Why has Republican rhetoric gotten so unhinged? It's pure projection

South Carolina's governor recently vowed to fight Biden to "the gates of hell." Where is this even coming from?

Published September 18, 2021 8:00AM (EDT)

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks to a crowd during an election night party on Nov. 3, 2020, in Columbia, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks to a crowd during an election night party on Nov. 3, 2020, in Columbia, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Some Republicans have dialed up the hyperbole to express their indignation about President Biden's vaccine mandates. Here are two tweets from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster:

The American Dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden and the radical Democrats. They have declared war against capitalism, thumbed their noses at the Constitution, and empowered our enemies abroad.

Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian."

Hearing Republican politicians speak about the American dream while voting against a livable minimum wage and undermining unions and consumer protection, is always, well, a little rich.

In this little tirade, McMaster was merely piling on while reacting to the supposed tyranny of Biden's recently announced mandates for vaccinations or testing in the workplace and in school.

So: You will fight sensible policies in an ongoing global health crisis — one that has already taken at least 660,000 lives of your own countrymen — to the gates of hell? Beyond the obvious morbid jokes that statement naturally elicits (e.g., Trevor Noah: "Normally, that statement is hyperbole, but with COVID you might actually get the chance."), where can McMaster now go if he wants to further ratchet up this rhetoric?

  • Before I listen to you, you'll see me do-si-do with Satan himself!
  • Do so, and you'll be up the River Styx without a paddle, pardner!
  • I'd rather traverse down all nine levels of Dante's Inferno, with a poet, than be bipartisan with the likes of you!

And how about that use of "thumbing their noses"? With that aged locution, the good governor is, without doubt, speaking directly to his demographic.

If one wanted to use old-fashioned phrases or words, one might ask: What is it with this ceaseless perfidiousness from the right? Merriam-Webster defines "perfidious" as "untrue to what should command one's fidelity or allegiance." Synonyms include faithless, false, disloyal, treacherous and traitorous.

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One need only consider the Republican votes during the two impeachment trials of Donald Trump, or their Trumpian adherence to the Big Lie about the 2020 election, or their whitewashing of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol, to understand the word. It might be a fun game to connect the most apt synonym with specific members of the House or Senate. 

For decades the Republican game has been to claim that liberals and progressives are out to ruin the country with their unholy desire to see a bit more sharing of wealth and resources. But the rhetoric they're employing lately seems truly biblical, end-times unhinged, of the "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore" variety. And it all seems to be a psychological projection of their own desire to bring the American experiment as a democratic republic to an end.

The left now understands (let us hope) that like the British aristocracy of the 18th century, the GOP is going to war to retain power by any means. We need a modern-day Paul Revere (and a William Dawes, who didn't get a mention in the famous Longfellow poem) to raise the alarm. Their signals in the Old North Church today might be: "One if by gerrymandered land, and two if by voters put out to sea."

Our modern-day Revere, Stacey Abrams, can see those three lanterns glowing, day and night. Even with her eyes shut.

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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Commentary Democracy Donald Trump Henry Mcmaster Joe Biden Republicans Vaccine Mandates Voting Rights