Incoherent thought patterns, paranoia, mood swings, unexplained outbursts of anger, maladaptive fear-based responses to a fabricated threat of danger, extreme vigilance, making conflicting statements ... these are some of the warning signs of a nervous breakdown. They’re also, curiously, all behaviors being exhibited by several members of the Republican Party.
As a culture, we may be quick to treat the victim, but we’re not always as swift to tend to the bully.
While much of the attention in the past week has (rightfully) been directed at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s emotional distress about the Capitol riots, it’s important that we use the same framing when we talk about those responsible for it. While Ocasio-Cortez is being accused of aggrandizing a frankly normal reaction to a terrorizing event, the abnormal response to trauma that deserves our attention is that of many Republicans.
The Republican Party has a serious problem, and it needs a serious intervention. As a culture, we may be quick to treat the victim, but we’re not always as swift to tend to the bully.
“A lot of what we do in trauma therapy is to destigmatize having a traumatized response,” Molly Birkholm, a resilience and trauma specialist who has worked with thousands of people from C-suite executives to special forces members and human trafficking survivors, told me.
While Ocasio-Cortez is clear about the events that unfolded on Jan. 6, Republican critics are the ones who appear to be confused. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina is just one example of a Republican distorting her claims. Mace tweeted on the day of the attack that injured 140 people and killed a police officer that her office was being evacuated and expressed her distress about Capitol police being assaulted.
But she recently reversed her telling of the events. "My office is two doors down from Ocasio-Cortez. Not at one moment during the events of Jan. 6 did any rioter or any insurrectionist come down the hallways where our offices are located," she said.
That’s incoherent and it contradicts public records as well as her own words. If your friend had just survived a terrorist attack inside her own workplace, where a swarming group of armed men broke in, smashing windows, spreading their feces and urine on the walls, stealing private documents containing personal and sensitive information, all the while bellowing and howling their intention to hang her co-workers — and then she began contradicting the early version of events she shared with you, you’d probably be concerned for her.
“When we start acting from fear, we create more trauma.”
And then there’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who in addition to being visibly muddled about the events of the Capitol riots and her role in inciting them, seems confused about the events of her own life. In a speech delivered to the House last Thursday — the day she was ousted from two committee assignments — she justified her Islamophobia, her anti-Semitism, her calls for the assassination of her colleagues and her vile harassment of school shooting survivors by shifting blame to an unidentified amorphous force that apparently made these decisions for her.
"I was allowed to believe things that weren't true and I would ask questions about them," Greene said while claiming her own words "do not represent me," when that’s precisely what words do. She did apologize and stated astoundingly obvious facts like “9/11 absolutely happened,” and “school shootings are absolutely real.” Still, it’s surreal to see that people in her party continue to stand by her.
Birkholm described Republicans’ responses to accounts of trauma as extremely worrying. “What is happening right now is that all our congresspeople have some level of trauma, they had to evacuate the Capitol building and were not looking at how to take care of the mental health of those people,” she said. “This was traumatizing for Republicans and Democrats. But when we start acting from fear, we create more trauma.”
If the GOP was a friend of yours, you’d be concerned about her. If she was fabricating lies to justify behavior endangering the public, and was still expressing loyalty to a narcissistic abuser who encouraged her to enable heinous acts of violence, you’d be urging her to take a leave of absence from work, seek therapy and focus on herself for a bit.
But instead of pausing, reflecting and getting the help they need, many Republicans are doubling-down on the need to move on from the attacks, with Republicans like Rep. Devin Nunes of California blaming Ocasio-Cortez for being uncomfortable working alongside Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, after he encouraged the attack on the Capitol by parroting the president’s lies, and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, having the audacity to demand that she apologize.
The part of Taylor Greene’s Feb. 4 speech in which she admitted that QAnon had led her astray was particularly alarming because it was coupled with a contradictory defense of the domestic terror threat: When she blamed QAnon for leading her to act on irrational falsehoods, in the same breath, she said the media “is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies.” If Taylor Green truly believes that she was misled by an extremist group, why does she feel the need to defend it?
If the GOP was a friend of yours, you’d be concerned about her mental health.
This reminded Birkholm of a theory devised by the sex trafficking scholar and activist Ruchira Gupta, who researches the enablers of sex trafficking in India, and more specifically, those who, instead of escaping the brothel, stayed to run it. Gupta says that these women end up being enablers of a system because they’ve been ruptured by it.
“In the fear of not being consumed, we try to be the consumer,” Gupta said of these women. This sums up Taylor Green’s approach. She’s trying to win in a market where the only currency is fear. While Taylor Green won’t be sold anymore, she’s willing to be in charge of those who are.
While the hashtag for 9/11 attacks was #NeverForget, the Republican slogan for the domestic terror attack on the Capitol seems to be #NeverHappened. But just like 9/11, all of us saw the events Ocasio-Cortez recalled unfold before our eyes on live television, and we’ve seen several accounts and videos confirming the events since.
Trauma doesn’t have to be filmed to be believed, but in the case of the Capitol riots, we have the receipts. Bafflingly, however, a group of people within the Republican Party is denying what the entire world already knows to be true: World leaders, even the conservative ones, have already made statements about it, and it’s already in the public record.
To deny the accounts of those who survived the Capitol riots is akin to denying the stories of survivors of the Titanic because they didn’t sink with the ship. It’s absurd.