For a political party whose membership skews older, it might be surprising that the spirit that most animates Republican politics today is best described with a phrase from the world of video games: “Owning the libs.”
Gamers borrowed the term from the nascent world of 1990s computer hacking, using it to describe their conquered opponents: “owned.” To “own the libs” does not require victory so much as a commitment to infuriating, flummoxing or otherwise distressing liberals with one’s awesomely uncompromising conservatism. And its pop-cultural roots and clipped snarkiness are perfectly aligned with a party that sees pouring fuel on the culture wars’ fire as its best shot at surviving an era of Democratic control.
In just the past month, Sen. Ted Cruz self-consciously joked at the Conservative Political Action Conference about his ill-timed jaunt to Cancun, decried mask-wearing as pro-statist virtue signaling, and closed his speech by screaming “Freedom,” a la William Wallace; House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted a video of himself reading a Dr. Seuss book in protest of the supposed censorship of the children’s author (whose estate decided to stop publishing six titles on account of stereotypes in their illustrations); Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene erected a sign outside her congressional office in Washington declaring “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE” across the hallway from the office of Democratic Rep. Marie Newman, whose daughter is transgender; even Rush Limbaugh, the late talk radio giant and progenitor of liberal “ownage,” got in one last braggadocious slap from beyond the grave: the occupation listed on his death certificate is “greatest radio host of all time.”
In one sense, this is the natural outgrowth of the Trump era. Inasmuch as there was a coherent belief that explained his agenda, it was lib-owning — whether that meant hobbling NATO, declining to disavow the QAnon conspiracy theory, floating the prospect of a fifth head on Mt. Rushmore (his, naturally), or using federal resources to combat the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
But in a post-Trump America, to “own the libs” is less an identifiable act or set of policy goals than an ethos, a way of life, even a civic religion. [Continue reading…]