“Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful,” wrote the late great Molly Ivins.
Traditionally, maybe. Today? It’s not enough.
Twitter had a field day with news that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene once speculated that the Rothschilds financed a space beam to start a California wildfire.
“Jewish space lasers” started trending in Twitter last week after Media Matters for America reported on a 2018 Facebook post by the Georgia Republican, who has alarmed colleagues with her incendiary social media history. Her post describes a convoluted scheme in which “Rothschild Inc” may have financed a laser satellite to start the deadly 2018 Camp Fire, in order to (stay with me here) lower land prices for a rail project backed by California’s governor.
The jokes flew fast and furious, with some Jews asking that if there is such a laser, how could they get one. Others felt it should be spelled “Lazer,” like Lazer Wolf. In a slightly more serious vein, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait asked, “If you can pull off a massive conspiracy like that and keep it quiet, and you have a space laser you can use to immolate basically any target on Earth, there have to be more direct profit-making opportunities than burning down trees in order to arbitrage the land value for a public-transit contract.”
All the jokesters were well-intentioned, under the belief that mockery is called for in the face of Greene’s preposterous conspiracy-mongering. But what if it isn’t? Perhaps at another time, in another place, satire might be just the thing to bring down a wingnut like Greene. But these are dangerous times, and dangerous people look to Greene for inspiration.
In other posts, Greene has lambasted “Zionist supremacists” and advanced the “great replacement” theory, which accuses Jews of conspiring to undermine white-majority countries by bringing in non-white immigrants.
With no bipartisan will to expel her, Democrats will apparently strip Greene of her committee appointments, citing her conspiracy theories, her accusations that the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings were “false flag” operations, and past social media posts threatening violence against lawmakers.
We used to be comforted that such ideas were “outside the mainstream,” but Greene is now a member of Congress. And the jokes and the attention focused on her threaten to distract from the conspiratorial thinking that has taken hold elsewhere in the party. A majority of Republicans say they believe the Big Lie that another secret cabal overturned Donald Trump’s rightful election. Conspiracy theorists met up in real time and stormed the Capitol, and hours later 147 Republican lawmakers raised objections to certifying Joe Biden as president.
I’m pretty sure Greene’s Capitol Hill colleagues aren’t laughing, not when she bristles at passing through a metal detector and brags of packing heat on the floor of Congress. As Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida said, “Many members of Congress are afraid to be in the building with her.”
Standing up to madmen and madwomen takes people of conscience, with the courage to back up their principles with clear action.
Republicans have been, let’s say, slow to condemn Greene. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, issued what the Times called a “tortured statement” denouncing her statements but left it up to House Democrats to discipline her. The more serious business for House Republicans, apparently, was the behavior of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who dared to vote to impeach Donald Trump. Christians United for Israel was quicker to condemn Greene than some Jewish groups I could name.
For a long time we either laughed at the lunatic fringe, or tried to laugh them off. God bless Stephen Colbert and the other late-night hosts who still think satire is effective in exposing hate and lies – and maybe, given the suburban disillusionment that cost Trump the election, they were right.
But I have my doubts. Jews told great jokes about Hitler, and Stalin, and probably Nebuchadnezzar for all I know. It wasn’t enough. Standing up to madmen and madwomen takes people of conscience, with the courage to back up their principles with clear action.
Although given the political winds these days, it might just be easier to build a space laser.
Andrew Silow-Carroll (@SilowCarroll) is the editor in chief of The Jewish Week.