Will we really let ourselves be governed by irredeemable idiots? That's the choice, America

Anthony Fauci's hot-mic moment expressed the frustration many of us feel. But right now, the "morons" are winning

By Brian Karem


Published January 13, 2022 9:21AM (EST)

Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

As a thought experiment, see if you can consider any of today's societal problems independent of politics. You may find it impossible, since many of us believe our problems are caused by our divisive politics.  

Voting rights. Climate change. The pandemic. Health care. The economy. Education. Infrastructure. All of them have a political component, and because of that a good argument could be made that divisive politics is the single largest problem we face.  

Nothing is more representative of that than Wednesday's revelation that Republicans in several states forged electoral-vote letters on behalf of the former president in the 2020 presidential election. It does have the virtue of perhaps proving there was fraud in that election — but not by the Democrats.

RELATED: National Archives: Trump allies caught using forged documents to overturn 2020 election

If that doesn't convince you, then watch Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky grill Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday during a public hearing over the COVID pandemic. Engaged in a blatant effort to score political points with his "fans" (not his constituents), Paul verbally assaulted a government employee who is trying to deal with a crippling pandemic. Though Fauci has no power to impose mask mandates — or much of anything else — that hasn't stopped Paul from calling him a "petty tyrant." Kentucky's junior senator has been Fauci's chief Senate tormentor during the pandemic and has turned a health crisis into a blood sport. Fauci, who finally seems to have had enough, pointed out Tuesday that Paul has not only been harassing him, leading to death threats against Fauci and his family, but also fundraising off the harassment. 

What the hell took Fauci so long to call out Rand Paul? 

Yes, politics is the problem. President Biden also tried to deal with that Tuesday as he traveled to Georgia and spoke about voting rights and the need to get rid of the Senate filibuster in order to pass crucial voting legislation by simple majority vote. Kentucky's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, threatened retribution if the Democrats modify the filibuster. Of course. Republicans don't want to rely on a simple majority — they don't have one. And perhaps the move says something else about the two senators from the Bluegrass State, neither of whom was actually born in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

RELATED: Biden must make clear what Republicans know: The fight for democracy is a struggle over racism

"The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them," Biden said, arguing for a national law guaranteeing voter access. "Simple as that. The facts won't matter. Your vote won't matter. They'll just decide what they want, and then do it. That's the kind of power you see in totalitarian states. Not in democracies." He warned us that "the battle for the soul of America is not over."

"I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months," the president said. "I'm tired of being quiet." 

As Bruce Willis said in "Die Hard": "Welcome to the party, pal."

What the hell took you so long to get here?

In some circles, the mere suggestion of modifying the filibuster is treated as tantamount to removing someone's lungs to cure a fever. Of course, that nonsensical reasoning comes from the same political party with members who cannot openly denounce Nazis, while endorsing taking horse deworming pills, injecting bleach and drinking their own urine — either to battle the coronavirus or perhaps because they don't live in states where marijuana is legal and edibles are not readily available. I imagine weekends in those areas are mighty dull if you can't ingest bleach and drink your own urine.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

I'm siding with science and common sense and right now only the Democrats seem to exhibit any common sense or belief in science. At least they aren't advocating imbibing a libation made from your own micturition. At this point the Republican Party has no conscience. It is a party of fascists; angry, small-minded people with no sense of empathy,  overwhelmed by their own greed and avarice. Privately they may condemn the "Big Lie," but they don't have the temerity to do so publicly. They let the lies spread.

That's how the remnants of the Republican Party are scamming millions of Americans, by publicly pretending that knowledge and science are political commodities to be traded in the public arena, like pork belly futures. And journalists are aiding and abetting their efforts.

RELATED: Right-wing media and the pandemic: A toxic feedback loop that nurtured fascism

In our struggle to be balanced and fair in the media (and with all due respect, we've never been either of those things), we give ignorance and charlatanism a seat at the table and feed this pair of reprobates regularly. Face it: The American public has a soft spot for soft heads and rewards these dotards with attention, repeated viewing and reading. So it isn't just reporters. The whole country loves idiots. Reporters are just paying the bills by giving the people what they want — gullible, angry stupidity. 

The news business is horribly fractured and, in some circles, divisive reporting is seen as an even bigger problem than divisive politics. 

As Sam Donaldson writes in the foreword of my new book "Free the Press" — which will be released this week — "Today the cry of 'fake news' and denunciation of the press as 'enemies of the people' hounds the work of even the most careful and honest of news organizations, and the worst purveyors of off-the-wall conspiracy theories and laugh-out-loud falsehoods are followed with slavish devotion in the name of the First Amendment's freedom of the press." 

There is something to that too. Nothing could be easier than to fool a self-righteous, ignorant and arrogant reporter — and there are plenty of those around.

As H.L. Mencken pointed out, what ails most reporters is that they are people "without sufficient force of character to resist the blandishments" that surround them from the moment they set foot in Washington. "Journalists are, in the main, extremely stupid, sentimental and credulous fellows — because nothing is easier than to fool them," Mencken warned us.

Today the overwhelming arrogance and stupidity of most reporters is a direct result of media monopolies eliminating jobs and hiring inexperienced and cheaper reporters while downsizing newsrooms in order to increase profits. That has left us with  inexperienced reporters who don't know how to cover City Hall, much less the White House. 

We can't "call them as we see them," because most of us don't know what we're looking at. 

We're looking at fascists. 

The Republican party is a fascist party. Moreover, it is a corporate fascist party.

It backed the Jan. 6 insurrection. It wants to curb voting rights.

It labels any forward-looking legislation, such as infrastructure, universal health care and family leave as "socialist" policies. It is a party that overwhelmingly and publicly backs a man who pushed an insurrection to overturn legitimate election results. The members of this party only care about their own power, nothing for you. And they want to exploit you for everything you're worth — which, to them, is what you can bring to the table as a corporate indentured servant.

Yet we in the press have a hard time, because of our lack of experience combined with our sense of fair play, framing this narrative correctly — even as people like former Rep. Joe Walsh, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, former Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci, former Sen. Jeff Flake, longtime Republican lawyer George Conway and dozens of others have broken ranks and denounced their former colleagues for what they are. 

If you can separate politics from our problems, then take a look at the solutions proposed by the two major parties in this country and compare and contrast those proposals. In some cases, I question whether the Democratic Party understands the root cause of some of our problems. Their solutions are questionable at times.

But that still puts them light years ahead of the Republicans, who often have no answers at all. The stock in trade of the Republican Party is to make you afraid, bitter and resentful. They can only blame someone else, tear down reasonable solutions and counter science with bleach and urine.

RELATED: Don't bleach it away: Remembering the day Trump turned the GOP into a death cult

"Keep the faith," as Biden said Tuesday. "Let's go get this done."

When has a president been so direct and dire in his assessment of our country's future — and yet still so hopeful? The last one to exhibit those traits was Franklin D. Roosevelt — also a Democrat, who faced similar backlash as he battled the Great Depression.

Faith can move mountains. But it takes a real butt-kicking to move some politicians.

Does Biden have the shoe leather for that?

The need is demonstrable every day. At one point during the Senate hearings on Tuesday, Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas asked Dr. Fauci a patently stupid question about Fauci's income, blaming "big tech giants" for keeping that information from the public. The accusation was so unbelievably stupid (since Fauci's finances are already a matter of public record) that Fauci shot back, "All you have to do is ask for it. You're so misinformed it's extraordinary."

RELATED: Fauci's fed up: Hot mic catches top COVID doctor mocking GOP senator as a "moron"

Then, as Fauci pulled away from the mic, he could be heard muttering, "What a moron! Jesus Christ."

Yes. Morons. It sounds like a religion complete with its own Moron Tabernacle Choir (with apologies to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We elected these morons. We get the government we deserve when so few of us vote and when so few of us are educated about the issues, and especially when we treat politicians as if they were professional wrestlers and we're eager to see a smackdown. How close are we to seeing a President Dwayne Elizondo "Mountain Dew" Herbert Camacho?

As legendary TV newsman Edward R. Murrow said at the Radio, Television, News Directors Association annual meeting in 1958, "This nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans ... we are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But in terms of information, we are handicapping ourselves needlessly."

The day of reckoning is nigh upon us, and the midterm elections this year could decide for years to come whether or not we continue as a democracy. If we are successful, we have to quit playing games and get serious about reality.

As the computer Joshua warns us at the end of the movie "War Games": "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Joshua was talking about global thermonuclear war. That's hardly a game. But politics isn't a "game" either. It's supposed to be a way of working out our problems together in pursuit of common goals.

It would be nice if the American electorate were as smart as a fictional computer from a movie produced in 1984.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

MORE FROM Brian Karem

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Anthony Fauci Commentary Elections Joe Biden Media Mitch Mcconnell Rand Paul Republicans