Over the weekend, Republican Texas Senator and former Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn tweeted the following:
"We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become." Benito Mussolini
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) February 24, 2019
There are two possible interpretations of this tweet. The first is that Cornyn is tweeting out a Benito Mussolini quote as a warning that curtailing liberties is the first step to fascism. The second is that a three-term U.S. Senator—as well as a former Texas Supreme Court justice and a UVA law grad—casually announced his hitherto unknown support for fascism.
I phrased my headline the way I did because I have a hard time believing that anyone actually believed option two happened. It would be uncharitable to even suggest they believed it. But they sure pretended they did!
A UNITED STATES SENATOR IS OPENLY QUOTING MUSSOLINI
— Lee J. Carter (@carterforva) February 24, 2019
How many sirens need to go off before we admit it: "GOP-Nazi Party" is not hyperbole. https://t.co/gvRLDFnJoY
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— Eli Valley (@elivalley) February 24, 2019
Nothing quite extols Texas' rugged individualism like its Senator quoting a fascist on the need to destroy individualism. https://t.co/PDQcV8Jxxb
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) February 24, 2019
Apparently we’re at the "elected official quotes Mussolini" stage of the fascist creep. pic.twitter.com/iqQwlczYFU
— New York City Antifa (@NYCAntifa) February 24, 2019
Republicans: Stop comparing us to Nazis and Mussolini.
— JRehling (@JRehling) February 24, 2019
Uh.. what the f*ck? Is this who GOP leaders look to now? https://t.co/0WDZKsNRq2
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) February 24, 2019
What a f***ing moron this guy is. They don't even pretend anymore. Just go right ahead and quote the guy who invented fascism. https://t.co/WgGRCONxdn
— Bob Levine (@idguy) February 25, 2019
They’re saying the quiet parts out loud now. Specifically, quoting Italian Hitler to support their policies. https://t.co/HgoqwDOIa8
— Aaron Mahnke (@amahnke) February 24, 2019
literally stanning fascists to own the libs https://t.co/zrfTk81g7q
— (@prof_gabriele) February 24, 2019
It’s a free country and you can quote anyone you want, sir, but I dunno, this guy sounds like some sort of fascist. https://t.co/o8C42WOpzB
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) February 25, 2019
That led to garbage clickbait in garbage publications by garbage reporters, such as HuffPo claiming that Cornyn gave a "shoutout" to Mussolini. To the media's credit, they initially ignored the story, with only outlets like TMZ or Raw Story also getting in on the fun. At no point did Resistance Twitter seem to ponder why even most liberal outlets were ignoring such a supposedly damning tweet.
Cornyn's sane opponents likely recognize that quoting A Very Bad Person saying something you think your opponents believe is a very common rhetorical tool that doesn't suggest admiration for said Very Bad Person. How many times have you encountered that Hitler quote about the "big enough lie" in connection to Trump, or his quote about gun control in connection to the Democrats? It's usually a cheap hit to be sure and open to legitimate criticism, but in Cornyn's defense, he noted he was following in the footsteps of no less than Friedrich Hayek.
FYI. This is a quote from F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom https://t.co/XjnHmycedD
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) February 25, 2019
The marginally more intelligent critics of Cornyn didn't overtly accuse the senator of endorsing fascism. The far more weaselly criticism was to be aghast simply that Cornyn was quoting a fascist and leave it at that. This is the line Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., NY) among others seized on.
In case you missed it, while the GOP is calling paying a living wage "socialism," a Republican Senator full-on quoted National Fascist Party leader and Hitler ally Benito Mussolini like it’s a Hallmark card.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 25, 2019
Can someone explain to me why Cornyn is quoting Mussolini? https://t.co/KbFddnyLBy
— Bill Prady (@billprady) February 25, 2019
Just a U.S. senator quoting Mussolini. No big deal. https://t.co/y4JH78ZIXI
— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) February 24, 2019
.@JohnCornyn is openly quoting Mussolini. A fascist.
Need I say more? https://t.co/AlCQfJweJu
— Jodi Jacobson (@jljacobson) February 24, 2019
This is just a cute way of suggesting Cornyn is a fascist without actually saying so. The only reason to be upset at someone quoting a fascist is if you think it signals their support for their ideas. There has never been a taboo I'm aware of against quoting negative figures in a disapproving context. "Need I say more?" writes Jacobson rather than actually saying more, because she recognizes how ridiculous her implication is and doesn't want to be held to it.
Again, despite his tweet being supposedly scandalous, Congresswoman My-Twitter-Critics-Are-A-Secret-Bot-Army is the only Democratic member of Congress to attack Cornyn. When was the last time a partisan attack on a Republican senator was too embarrassing for Salon and Brian Schatz?
"Did I over estimate the intelligence of some in the twitter sphere?" Cornyn snarked in response to the faux controversy. Well, no; they understood exactly what he was trying to say. What he overestimated was their integrity and capacity for shame.
Correction: Cornyn was once a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and not a federal judge, as this blog post originally said.