Op-Ed: CPAC 2021 Stirs Controversy

Nazi iconography, the golden Trump statue and more


theguardian.com photo

On March 6 and 7, the Conservative Political Action Convention was held in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Orlando. For most conventions at the venue, the events of the weekend would have flown under the radar (a little too much partying out in the lobbies aside), but CPAC 2021 proved to be an anomaly. Tucked into the event’s “good faith” speeches on supporting American values were calls for further insurrection and the establishment of “Trumpism” as some ersatz faith, complete with their “Golden Calf.”
Rather than discussing ideas that would further their political party through concrete action, most of this year’s CPAC speakers were decidedly single-minded, with subject matter tied largely into the events of the previous administration and its figurehead. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” produced a particularly damning supercut of these speeches from the event, labeled “The GOP Is H*rny For Another Insurrection,” wherein clips were taken that revealed some of the speakers’ true feelings on the events of Jan. 6, 2021: “We will never retreat, we will never surrender,” proclaimed Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas; “My opponents and adversaries on the other side are brutal and vicious […] I need reinforcements in Washington, DC,” pleaded Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina; “Come fight with me; let’s get our best team together and go whip the Establishment,” shouted Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. This direct and dangerous phrasing seems to be intended as a rallying cry for those who participated, or wanted to participate, in the insurrection to give it a second try. Fortunately, though, it seems guaranteed the National Guard will actually be called in this time to handle things rather than be held back by certain members of the White House.
On top of this, many prominent conservatives spent the convention attempting to sell their base on a wide deck of conspiracies that have been spread among their party in the past few months – that Trump won but had the election stolen from him; that the COVID-19 virus was made up by the Democratic Party; that over half a million Americans hadn’t died as the result of cruel inaction; that the past year has been a collective pipe dream instead of an embarrassing spectacle on the world stage; that the insurrection was justified as a result.
Behavior like this proves what many have already known: that a large portion of the GOP’s leadership regrets nothing, and are in support of the insurrection on Jan. 6 and actions that may be taken in the future by those who stand by them. Now, with the coup d’état failed and a Democratic Congress and White House settled in, they stated publicly that their base hasn’t gone far enough and did so to thunderous applause and cheering. While this was expected and could have been the only scandal of the weekend, it pales in comparison to the Nazi symbology on public display.
Emboldened by Trump’s presence, it seems the CPAC organizers couldn’t resist the inclusion of a “dogwhistle” toward the alt-right – an alarming symbol of hate that took center-stage, quite literally. Many in the media sphere were quick to point out the CPAC stage took the shape of the Nordic odal rune. Meaning “Heritage,” this rune was historically co-opted by the Nazis during WWII and shared between several platoons, the S.S. Race and Settlement Main Office. Due to its association with a division of the S.S. meant to ensure racial purity within their party while it still existed, this emblem has persisted as an alternative to the traditional swastika for neo-Nazis. This association only gets more alarming in the modern day. The odal rune is a symbol now widely used by the National Socialist Movement (previously the American Nazi Party), a decision made following the election of Donald Trump in 2016 in a bid for the party to … you guessed it, enter politics. Though organizers deny that this was their intention in designing their stage this way, it certainly isn’t a stretch when you consider the party the convention was made for and the tendency for leadership within this party to rub elbows with the far-right. A venue should not have to publicly denounce hateful imagery of this kind, and wouldn’t have had to at any other convention. Not to ignore blame on the venue for actually hosting CPAC, of course; they did invite the conference into their venue.
Then, there’s the centerpiece of the event: the return of twice-impeached president Donald J. Trump into the limelight. Walking onto stage to the tune of “Proud to Be an American”, he began the speech by asking a witty “Hello CPAC, did you miss me yet? Do you miss me?” The crowd went wild. Going on, he spoke about how he won “all three” elections and how there had been a conspiracy to take them away from him from the very start — all the kinds of things the crowd appears to have wanted to hear from him after over a month of silence.
Taking jabs at the new administration, he had this to say: “Already the Biden Administration has proven that they are anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-borders, anti-energy, anti-women and anti-science.” My, the man’s a genius; it’s funny how a month has allowed this man’s damning acts to slip out of the public consciousness, as his description of the Biden Administration is one he would have been absolutely proud of during his term.
He then spent time calling out members of the House who hadn’t stood with him during the impeachment proceedings of the last month, damning them for their inability to fall in line after the deadly insurrection that put their lives at risk. Considering members of his administration are being contacted by the FBI in their investigation of the coup attempt, this really seems a poor time to rock the boat and call them the cowards. It’s a bold move for sure; they’ll just have to see how it pans out.
Never one to turn away from a bout of transphobia, Trump laced some in while commenting on the GOP’s stance on the trans community: “Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy women’s sports; young girls and women are incensed that they are being forced to compete against those who are … biological males. It’s not good for women; it’s not good for women’s sports.” In the following weeks, several Republican-led state legislatures, including Wisconsin’s own, have been pushing for bills that would limit the ability for trans men and women to compete in sports, including invasive “inspection” procedures. While this falls in line with legislation pushed by the GOP in the past, this is a new, disappointing low and likely why he commented on it to begin with, as a show of support. The GOP’s inability to foster any positive change in the past few years because of their obsessive, oppressive stances on race and gender often alarms me, and this year’s CPAC suggests they’ve learned nothing from the past four years when it could have been a pivotal point for their party.
It’s likely this won’t be the last we see of Trump – he announced in the speech that he’s going to run in 2024 – but that may prove to be a benefit to progressives. His actions have unquestionably divided part of Republican base, and the GOP is currently experiencing a drain on supporters as a result. There are some who support Trump and not the party, and others who take an opposite stance. Though he claims his further participation with the party won’t split it in two, he’s recently blocked the GOP from using his likeness for fundraising purposes, which further suggests a split between the two factions. Who knows? Maybe the legal action taken against him will catch up before he even gets the chance.
So that was CPAC, where the GOP has proven yet again that they would prefer the world a certain way – theirs. Their obsession with the past brings to mind an oft-used turn of phrase from Winston Churchill: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In the context of the modern day, society would do well to add another line to this: those who stare into the abyss of the past are destined to neglect the present, and in doing so, damn their future. Politicians such as these seem to seek humanity at its most inhumane and foster their hatred toward their fellow man – to sustain power; in exchange for a glimpse of a world they grew up in, long since extinct; to keep what they see as the “status quo:” cruelty. Whatever the reason, the modern GOP has taken to issues such as these rather than spending their time attempting to fix society’s ills. Progress, any move at equity, is tugged back by wrought-iron chains with very little benefit to the public. While I suppose they’ve dug their heels in on this for the past few decades, I also imagined at one point a future where Trump would have changed the GOP, not be revered as some golden god but as a man condemned for embodying the worst traits of the human race. Someone to pull their eyes away from and, in doing so, turn their minds to the present day once more.