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Nemesis Is a Comedian
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Nemesis Is a Comedian

And all addictions lead to degradation.

Rep. George Santos. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.)

There is a terrific scene in The Wire in which a young woman in a drug-recovery group describes her life as an addict on the streets of Baltimore. “I told myself I’d do a lot of s–t to get high, but I swore I would never trick.” Deep breath. “So, after I’m trickin’ …” Certain kinds of degradation she had specifically sworn off ended up being precisely the acts that kept her supplied with drugs. “Whatever it is you tell yourself you won’t do to get high—you’re pretty much making a list of everything you will do.” 

The Wire’s creator, David Simon, hated the way that conservatives embraced his show as a dramatic indictment of progressive policies in Democrat-run cities, but politics are unpredictable: Miss Baltimore there, with her to-do list of desperate humiliation, offers a pretty good diagnosis of Republican politics in Anno Domini 2023. 

If you spend any time wading through the incomprehensibilities of right-wing Twitter (I do not recommend it), then you will have noticed how prominent the slur “cuck”—for “cuckold”—is among a certain kind of cartoonish, self-proclaimed “alpha male.” One of the loudest and most histrionic of these was a certain John Goldman, who called himself “Jack Murphy” and was a prominent figure associated with the Claremont Institute for a while. Naturally, he turned out to be a literal cuckold and a performer in amateur homoerotic pornography. “Queer as Volk,” as Rod Dreher summarized the scene. His story is one of the reasons I despair of ever finishing my satirical novel about the American Right—one simply cannot keep up. 

I suppose I should clarify here (since I have been writing about pornography for a long time) that the cuckoldry that provides the natcons’ rhetorical framework isn’t simply Arthur-and-Guinevere stuff, the usual tale of infidelity and an unhappy marriage, but rather a humiliation-oriented subgenre of gay pornography in which the subject of the scene is forced to perform certain homosexual acts as a form of ritual degradation. It ought to tell us something useful—something worth knowing—that one very energetic branch of the right-wing world takes both its rhetoric and its moral analysis from the conventions of homoerotic pornography: The cartoonish “alpha male” posturing bears a very strong resemblance to the hypermasculine Tom of Finland-flavored iconography of the postwar gay subculture not because the world of national conservatives is full of repressed homosexuals (even if Donald Trump seems to have inherited Liberace’s interior decorator and the soundtrack for his wildly popular rallies—showtunes, the Village People, and, invariably, “Memory” from Cats—seems to have been lifted from a campy wake circa 1987) but because both groups are responding in an exaggerated way to insults to their masculinity. Or were, rather: There are a lot more married gay men these days and a lot fewer who dress up like members of a Waffen-SS motorcycle gang. 

My friend and colleague David French was pilloried by a few of these sophomoric new rightists, Sohrab Ahmari prominent among them, for insisting that we should not gut the First Amendment in order to prevent local libraries from participating in—because we live in the dumbest timeline—“drag queen story hours.” You know how these stories always go: The little men on Twitter insisted that French is a champion of drag queens and various exotic expressions of sexual license (he is, in fact, a quite orthodox Evangelical) rather than an actual constitutional lawyer who understands that the institutions that protect the free speech you like also protect the free speech you don’t like—a package deal. 

But Nemesis is above all things a comedian, and so now Republicans feel themselves compelled to defend the newly elected Long Island Rep. George Santos—who, on top of being a hugely prolific pathological liar and petty criminal, also turns out to be—of course!—an actual drag queen, albeit a desultory and amateur one. Move over drag queen story hour and make room for drag queen leadership on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (Perhaps they are hoping that Santos will contribute some science fiction to the proceedings.) You would think this scene would be more fabulous than it is. Instead, it is merely poetic. 

There are many things to which one may become addicted, and pills aren’t the worst of them. But all addictions involve degradation. Whatever it is you tell yourself you won’t do to get political power—even the pettiest and most transitory kind—you’re pretty much making a list of everything you will do. That bizarre clatter you hear is Republicans learning to walk in heels. 

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.