The shocking acquittal of Ken Paxton in Texas despite what the Washington Post accurately called “mountains of damning evidence” should have been predictable.
Why do I say that? Because we’ve had other signs of the thuggery that has become deliberate Republican strategy. A few weeks ago, Yoel Roth highlighted that strategy in an opinion piece for the New York Times. Roth was formerly the head of “trust and safety” at Twitter–and one of those who made the call to ban Trump from Twitter. He says that nothing prepared him for what followed.
Backed by fans on social media, Mr. Trump publicly attacked me. Two years later, following his acquisition of Twitter and after I resigned my role as the company’s head of trust and safety, Elon Musk added fuel to the fire. I’ve lived with armed guards outside my home and have had to upend my family, go into hiding for months and repeatedly move.
This isn’t a story I relish revisiting. But I’ve learned that what happened to me wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just personal vindictiveness or “cancel culture.” It was a strategy — one that affects not just targeted individuals like me, but all of us, as it is rapidly changing what we see online.
Roth’s essay detailed a campaign of online harassment that lasted months. Twitter users demanded that he be fired, jailed or killed. And it had the desired effect on those who were watching.
Private individuals — from academic researchers to employees of tech companies — are increasingly the targets of lawsuits, congressional hearings and vicious online attacks. These efforts, staged largely by the right, are having their desired effect: Universities are cutting back on efforts to quantify abusive and misleading information spreading online. Social media companies are shying away from making the kind of difficult decisions my team did when we intervened against Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Platforms had finally begun taking these risks seriously only after the 2016 election. Now, faced with the prospect of disproportionate attacks on their employees, companies seem increasingly reluctant to make controversial decisions, letting misinformation and abuse fester in order to avoid provoking public retaliation.
In Texas, those of us following the Paxton impeachment can be forgiven for expecting a conviction–after all, the charges were brought by the Republican-dominated House, the witnesses were all Republican whistleblowers who had worked for Paxton, and the evidence of his corruption was overwhelming.
There are media reports that Republican Senators received very explicit threats of violence if they voted to convict. But according to the Washington Post, those threats were also accompanied by the other part of what we now understand to be standard GOP strategy: bribery.
That the fix was in for the attorney general in the Senate probably should have been apparent back in July. That’s when a campaign finance report revealed that a pro-Paxton political action committee, known as the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, had donated $1 million and made an additional $2 million loan to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who would preside over the impeachment trial.
Yes, you read that right: The person acting as judge took $3 million from the defendant’s deep-pocketed allies. Was it any wonder that only two Republicans in the Senate, where the lieutenant governor serves as president of the chamber, voted to convict?
According to the Texas Monthly, the big money folks who funded the bribe are the same evangelical Texas billionaires who are funding the state’s voucher campaign. Make of that what you will….
The Post article traced the devolution of Texas politics from the relatively genteel, often bipartisan Republicans of the Bush era into the hard-right fanaticism that gave Lone Star voters Ted Cruz and the assortment of corrupt culture warriors who currently run the state.
And now–in the only good news to emerge from this fiasco–the Texas GOP is preparing to eat its own.
Paxton’s far-right forces are now promising all-out warfare on the Republican House members — starting with Speaker Dade Phelan — who tried to remove the attorney general from office. And with Paxton supporter Donald Trump likely to be at the top of the ticket next year, you’d have to give them excellent odds of prevailing.
The rot extends far beyond Texas. So here we are, a good facsimile of a banana republic.
MAGA Republicans are a distinct minority of Americans and they know it–so they are willing to ignore more and more “rules of the game” in order to stay in power. If vote suppression, dark money and “flooding the zone” prove inadequate to the task, then they’ll move to threats of violence accompanied by outright bribery.
I won’t be surprised if the Texas Speaker wakes up one morning with a horse’s head in his bed…..