Marjorie Taylor Greene and the Bad Faith of the American People
Should one who has made violent threats against the American government be allowed to participate in that government as a representative of the people? How about one who is delusional? Or catastrophically incompetent?
For any reasonable person, these are not difficult questions. Indeed, they’re so straightforward that one to whom they are posed might suspect a joke or a trick. What would we say of one for whom these questions pose any sort of challenge or moral dilemma? We would likely say that they are irrational, stupid, or morally compromised.
With that in mind, let us consider the hearing held on Friday, April 22nd to determine whether Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia is qualified to hold office.
According to reports on the hearing, Greene advocated for not only the core tenet of the Big Lie — that President Donald Trump was denied victory in the 2020 election due to voter fraud — but also ancillary theories that the January 6th Capitol insurrection was a “false flag” operation. Unsurprisingly given her other beliefs, she also endorses the ridiculous QAnon conspiracy theory.
These beliefs are, of course, idiotic, demonstrating a total absence of the basic critical reasoning skills one would expect of any adult. But for American liberalism, such idiocy is no bar to holding public office. Indeed, among some demographics, it seems almost a requirement. If the people wish to be lead by dangerous fools, the liberal order asks only that the proper procedures be followed in installing them.
If Greene’s beliefs weren’t enough to decide the matter, we know as well that she “repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress.” Faced with these accusations, Greene repeatedly denied knowledge or memory of having made any such statements. This is of course a disingenuous and cowardly attempt to avoid having to take responsibility for her words, but even if we were to naively take her as being sincere, we would then find that she is clearly suffering from some form of amnesia or dementia. Unfortunately, neither is that a bar to holding public office, and in any case, she put herself on record as committed to the Big Lie.
Every reasonable person recognizes this hearing for the farce that it is, and yet we find ourselves committed to its outcome. If, following proper procedure, the right of a deluded, traitorous imbecile to hold public office and to decide on public policy is affirmed — and that is likely to be exactly the case — we will concede to that judgement and accept it as just and right. Certainly Greene’s opponents in the Democratic Party will whinge about the injustice of such a judgement, but will concede to it nevertheless, never suggesting that the system which allows such a thing to happen (and which simultaneously empowers and enriches them) must necessarily be flawed and untenable. Nor will they, for all their protestations, suggest that anything actually be done to prevent Greene and her authoritarian friends from attaining power and getting what they want, demonstrating that American liberalism is in fact a concession to any form of authoritarian tyranny, so long as said tyranny is established using the proper procedures.
What is the moral character of a nation which accepts such leadership on purely procedural grounds? What else will the American people and its public representatives accept so long as proper procedure is followed? One is reminded of psychologist Stanley Milgram’s behavioral study of obedience, in which participants administered (so they believed) dangerous or even lethal shocks to their fellow humans because they understood this as being necessary to the procedure of a trivial scientific experiment. One thinks as well of Hannah Arendt’s report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, in which we see that one of the foremost architects of the Holocaust was not a sadistic monster but rather a banal, clownish idiot who saw his actions as justified by his having followed proper procedure in carrying them out.
Drawing on Freudian psychoanalysis, Jean-Paul Sartre referred to this modality as mauvaise foi, “bad faith:”
By the distinction between the “id” and the “ego,” Freud has cut the psychic whole into two. I am the ego but I am not the id. I hold no privileged position in relation to my unconscious psyche. I am my own psychic phenomena in so far as I establish them in their conscious reality. For example I am the impulse to steal this or that book from this bookstall. I am an integral part of the impulse; I bring it to light and I determine myself hand-in-hand with it to commit the theft. But I am not those psychic facts, in so far as I receive them passively and am obliged to resort to hypotheses about their origin and their true meaning, just as the scholar makes conjectures about the nature and essence of an external phenomenon. (Being and Nothingness, 2011, Open Road, p. 116)
In the same way, the people divests itself of responsibility via a procedural code which they call the Law: “We are the people but we are not the Law.” The Law is something external, something given, something a priori, and this frees us from responsibility for the consequences of our actions. When a study finds that our drug laws, for example, have effected brutal race-based injustices over the course of decades, there is no question of finding the lawmakers responsible and holding them accountable for crimes against humanity (after all, they followed the proper procedures in having established these laws), nor the slightest suggestion that slavish adherence to even the most well-intentioned code of law is inherently and unavoidably oppressive. Laws, we say, may be good or bad, but a bad law is still part of the Law, and Law itself, beyond its specific content, is held inviolable.
That the outcome of the Greene hearing is even in question reveals the moral abdication of the American people. The burden of moral responsibility has proven too heavy for American shoulders to carry, and so we seek for some procedure to liberate us from our freedom. Despite the foundations of that procedure having been established by a slave-owning aristocracy, despite the enforcement agencies of that procedure having been established to maintain the power of said aristocracy, and despite parts of our contemporary procedural code having been constructed for the explicit purpose of oppression, we presume it neutral and objective, and follow its guidance without question. And if our procedures are manipulated by the unscrupulous to subvert democracy, we accept this as well. In this, the true character of the American political system is revealed: not a democracy in which the people are sovereign, but a methodocracy in which the people have negated their collective and individual wills, along with their moral judgement, and given themselves over to a body of laws and procedures, a deus ex machina in which they have vested their political faith, a religion truly worthy of a feckless, cowardly, and ignorant people.