Why Republicans will always ignore the red flags of mass shootings

Mass shooters have more in common with the GOP base than just a love of heavy firepower

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 3, 2022 12:52PM (EDT)

Armed supporters of President Trump chant during a protest on January 6, 2021 in Salem, Oregon. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Armed supporters of President Trump chant during a protest on January 6, 2021 in Salem, Oregon. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

During his Thursday night address to the country following a staggering series of mass shootings across the country, President Joe Biden mostly focused his attention on the need for better gun laws. But — likely due to the fact that Republicans will block even the mildest of restrictions on gun access — Biden did toss a bone in the direction of the mental health discussion.

"There's a serious youth mental health crisis in this country," he noted, pointing out that he already proposed legislation that would "provide more school counselors, more school nurses, more mental health services for students." (He's referring to his Build Back Better plan that was killed by Republicans, with the assistance of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.) Republicans love to talk up "mental health" after mass shootings, but, as most everyone understands, they don't mean it. It's just a deflection from talking about gun control, because they know full well their radical "guns everywhere" views aren't exactly popular with the public. In the real world, as often as they can.

But truly, our situation is even darker than that. Republicans don't want to address the psychology that fuels mass shootings — alienation, irrational grievance, racism, and toxic masculinity — because those same mentalities are also what fuel the GOP base. 

RELATED: Texas Republicans loosened gun laws and slashed mental health funding before Uvalde shooting

"For God's sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?" Biden asked during his address Thursday evening. Clearly, for Republicans, there is no limit. 

The same social maladies that fuel mass shootings also motivate the GOP base.

It's not just because of their fetishization of guns. Republicans benefit politically from mass shootings in multiple ways. As I wrote last week at Salon, mass shootings help Republicans sow the cynicism and helplessness that demobilizes Democratic voters. And, as I touched on in last week's Standing Room Only newsletter, mass shootings function as heartlessness practice for their voters. Each ignored gun massacre makes it easier to continue supporting sociopathic GOP policies. 

But there's a third aspect to this, too. The same social maladies that fuel mass shootings also motivate the GOP base. The party has no reason to want cultural ills like bigotry or disaffection addressed because a more well-adjusted society won't produce enough GOP voters for them to win elections. The same forces that motivated two of the most prominent mass shootings in the past month — one in a Buffalo, New York grocery store and another in a Uvalde, Texas elementary school — are uncomfortably evocative of modern right-wing recruitment strategies, particularly those that target young men.

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This is most obvious when it comes to 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who is accused of shooting 13 Black people in Buffalo, killing 10. Gendron is reported to have buried himself deep in the "great replacement" conspiracy theory that claims shadowy "elites" are trying to eliminate or disempower the white race by engineering demographic change. White nationalists used to call this idea "white genocide." They've since cleaned it up a little with the "great replacement" language that has made it easier for figures like Tucker Carlson of Fox News to mainstream it

"Great replacement" is both obviously silly and grotesquely racist, but it's a conspiracy theory that's quickly cannibalizing the GOP base. A full two-thirds of Republican voters sign off on this conspiracy theory. They simply don't want to believe that change happens due to the relentless march of time and instead prefer believing in a sinister plot that resembles the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its idiocy. 

RELATED: Mass shooting in Buffalo: Tucker Carlson and other right-wing conspiracy theorists share the blame

Salvador Ramos, the Uvalde shooters, has been said to have "apolitical" motives. In truth, he — like most mass shooters — appears to have been fueled by toxic masculinity and misogyny, which are very much political worldviews. As the Washington Post reported, Ramos frequently "threatened to rape or kidnap" teenage girls online if they didn't give him the attention he wanted. But the girls shrugged it off, because, as one girl said, that's just "how online is." 

Republicans benefit politically when Americans feel alienated, atomized, and paranoid.

The girls aren't wrong that misogyny is mainstream and normalized. Indeed, it's the backbone of the Republican Party, which has been in an especially misogynist frenzy as of late as GOP legislators pass abortion bans across the country in anticipation of the upcoming overturn of Roe v. Wade. Things got particularly grotesque this week when the GOP celebrated on Twitter the travesty of justice that was the verdict in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial, one that was far more attributable to prejudice against domestic violence victims than to the actual evidence presented in court

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Republicans have long relied heavily in misogyny to keep their base riled up. It's only grown worse in the past few years, as authoritarians have really started to realize that tapping into young men's anger about women's equality and independence is a good way to pull them to the right. Republicans will view any interventions in public schools to help young men overcome misogynist urges before they curdle into toxic personalities as a direct attack on their main youth recruitment strategy. 

We already see this attitude in the GOP hostility towards social emotional learning, which is a pedagogic strategy teachers use to help kids grow into empathetic adults capable of emotional regulation. In theory, we all believe kids should learn decency and self-control. In practice, however, well-adjusted adults don't become loyal Fox News viewers, much less faithful Republican voters. So social emotional learning has been demonized as "woke" and attacked by the right. 

RELATED: What is "social emotional learning" — and how did it become the right's new CRT panic?

This all points to an even deeper and more existential issue: Republicans benefit politically when Americans feel alienated, atomized, and paranoid.

I touched on this in my newsletter, but I've been thinking a lot about Hannah Arendt's writings about how disconnection fuels authoritarianism. Voting for fascistic politicians is a way to express the nihilism that rises up in people who feel this detachment from their larger community. Donald Trump's appeal has never been his non-existent charisma. Republican voters embrace him as weapon they can use to hurt others. His main talent — and therefore his main appeal — is that he "triggers" the liberals. The mass shooter picks up a gun because he wants to feel dominant and instill pain and terror in others. The Republican voter has similar urges to lash out and dominate, but they channel it instead to voting for Trump. 

So truly, it's not just the bigotry, though that's a big part of it. The root causes of gun violence are baseless resentment, irrational grievance, and disaffection from society. Any measures that would reduce those social ills would also hurt Fox News ratings and GOP turnout. As we learned during the anti-vaccination push during the pandemic, Republicans would rather continue wrecking the wellbeing of the nation than give up even an ounce of power. The mental health crisis helps keep Republicans in power, so of course they won't do anything about it. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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