After he was overhead calling Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a "fucking bitch", Florida Congressman Ted Yoho took to the house floor to grandstand with a non-apology. In an attempt to disguise misogyny as patriotism, Yoho stated he could not "apologize for loving my country", implying accosting a fellow representative was somehow a patriotic act. This caveat was telling. On the surface, Yoho's sexism and gaslighting appear to be a symptom of the Trumpified Republican Party: horrible bigotry excused with a "sorry-not-sorry." But the true source of his behavior — the conservative worldview that "America" is an exclusive group — is far more harmful and systemic than routine partisan bickering.
The late Frank Wilhoit summarized the conservative movement perfectly: "Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect."
As evidenced by his remarks on the House floor, Yoho couldn't agree with Wilhoit more.
To most of its citizens, "America" is a nation; a two-hundred and forty-four-year-old country with a federalist government and iconic borders they can point to on a map. They believe people can emigrate to America, become equal citizens, and change its laws through annual elections.
But this isn't Yoho's notion of "America." Instead, he subscribes to the conservative view that "America" is an exclusive group privileged by the current social hierarchy of race, gender, and wealth. To Yoho and company, those who protect the social order (usually straight, white, wealthy men, who are the largest benefactors of it) are "Americans," while those who threaten it —minorities, Black Lives Matter, socialists, feminists, etc. — are not. They may be citizens of the United States of America, but because they pursue a more equitable system that doesn't revolve around straight, white, men, they aren't "real Americans."
As a progressive, politically popular woman of color, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endangers the established social order. So while derogatory, Yoho does genuinely believe he was defending his concept of America. Unfortunately, the fallout from this worldview doesn't stop at name-calling. It radiates into laws and policies that disproportionately plague marginalized communities.
Too often the left drives itself mad policing what they see as the right's hypocrisy: "How can Republicans claim to be the party of Lincoln, but defend Confederate statues?" "How can 'small government' advocates rationalize legislating women's bodies?" "How can those who justify assault rifles as a defense against tyranny be comfortable with militarized police?"
But conservatives aren't being hypocritical, they just don't say the quiet part out loud. The dirty secret of conservatism is that its subscribers believe the principles of small government and individual liberty are exclusive to those they deem "American."
Take Confederate monuments as an example. Objectively, no-one is more anti-American than traitorous generals who killed U.S. troops. But, because Confederate generals were rich, capitalist, white men, they fit the conservative frame of "American," so right-wingers defend their statues. Meanwhile, Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in military service, is disparaged as "hating America" simply because she's a woman of color who seeks to improve it.
The list goes on. When it comes to reproductive rights, Republicans seek government control over women's bodies, because "small government" only applies to men, And while conservatives preach the Second Amendment gospel, the NRA was quiet when a black motorist named Philando Castile was killed by a police officer for having a legally-owned firearm.
Yoho's behavior is a result of the disastrously harmful worldview that is the foundation of the Republican Party. To treat it as an isolated offense that can be forgiven after a fraudulent apology is a treacherous mistake. The conservative understanding of what it means to be "American" compelled Yoho to accost AOC, not some trivial difference in opinion. It's fair to say that Yoho would not have made similar remarks to Joe Biden, who, while a Democrat, doesn't threaten the hierarchy that Yoho sits atop.
As we've seen, AOC can take care of herself. But the vulnerable communities that are disproportionately harmed by this conservative mantra need help. Only by recognizing this worldview as the compass of the Republican Party are we able to counteract its effects.