It’s funny how legacies can work. Abraham Lincoln ended the practice of American slavery, inspiring Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts, one step on the road to Barack Obama being voted the first Black president of the United States.
But even at their most glorious, they can be creations of imperfect U.S. presidents. The same Lyndon Johnson who stood for civil rights was hounded out of office for lying about the Vietnam War.
Richard Nixon, who lied about everything, left Watergate as a symbol of his amorally brutal political tactics. This culture then deteriorated to Newt Gingrich, whose calculated demagoguery set the stage 20 years or so later for Donald Trump.
While Trump is laying low as he fends off his second impeachment — this time for inciting the Jan. 6 deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol building — a disciple, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is taking the Trump legacy and degrading his most flagrant extremism to become a new moronic normal.
Even though he’s the former president, Trump continues to intimidate Republicans — with a few exceptions — into disowning his very existence as a loser and rabble rouser. He also would have us ignore his cruel record, the daily drumbeat of hate and downright stupidity, in much the same way that the pandemic made us long for our relatively placid lives under his leadership before COVID.
But Greene makes Trump’s extremism look positively sane. She has grabbed the spotlight from him with her own hate-filled bleating and given nuttiness a new psychotic meaning. Through her QAnon conspiracy spouting, her supporting the assassination of Democratic Party leaders, she has grown a following by gross offensiveness. In the process, she has taken the craven GOP leadership and forced them to straddle the barbed wire of politics, between minimal decency and selling their souls. All but 11 of them voted against stripping her of her new committee assignments. Most of the GOP caucus got their twaddles wagging when describing their outrage at what Greene unapologetically spews, but wouldn’t dare vote against her.
That “big tent” of Republicanism now effectively stretches between Liz Cheney — an ultraconservative with a dubious lineage — and Mitch McConnell, who has dubious principles, all the way to the Proud Boys and Marjorie Taylor Greene. They are both proudly lunatic. What’s even crazier is that she is embraced by millions of Americans. The USA form of democracy is threatened by growing vigilante forces that are an attack on a jittery nation trying to fight two wars at the same time: the war against a rampaging coronavirus and domestic terrorism.
Neither battle is going well, partly due to the low morale of U.S. troops, meaning all U.S. citizens. Our past as a nation is catching up to us. By contrast, Joe Biden, the old warrior, is trying to stem the tide before we are drowned. He relies on sheer experience accumulated over many decades. The polls show that Americans like his style, but he is just a few weeks past his inauguration, still enjoying a honeymoon. Meanwhile, the opposition, the Republicans, are trying to untangle their fundamental factionalism that threatens to strangle them. So it lines up, currently as a steady hand of the Democrats, versus the chaos of the Republicans.
Ultimately, Donald Trump will be a passing fancy — passing hideousness, really. For that matter, Marjorie Taylor Greene will be too. They will stop capturing our imaginations with their obscene gibberish and be replaced by someone who draws attention with his or her even more incoherent prattle.
It’s highly probable, however, that they will drag us as a society even lower. It will be too late for Joe Biden, anyone, to rescue us from our downward spiral, particularly since the next to be politically famous can only be more infamous. If we don’t change our ways as a country, his or her heritage can only add to a crumbling legacy.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN; opinions are his own.