The current state of the Republican Party brings to mind the 1975 movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, based on the novel by Ken Kesey, about a petty criminal, Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who pleads insanity to avoid a prison sentence, and is sent to a mental institution for evaluation, where he rallies the other inmates to rebel against the oppressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
McMurphy’s ward is run by an unyielding tyrant, Nurse Ratched, who has cowed the patients into dejected institutionalized submission. McMurphy attempts to empower the patients, initiating a battle of wills with Nurse Ratched. Throughout, it is unclear just how mentally ill any of the patients in the ward actually are, and whether they really belong there.
McMurphy becomes friends with his fellow patients, especially Billy Bibbit, a suicidal, stuttering man-child who is repeatedly humiliated by Nurse Ratched; and “Chief” Bromden, a large, muscular Native American, who is schizophrenic and deaf-mute. McMurphy resolves to undermine Ratched’s authority, beginning at a group discussion, where he proposes the work schedule be altered to allow the patients to watch the World Series on television. Nurse Ratched responds by announcing the decision will be made by majority vote, but then manipulates the result by including votes of more seriously ill patients on another ward.
McMurphy next leads the patients in a basketball game against the orderlies, and when Chief Bromden scores several baskets, the orderlies claim the patients are cheating. Afterward, while the patients are relaxing in the hospital pool, McMurphy is told he has been committed, and will remain in the hospital until Nurse Ratched deems it appropriate to release him. McMurphy discovers that many of the patients in the ward are there voluntarily: they can leave at any time, but due to Ratched’s domineering treatment, they are afraid to do so. Next, McMurphy convinces a sympathetic doctor to loan his boat for the group to take a fishing trip, where, when questioned by the skeptical dock master, he introduces himself as “Doctor McMurphy” and then introduces each one of the other patients as his fellow “doctors” on staff at the hospital.
The next group session erupts in violence over Ratched’s cigarette rationing, and McMurphy and two other inmates are sent for electro-convulsive therapy, where, while waiting, a surprised McMurphy realizes that Chief can speak and hear him and has feigned his deaf-mute condition. A more defiant McMurphy emerges from his ECT treatment. At Christmas, McMurphy sneaks booze and girls into the ward for a loud party, and the patients are discovered the next morning asleep and hung over, and the ward and Nurse Ratched’s office are trashed. Ratched intimidates Billy, who, fearing humiliation if his mother is told he had sex with one of the girls, confesses that McMurphy organized the party. McMurphy attempts to escape, but is caught, and then, hearing screams down the hall, the patients and staff rush to Billy, who, left alone momentarily, has committed suicide, using a jagged piece of glass to slit his throat. McMurphy explodes into a violent rage, attacking and attempting to strangle Nurse Ratched, but is knocked unconscious and dragged off by orderlies. Rumors circulate about McMurphy’s fate, some believing he escaped; then late one night, McMurphy is quietly returned to his bed by orderlies. Chief finds McMurphy lying unresponsive, and sees the telltale scars on his forehead, indicating that he had been lobotomized. Chief suffocates his now vegetative friend with a pillow, lifts the huge marble fountain, hurls it through a barred window, and escapes to Canada.
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is No. 33 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years . . . 100 Movies list. The film was only the second to win all five major Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Actor in Lead Role, Best Actress in Lead Role, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. The movie won numerous Golden Globe and British-American Film Institute Awards. In 1993, the movie was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Now we have the Republican Congressional Leadership struggling to manage their caucus, their own Cuckoo’s Nest, and, as with the movie, it is not clear just how sane the members – or their leaders – are.
After repeating Donald Trump’s lies about the stolen election all over conservative media, and leading objections to the electoral college vote count in the House of Representatives, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at first publicly assigned Trump partial responsibility after the attack on the U.S. Capitol January 6th. Then, after scathing response from his membership, spread all through conservative media, McCarthy flew to Mar-A-Lago to debase himself before former president Trump, who holds a $250 million archest he has vowed to use against Republicans who vote to impeach him. Now, McCarthy is agonizing over how to deal with the Republican Party’s strong crosscurrents. Their newest conspiracy theorist, recently elected Congresswoman Marjorie Greene, among other publicized conspiracies, has called for assassination of Democratic leaders, and is refusing to acknowledge the election result or apologize for promotion of conspiracy theories spread by Quanon and conservative media. McCarthy is simultaneously managing calls from his membership for the removal of Liz Cheney, daughter of past Vice President Richard Cheney, from her leadership position in the House of Representatives over her vote to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Yesterday’s statement about the matter by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has brought the issue to a head:
“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country. Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11; that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged; and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”
More incredible than Marjorie Greene’s behavior is the exploding controversy over McConnell’s comment within the Republican caucus. What exactly is the controversy? Do House Republicans believe the Newtown and Parkland school shootings did not happen? That the Clintons did crash JFK’s plane? That the Pentagon was not crashed into by an aircraft on 9/11? That there is a place in the Republican Party for crazy conspiracy theories?
Ignored by McConnell’s self-righteous statement is the widely held belief by three-fourths of Republicans, that Donald Trump did win the 2020 election, and that it was stolen by Biden and the Democrats. As to this last conspiracy theory, Senator McConnell needs to first acknowledge his own role in enabling its chief sponsor after the election. Then he needs to speak to the ten members of his own Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate; then to the one-hundred-thirty-seven Republican members of the House of Representatives – two-thirds of the House caucus – who all objected to the formal counting of the Presidential electoral vote January 6th – both before and continuing after the Trump-inspired mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. Add to that the 45 Republican Senators who objected to the impeachment charge resulting from the attack on the basis that it is the trial itself, rather than Trump’s insurrectionist conduct, that is “unconstitutional”. This follows the bizarre defense argument from Trump’s 2019 impeachment, articulated by White House Legal Counsel Pat Cippoline, that it was Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who violated the Constitution by bringing the impeachment charges against Trump over the Ukraine matter to the Senate for trial. Then, of course, McConnell needs to address the fifty-plus million Republican voters who still believe Trump won the election.
The plain truth is, White, Christian Nationalism has persisted in our society, finding a home in the Confederacy, then the Ku Klux Klan, then the John Birch Society, and now the Republican Party. In the modern era, for more than a generation, the Republican Party has run its campaigns based on promotion of fantasy in economics; belligerence in foreign policy; ruthlessness in immigration policy; phony “originalist” Constitutional theories; and character assassination and conspiracy theories against Democratic rivals; relying on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and talk radio to spew their nonsense on the airwaves. The explosion of social media, with its hyperactive, self-reinforcing advertising algorithms, along with expansion of cable misinformation channels like AON and Newsmax, has caused the Republicans to lose control of the misinformation monster that they created. The brainwashed voter base the Republicans have used for decades to maintain power is now too large for the political leadership to dare disavow; it has taken on a life of its own and is being orchestrated by Donald Trump, its ringmaster.
In the meantime, we are left today with the image of the end result of the Trump election farce, spun out of control by the Republican Party leadership throughout conservative mass media; that is, today’s homage to Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, beaten to death by Donald Trump’s mob on January 6th. If this does not convince Republican leadership that words lead to actions, then nothing will, and they will be left by history in their own Cuckoo’s Nest.