To speak or not to speak: It is no question

The consequences of modern Republicanism

To speak or not to speak, that is the question. For many prominent members of the Republican Party, the question has a simple answer: Speak if you will benefit, stay silent if you will not.
Like a lot of things in an increasingly-divided America, the heart of an issue is what remains unsaid. The superficial elements, though, are talked about exhaustively.
Take the recent mass shooting in a Nashville elementary school, for example. Three children and three adults were killed by a war weapon, in the hands of someone whose only intention of owning that weapon was to kill. The response by Republican lawmakers in Tennessee has been strikingly silent. Some chime in with an on-brand “it’s not the time to talk about this,” as if there will ever be a long-enough pause in these uniquely American murder sprees to sit down for a civil conversation.
When the facts are delivered to those representatives, they do not only practice silence, but also preach it: Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Cameron Sexton, for example, cut off Democratic Representative Bo Mitchell as he implored other members of the House to ramp up gun control.
“Representative Mitchell, you’re out of order,” Sexton said as Mitchell reminded the House on Monday, March 27, that “there’s six people today that I can’t welcome and honor anymore.”
That silence, chosen or enforced, is literally deadly. But speaking out on those same beliefs proves just as harmful.
Take the spread of disinformation coming from Fox News which, beginning in mid-April, will be on trial for defamation against the voting machine company Dominion. For months after the 2020 election, Fox News spread the baseless claim that the Dominion voting systems “flipped” votes in Biden’s favor, causing Trump to lose the election.
The worst part of the suit is not this rhetoric, though it is disturbing. Rather, it is the behind-the-scenes information spread among Fox News staff — mainly hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram, along with co-founder Rupert Murdoch. Texts among these individuals show that they intentionally misled their viewers.
Though they placed Trump on a pedestal in front of the camera to appeal to his fanbase, their internal messages prove that the on-screen praise was purely an act. The truth-bending, the conspiracy theories and the spread of prejudiced thinking was something that sold — and well — such that truth became optional.
One particularly disturbing, albeit not surprising, internal text came from a Fox Corporation Senior VP Raj Shah, who wrote following the 2020 election that Fox’s brand was “under heavy fire from our customer base,” and questioned “if (viewers) feel like they have been somehow betrayed by the network.”
To say that prominent Republicans only communicate in silence or falsehoods would be an overstatement. But I think these cases are exemplative of a larger pattern. For a party that boasts about free speech, there seems to be a lack of accountability in what they choose to say — and what they don’t.
To condemn mass shootings — of which, as I write, there have been 136 in the U.S. this year alone — would go against the “brand” of being a Republican. How could you acknowledge the fact that guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. when your reputation as a Republican is on the line?
How could you say that the election was not, in fact, “stolen,” if admitting to reality would mean your die-hard customers would tune out?
Like a lot of these problems, there’s a surprisingly simple answer: Those lawmakers, lobbyists and “newscasters” will never once have to face a tangible consequence of their actions. Their words flow freely and carelessly under the guise of free speech with no consideration for the consequences of that speech.
Their silence is met with the screaming pleas of parents who ask only that their child come home from school at the end of the day. But what does it matter? Those lawmakers, unlike the children they are elected to protect and claim to care about, will never hide under their desks. They will not hear a chill-inducing alarm in their final moments, fearing that the intruder is in the classroom next door. They will not lie dead in a hallway, barely a decade into their life, never having made it past the fifth grade.
Their words and their silence produce consequences that they will never face. Much like a single-use piece of plastic, they can discard the day’s headlines of another preventable tragedy without thinking twice. That’s someone else’s problem now.
Under modern Republicanism, the brand is what matters.
I think that deep down they know thoughts don’t matter. Prayers don’t matter. Words and the actions they inspire are what matter. Just look at the attempts to ban TikTok or children’s books or, for heaven’s sake, Black or queer studies in high schools. They know that words carry power, and have made thoughtful and malicious decisions time and again to ban those messages that spread fact while promoting those words that can prove deadly.
Whether or not the words Republicans speak are true to their ideologies, the consequences still exist and ripple into the public sphere in horrific ways. Spoken or not, the death of hundreds of children and the democracy they claim to love still stains their hands.
Think and pray about that.