, in which she condemned the Republican Party's embrace of Trump's "Big Lie" that he won the 2020 election, sent the hope peddlers, stenographers of current events and mainstream liberal commentators to their fainting couches in awe of her "bravery" and "courage."

Cheney's speech the night before she was purged from her senior leadership position in the House by Trump's loyalists also sent the professional politics watchers into soaring heights of reverence and awe.

Cheney continues to speak out against the "Big Lie" and against the ways the Republican Party is ever more in thrall to its political cult leader and fascist Svengali. But reality as it exists outside of the Liz Cheney fan club, she voted for Trump's policies 93 percent of the time. She also supports the Republican Party campaign to turn the United States into a fascist apartheid plutocracy.

Trumpism is not an aberration or outlier in the Republican Party and the American right. Over the course of several decades, Cheney and other "reasonable Republicans" have supported policies and ideas that transformed the Republican Party into a right-wing extremist organization. In that sense, Trumpism and American neofascism are the results of a type of path dependency, which Liz Cheney helped to guide.

Writing at Esquire, Charles Pierce summarizes:

And while she gave a nice speech to a House chamber devoid of Republicans on Tuesday night, Liz Cheney remains the person who saw nothing wrong with the former president*'s policies 92 percent of the time he was in office. Prior to that, she spent a lot of time being birther-curious during the Obama years, defending her inexcusable father's relentless attack on the very rule of law that she is now being fulsomely praised for defending, mongering war, carpetbagging her way into Congress from a state where nobody lives, and being an unusually vehement modern conservative hatchetperson. If the Trumps are the one family that should be kept away from power at whatever the cost, the Cheneys are strong contenders for second place.

So, while I would have golf-clapped for her speech on Tuesday night and, unlike nearly all of her Republican colleagues, I certainly would have sat there and listened, I still find in Liz Cheney the distillation of all that I distrust in the Never Trump faction of the Republican Party. Frankly, it's a little weird that it took a violent assault on her workplace to get the scales to drop from her eyes. I am not going to wave any palm fronds at her for saying what countless liberals have been saying about modern conservatism for decades now. Ultimately, though, Cheney's celebrated apostasy is simply a more dramatic attempt to argue that the fault lies solely with the former president* and not with the 40 years of policies that made someone like him not only possible but sadly inevitable.

But the celebration of Liz Cheney as a defender of American democracy is about something more important than her "heroism" and "character." America is a pathocracy and a failing democracy. The country's elites produce narratives about "saviors" and "heroes" as a way of providing symbolic cover to maintain their legitimacy. The American people long for saviors who will rescue them from feelings of existential crisis and impending doom.

Cheney and other "respectable" Republicans are indispensable figures in that narrative because they represent a yearning for and supposed return to a "responsible," "center-right" Republican Party, whose rebirth would supposedly bring America back to "normalcy." 

The problem here is that the Republican Party has over the last few decades moved further and further to the right, and the so-called center is now far away from what the American people actually want in terms of public policy. The scales are not balanced between the Democrats and the Republicans, and there is no median or "centrist" position between the country's two main political parties.

Instead, the Republicans are a right-wing extremist organization that opposes democracy, supports political terrorism and embraces white supremacy. By comparison, the Democrats, while far from perfect, respect the concept and practice of democracy, majority rule, the rule of law and the Constitution.  

On the haze and allure of the "center right" in American politics, amid recent discussions of the supposed "civil war" within the Republican Party and a possible breakaway anti-Trump party, Cas Mudde offers this warning in a recent essay for the Guardian:

Don't get me wrong. It is great that at least some former prominent Republicans are willing to stand up to Trump and for liberal democracy. But this initiative is not a serious competitor to the current Trumpian Republican party and it will not be the Republican party of the future. It does not even reflect the Republican Party of the past. Instead, it is the Republican party of an imagined past, harkening to a moderate, noble era that never really existed. Amplifying the anti-Trump Republicans' message uncritically, as many liberal media and politicians are doing, will not make them more relevant within the Republican party. However, it might help them further whitewash their own pasts as well as that of the Republican party.

Echoing Mudde's warning, MSNBC's Steve Benen has done the arithmetic and reports that only 4 percent of Republicans in the House are "mainstream" enough to vote with Democrats to hold Donald Trump accountable for his crimes against democracy, including the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The canonization of Liz Cheney and other "reasonable" Republicans is also an extension of the cult of worship and undeserved reverence for Ronald Reagan.

Once again, reality interferes: Reagan was almost a prototype for Donald Trump and the fascist political theater, the culture of distraction, the anti-intellectualism and the antisocial politics he represents.

Reaganism at its core consisted of racism, white supremacy, militant nationalism, empty symbolism and myth-making as substitutes for substantive politics, greed and cruelty, indifference to human suffering (as seen with the HIV-AIDS epidemic) and attacks on social democracy through gangster capitalism.

Some four decades later, Trumpism and American neo-fascism has taken Reagan's framework and amplified it to vastly more grotesque dimensions. 

As I have previously argued here if Ronald Reagan was the friendly or happy fascist, then Donald Trump and his successors are the ugly, mean ones.

In her quest for more power, and perhaps ultimately the White House, Liz Cheney is positioning herself as heir to the Reagan tradition. Her primary concern at the moment is to break through Donald Trump's influence over the Republican Party and the permission he has given the party to be brutish and obvious in its assault on American democracy and freedom.

Liz Cheney shares the long-term policy goals of the neofascist Republican Party, but wants to advance those goals in a way that appears "legitimate" and "democratic," using normal politics to inject poison into democracy in the service of anti-democratic goals.

Because of their strategic acumen and their deft ability to manage optics and performance, Cheney and the remaining "reasonable" Republicans may in some ways be more dangerous to American democracy and society than Donald Trump's fascist cult movement can ever be. Whatever else Liz Cheney may be, she is a Republican to her core — and the Republican Party as it exists now is a dire threat to America's future.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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