The Deadly Combo of Republican Projection and Cynicism
When Gov. Brian Kemp and his Republican allies in Georgia recently passed an egregious voter- suppression law, targeted at African Americans, I wondered how they could be so shameless. Not only was their intent obvious, but the law was predicated on a lie, as their Republican Sec. of State confirmed what every state and federal probe found: that the 2020 election was safe and secure, with zero evidence of widespread voter fraud.
I wondered how they could sleep at night. Then I remembered a comment by Sen. Lindsey Graham back in October.
Speaking at a campaign event, Graham said, “I care about everybody. If you’re a young African American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state. You just need to be conservative, not liberal.”
This may have seemed like an innocent if clumsy joke, as it was surely intended to be, but the quip still offered a window into a certain Republican rationale — one that helps explain the mindset behind the Georgia law. Which is why the comment echoed in my head as we helplessly watched corrupt leaders subvert democracy (in ways they’ve always done, only now with media scrutiny). I had an epiphany.
These Republicans like Kemp and Graham know they are targeting Black voters — they barely try to hide it. But they don’t see this as racist since the move isn’t directly intended to suppress Black voters, per se, but rather Democratic voters, many of whom just happen to be black. We’re fine with African Americans, these Republicans say, as long as they’re conservative.
The twisted logic progresses in their mind like this: Democrats won Georgia. Republicans must win it back. African Americans turned out at a high rate and voted overwhelming for Democrats. Therefore Republicans must make it harder for African Americans to vote. Not because we’re racist but simply because we must win elections. It’s just politics, and plus, everyone is looking for a competitive edge.
Now, you might think, Okay, well that shows how they justify the inherent racism behind this but they’re still aware it’s cheating, right? Yes. And that brings me to the larger truth, from which every anti-democratic act or breathtaking display of hypocrisy flows: rank cynicism, projected onto the opposition.
Cynicism As A Gateway Attitude
To understand the Kemps and Grahams of the world — i.e. Republicans who know better — you must understand that they are cynical to the core. It’s a form of projection, thinking that everyone is as morally and ideologically bankrupt as them. But their idea that everyone is after power informs their actions. It’s how they can justify, not defend — which is an important distinction — these brazen acts, from targeting the Black vote with surgical precision to meddling in the counting of ballots in other states last November.
It’s the basic belief that Democrats would do the same if they could, a belief drilled into their head by the conservative propaganda machine, that makes all the gamesmanship okay. Once you’re convinced that all politicians are also driven by power and fame, then cheating is justified. It becomes essential. After all, everyone is seeking an unfair advantage. That is how they think.
And the cynicism, overwhelming as it is, prevents logic or reflection from seeping in too. Like streetlights blocking the stars from sight. They rarely reassess their own platform or messaging to reach minority voters through genuine persuasion, as Democrats must do to earn broad support. Because when you see politics as a zero-sum game for power, reflection is pointless. The end goal isn’t to build a diverse coalition as a means to governing but rather to win a seat through any means necessary.
Cynicism stunts the ability to learn and evolve, to cast aside arrogance and consider another’s perspective. To realize that not everyone seeks office for power. When you’re not forced to act in good faith, your false assumptions are never challenged. And so they remain ignorant by way of cynicism, convinced that politics is all a power-struggle and content to cheat rather than win legitimately.
So to understand how they sleep at night — when they enact laws based on a dangerous lie or defend Donald Trump as if the former president is not a sick joke — you must internalize the depths of their cynicism. The projection of their own character flaws onto others has poisoned their mind into thinking that everyone is as corrupt and in it for the same reasons.
Crystalized In Other Ways
This mindset extends beyond voter suppression. When Sen. Ron Johnson said he’d be afraid if it was antifa or BLM storming the Capitol, the public mostly focused on the racist element of such an ignorant statement. But the other telling aspect is that he truly believes Joe Biden inspires the same violent cult following as Trump. Which is crazy. Johnson’s idea that Biden’s and Trump’s support is just the opposite side of the same coin is as delusional as his comment was racist, as it fails to recognize the fundamental differences between how Biden and Trump appeal to their very different bases. Yet Johnson was serious.
As was Rep. Steve Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, when he defended the voter ID laws in the Georgia bill not on the merits — they never do — but by arguing that Democrats engage in the same dark practices. He said “If under Democrat logic, you should need an ID to enter even a grocery store, surely there wouldn’t be an objection to showing an ID to legally vote.” No such law exists. But Scalise has Fox-News brain, in which lies about the opposition become factual, confirming his paranoia that the other side is just as shady. Only a true cynic motivated by power could hear something so ridiculous and immediately believe it, so confident in his warped reality that he’ll spout the nonsense publicly.
Their distorted outlook on politics stems from cynicism, a type of suspicion nurtured by Fox News and the right-wing grievance machine. Once you wrongly believe antifa is a defined group and acts in service to Biden, or that grocery stores require ID to enter, or that Democrats would likewise target specific conservative voting blocs with suppression laws if they could, then responding in kind to these delusions is not only okay but necessary.
From open attempts to suppress the vote or overturn an election, to hypocrisy on issues like the deficit or Supreme Court, Republicans are guided by cynicism. It is the through line in the party’s slide toward reflexive authoritarianism. The genuine belief that your political opponents are just as empty and power-obsessed — that their political strength is also rooted in fear and cult hood, that they too have a propaganda apparatus — explains how high-minded Republicans are able to justify every word or action.