Some days, it’s the little things, the small absurdities in the news that make a person wonder if there’s any real hope for American democracy.
Consider, for example, the Christmas greeting sent out by Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, featuring the congressman and his entire family brandishing semi-automatic rifles and grinning into the camera like some latter-day Bonnie and Clyde. Or “Y’all Qaeda,” as somebody derisively dubbed the happy family on Twitter.
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There’s a Christmas tree in the background, and a cheery holiday message: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.”
Ho, ho, ho!
This, only a few days after a disturbed 15-year-old in Michigan murdered four high school classmates with a semi-automatic handgun that his parents gave him as an early Christmas gift.
Oh yeah, this too: Massie himself appears to be fondling an actual machine gun, presumably to let everybody know who’s the head honcho of this hardy brood of crackpots. None of whom, you can bet your own personal Colt .45, has ever heard a shot fired in anger, nor — prayerfully — ever will.
Somebody who has experienced actual combat, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., an Iraq War veteran, put it this way: “I’m pro Second Amendment, but this isn’t supporting the right to keep and bear arms, this is a gun fetish.”
My sentiments exactly. The current right-wing idolatry of firearms as totemic objects, it seems to me, signifies arrested development in those like Massie who make a spectacle of brandishing them. You can’t hunt or go target-shooting with a heavy-caliber automatic weapon. They’re useless for self-defense or for anything other than military purposes.
Anti-masker, anti-vaxxer, anti-climate science
Speaking of arrested development, you may not be astonished to learn that Massie’s Facebook page identifies him as a “Libertarian” — that is, as somebody whose intellectual development stalled at the “You’re not the boss of me” stage of early adolescence. The congressman, whose district stretches along the Ohio River in rural northern Kentucky, has made rather a specialty of solitary grandstanding.
Back in 2013, Massie was the only congressman to vote against the Undetectable Firearms Act, a bill to prevent non-metallic weapons from being smuggled aboard airplanes. (Or into the U.S. Capitol, for that matter.) His was the only vote against the Stolen Valor Act punishing people falsely posing as war heroes. In 2017, he cast the lone vote against sanctioning North Korea. He’s also provided solitary votes against helping to build Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and against supporting Hong Kong’s democracy.
Trained as a mechanical engineer at MIT — just to show you — he derides climatology as “pseudoscience” and rejects all efforts to do anything about it. Regarding the COVID-19 plague, he has argued fiercely against mask mandates. He and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, to give readers an idea of the company he keeps, have sued Speaker Nancy Pelosi after being fined for refusing to wear masks on the House floor.
Like Greene, he has compared vaccination mandates to the Holocaust, trivializing the gravest crime in living memory. “There is no authority in the Constitution that authorizes the government to stick a needle in you against your will, [or] force you to wear a face mask,” he once tweeted. “Can you imagine the signers of the Declaration of Independence submitting to any of these things?!”
Better-informed critics quickly cited Constitutional Law 101: “Congress shall have power to ... provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.” Others noted that in 1776, Gen. George Washington inoculated his army against smallpox at Valley Forge. Putting down the epidemic proved decisive in the Revolutionary War.
Me, I wondered if Rep. Massie thinks laws requiring him to wear pants constitute government tyranny? Indeed, no less an authority than Donald J. Trump — irritated by a move in March 2020 in which Massie demanded an in-person floor vote, delaying a COVID-19 relief bill that had passed 96-0 in the Senate — called him “a third-rate grandstander” who should be drummed out of the Republican Party. Former Sen. John Kerry commented that Massie had “tested positive for being an ***hole.”
And yet, the five-term congressman endures, an experienced vaudeville performer and firm fixture in the GOP Clown Caucus, along with such worthies as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and noted cartoon assassin Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Colo. Me, I’m just glad he’s not from Arkansas, where I live, although we have a couple of districts where his slack-jawed comedy stylings — filing bills to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example — would definitely play.
He’d have to make up with Trump, however, although abject flattery is all that’s really necessary to win the great man’s favor.
You’d like to think Massie’s grotesque parody of a Christmas card would finish him politically. But then, you’d like to think a lot of things.
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Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”