Opinion | Forward Thinking: Is the Brown County GOP OK?
Political rhetoric has turned grim and violent. Local Republicans have unfortunately followed suit
By Eliza Cussen
The national conversation of how to define extremism is draining.
How do you define extremism? How do you classify participation versus tacit support? How do we protect the First Amendment while keeping our communities safe?
The problem is, whenever you think you’ve made a clear distinction, the needle keeps moving. What was considered extreme ten years ago has become normal, even expected discourse.
Locally, the Republican Party of Brown County’s recent winter newsletter offers up some national rhetoric in the following clear, crisp bullet points:
- White supremacy is a myth
- Gender fluidity is delusional
- Robert E. Lee was not a bad man
- Legal gun ownership is not a problem
- Climate change cannot be solved by America
To break this down, Robert E. Lee was a slaveholder and the general of the Confederate Army. He caused the deaths of 700,000 people to preserve the right to keep African people in bondage. If he doesn’t count as a bad person, who the hell does?
Green Bay Area Public School recently shut down in-person instruction due to continued threats and a handgun found in a student’s locker. Who among us thinks that guns aren’t a problem?
Demonizing trans people as “delusional?” That’s just cruel.
This is just a trickle in a sea of sharpening political discourse.
In November, Brown County GOP promoted an event held by No Better Friend Corp, a Wisconsin-based conservative outreach 501c4 organization. The event featured Scott Presler, a 33-year-old MAGA activist who, ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection, called the event the “largest civil rights protest in American history.”
Presler’s anti-Muslim record is so blatant other conservatives asked for him to be pulled from the lineup at CPAC. Yet the Republicans of Northeast Wisconsin pulled up a chair for him.
For over a year, there has been a coordinated campaign to discredit the results of the 2020 election in Green Bay (not Howard, De Pere, or Allouez, just Green Bay). On Jan. 6, 2021, a rally was held in solidarity with the insurrection in Washington at Green Bay City Hall. While City staff worked at their desks inside, outside people called for the overthrow of the United States government.
“The Proud Boys? You know who they are. The oath keepers, the militia. Listen, they aren’t going to sit back and let our freedom go down the drain. You bet there’s going to be a war,” said attendee Debra-Lynn in an interview with WTAQ.
Just to reiterate, people urging white supremacist groups to go to war should not be considered normal. People inviting neo-Nazis to speak at fundraisers should not be considered normal. Yet this extremism is filtering through every level of conservative civic life.
As a Democratic campaign worker and community organizer, it was hard for me to admit that I didn’t despise Mike Gallagher. I liked to imagine an alternative reality where he and I met in college and I saved him from a life of starched suits and neoliberalism. Maybe he would never have played hacky sack or joined the campus socialist group, but I feel like with a little exposure to the other side he could have turned out okay.
While our paths didn’t cross until it was too late, I found that whenever I spoke to him at town halls he would sincerely listen to me and treat me with respect.
Having studied international relations at university, I had enough knowledge to be able to judge that my Congressman knows a lot more than me. He has three Master’s degrees in intelligence and security studies. His thoughts on China, while hardline, are well-informed. I’ve always thought that he is someone worth listening to in his area of expertise.
But in the last year, Gallagher’s rhetoric has shifted. He is no longer the middle ground Reaganite representing a purple district. He’s long since forgotten his “Banana Republic” comments and Marine-sword-wielding memories in a post-Jan. 6 attack political landscape.
Instead, he’s MAGA all the way.
On December 6, Gallagher’s campaign email mailing list distributed a petition that called for Dr. Fauci to be fired “before he further destroys science.” The petition describes Dr. Fauci as “a grossly overpaid, arrogant, unelected bureaucrat in a lab coat who is perverting science to silence dissent.”
Further detaching from reality, he claimed that by teaching children the significance of race and racial justice, teachers would be moving “further away from the dream of a colorblind society.”
While his brand preaches “common sense”, his tone has become adversarial, and angry.
The consultants who write Gallagher’s fundraising emails are listening to people like Debra-Lynn and focus groups are telling Republicans up and down the ticket that the politics of fear will help them win. They are misreading what, in any other context, would be extreme for run-of-the-mill Republican talking points, but when “F-ck Joe Biden” is now as much of a Republican slogan as “small government,” this only stands to benefit people like Gallagher. When your base is calling for civil war, it’s very easy to appear moderate.
While I wouldn’t be one to attend a Brown County Republicans potluck, the rhetoric behind these events and campaigns makes me sad. I don’t think this is what most conservatives think of when they talk about liberty. It’s possible to break the cycle and change the narrative. We would just need supposedly moderate elected officials like Gallagher to listen to their conscience, instead of campaign coffers.
Eliza Cussen is a writer, campaign consultant and entrepreneur based in Green Bay Wisconsin. She serves as Communications Director for Kristina Shelton for Assembly. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she moved to Wisconsin in 2014.
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