Marjorie Taylor Greene is no intellectual giant. But she knows what she's doing. These days she has taken to calling Joe Biden's government a "regime." Greg Sargent writes:
No U.S. lawmaker rhapsodizes about political violence as enthusiastically as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. On Saturday, the Georgia Republican raged: “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they’ve already started the killings.” After the FBI search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, Greene suggested the United States is embroiled in “civil war.”
The term “regime” is a mainstay of Greene’s political vocabulary, and right-wing authoritarian nationalists in Congress and the media are using it more and more prominently. Understanding the term is essential to grasping what’s happening with today’s MAGA-fied right and why some experts fear we may be hurtling toward rising political violence and instability.
Greene is on the leading edge of this trend. After the Mar-a-Lago search, she suggested that only “countries during civil war” typically see such “rogue” behavior by the state. Soon after, the term “regime” quickly became central to the right’s Mar-a-Lago narrative as a way to express that thought.
The January 6th insurrection failed. But Greene is a sign that another insurrection is coming:
It’s telling that all the “regime” talk exploded after the Mar-a-Lago incident. After all, the search was authorized by a judge who saw probable cause to believe that three federal statutes may have been violated. It ended up recovering reams of classified documents that Trump hoarded, after his own lawyers suggested to investigators that none remained.
To call this the work of the Biden “regime” is really to say that the act of applying the law to Trump will be treated as fundamentally illegitimate. When Greene claims this is the stuff of civil wars and rogue regimes, she really means that holding Trump accountable to the law should be regarded by his supporters as an act of war.
What's going on?
Conservatism scholar Joshua Tait explains how this works in his etymology of the “regime” term for the Bulwark. The word, Tait notes, is meant to invoke a sense that a range of U.S. institutions — the administrative state, the media, universities, etc. — have been irredeemably captured by the left, creating a “regime” that in some vague sense exercises hidden but tyrannical control.
As Tait writes, in this formulation, Trump is the tribune of “the people” — selectively defined — who is waging war on their behalf against this disguised tyranny. The “regime” has fought back with more oppression, which proves the truth of the original formulation in a conveniently self-reinforcing loop.
“What do people ultimately do to regimes?” Tait asks rhetorically. “They topple them.” To call the legitimately elected Biden administration “the regime,” Tait argues, “is an implicit call to overthrow it.”
Steven Levitsky, a scholar of democratic breakdown, sees this as roughly analogous to Latin American countries in which the concerted delegitimization of elected governments was followed by coups.
“To call a democratically elected government a ‘regime’ is to deliberately undermine its legitimacy and justify authoritarian and violent acts against it,” Levitsky tells me.
The mainstreaming of the term among Republicans bodes badly for what’s to come, Levitsky warns. This comes after a large swath of Republicans went all in with Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and then with placing him beyond accountability for the mob’s coup attempt, and as political violence is increasingly glorified in GOP politics.
Now the term “regime” is being employed strategically to justify the further abandonment of democracy, Levitsky notes: “This is clear evidence that a big sector of the party is now on authoritarian terrain.”
It's tempting to see Taylor Greene as an airhead -- because, in some ways, she is. But she is also very dangerous.
Image: Time Magazine