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Opinion: Liz Cheney proves it: The Republican Party is autocratic

Liz Cheney speaks to reporters after House Republicans ousted her from her leadership position.
Liz Cheney speaks to reporters after House Republicans voted to oust her from her leadership position on May 12.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 15, 2021. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Two weeks ago, judging by your emails, I upset a number of readers by writing this in the newsletter: “At best, today’s Republican Party is a dwindling reactionary faction bereft of workable ideas; at worst, it is a nationalist, race-baiting, Trumpist sect that threatens American democracy.” The observation then was pegged to news that the movement to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom had gathered enough signatures to force an election, but now it applies just as neatly to the spectacle that played out in Washington this week over Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) unremarkable yet heretical honesty about Donald Trump’s dangerous mendacity.

Cheney, as you may know by now, was removed from her House Republican leadership position because of her continuing insistence that Trump is lying about the 2020 election being stolen and that he deserved to be impeached for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. Your mileage may vary on whether it was Cheney’s embrace of the truth or her inconvenient stridence in telling it that got her removed from leadership — a topic explored by former GOP operative Scott Jennings. But there should be no mistaking what this means for the party: It is a movement devoted not to an ideology or an approach toward governing, but almost solely to Trump. It is a party about its leader and not about any ideas.

In other words — and to borrow Masha Gessen’s phrasing — the Republican Party is an autocratic party.

Some have found different ways to say this; many L.A. Times readers prefer to describe today’s GOP as a cult, language that was used in a Times editorial referring to a Trumpist cult within the party. I prefer Gessen’s language here, mostly because cults tend to direct their predatory energy inward and close themselves off to the world (except to gain new followers). Describing the Republican Party as an autocratic movement acknowledges the cultishness that exists while also conveying the threat to democracy it poses. For all its ideological degradation and self-delusion, the GOP is certain to govern again soon, and in its current state it will do so as a fully Trumpist, openly autocratic party.

How fortunate we are to live in California.

Want to see the Big Lie die? Take it to court. Columnist Harry Litman picks up on a trend after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot: Republican politicians might be indulging Trump’s fantasy of a stolen election, but those arrested for allegedly participating in the insurrection are singing a different tune in court, where they must tell the truth or face perjury charges. Says Litman: “The Trump years have taken some politicians’ tolerance for dishonesty to new highs. Until we can reimpose a political cost for brazen untruths, we have to look to the legal system to enforce sanity.” L.A. Times

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The GOP keeps doubling down on its biggest loser. Trump lost by a lot in 2020, but you wouldn’t know it by the Republicans’ insistence that one of the most reliably unpopular presidents in U.S. history is in fact their leader. Virginia Heffernan posits a psychological tick in gambling that may be at play here: “There’s a mental phenomenon known among gamblers as tilt. It’s a brain-hijacking that happens after an ego blow. Rather than taking a break, a gambler on tilt becomes absolutely convinced he should have won the hand or the slot-machine tug. He starts to risk greater and greater sums of money to offset shame, regain honor and prove he was right.” L.A. Times

Lake Mead is evaporating fast. That portends major changes. The world’s largest reservoir keeps Las Vegas impossibly lush and was the reason cities such as Los Angeles and Phoenix could pipe in water to their exponentially growing populations. But a megadrought in the West is reducing flows in the Colorado River and lowering the level of Lake Mead precipitously fast, proving we cannot always engineer against the vagaries of nature. New York Times

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Don’t trash that mask yet. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s OK for fully vaccinated adults to go maskless in many indoor settings now, but its recommendation does not supersede the stricter rules in place in California and Los Angeles County, says The Times’ Editorial Board. Plus, there’s this: How do you know that all those adults you’re about to see walking around unmasked are being honest about their vaccination status? L.A. Times

Remember when Trump was supposed to herald the arrival of a more LGBTQ-friendly Republican Party? That was in 2016; now, the party has cruelly adopted bashing transgender kids as a political strategy, evidenced by the anti-trans bills in 33 states targeting — yes — children. LZ Granderson writes: “These anti-trans bills dominating the headlines are not about high school sports or safe public restrooms. They’re about homophobia and transphobia masquerading as sound policy. Just like these voter suppression bills are not about stopping fraud and Alabama’s ban on yoga is not about preventing religion from being taught in schools.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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