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Juan Williams: GOP extremism is poisoning the nation

More and more fights breaking out on airplanes. Why? The short answer is that wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 remains a politically divisive statement.

Nine killed by gunfire in another mass shooting.

Hateful attacks on Jews and Asians rising.

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All of that happened in the last week.

Americans should be coming together in celebration of declining coronavirus infections this Memorial Day.

Instead, the bursts of public violence and hate reflect deep political division.

Sixty-four percent of voters now see political divisions as a major threat to the “stability” of the nation, according to a Fox News poll released last week. It is the highest-ranked major threat to the nation in the poll.

The depth of the division can also be seen in recent Ipsos/Reuters polling that shows most Republicans continue to believe former President TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC MORE is the “true president,” and 56 percent believe the 2020 election was stolen from him.

How can so many Republicans still believe the “Big Lie,” almost five months after President BidenJoe BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness MORE was inaugurated following Congress certifying Biden’s national victory by 74 electoral college votes and more than seven million popular votes?

And why do 57 percent of Republicans think of Democrats, their fellow Americans, as their “enemies,” according to a February CBS/YouGov poll?

This extremism among Republicans is paralyzing Congress.

It can’t find the votes to better regulate guns. It can’t fix a broken immigration system.

Similarly, Republicans can’t compromise enough to reach a bipartisan deal to repair the nation’s decrepit infrastructure. Incredibly, Congress can’t even agree on a bill to protect the right to vote.

Last week, Congress hit a new low. It blocked a commission to investigate the attempted overthrow of the U.S. government. Now that is dysfunction.

Jan. 6 saw the worst violent domestic insurrection since the Civil War. But it won’t be the last — unless we as a country face the truth about how much trouble we are in.

This begs the question: What are the Republicans so afraid of?

Why did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell shoots down Manchin's voting compromise Environmental groups urge congressional leaders to leave climate provisions in infrastructure package Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run MORE (R- Ky.) ask his caucus for a “personal favor,” according to CNN, to vote to stop creation of the commission?

The Republicans’ talking point on opposition to the commission is that they want to move on from the insurrection and shift the nation’s focus to debates over Biden’s policies.

But Biden and his policies — ranging from his plan to spend big on infrastructure to his spending on Covid relief — are all popular in a range of polls.

What Senate Republicans are really avoiding is the truth that Trump’s lies and slash-and-burn, truth-be-damned politics drove some of them to play along with him. They are implicated in the insurrection — not in a criminal sense, but in a moral sense.

Think back to Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyFive takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack MORE’s (R-Mo.) power salute to the people rushing the Capitol. Think back to the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn the election.

So, McConnell is convincing Senate Republicans it is in their best interest to cover up the truth and let the country balkanize further rather than stand up to Trump and his followers.

As Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyCheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO MORE (R-Wyo.) noted in her speech before being voted out of her leadership position: “Ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.”

The ongoing power of the ‘Big Lie’ is fed daily with conspiracy talk and misinformation by social media, talk radio and cable opinion shows.

“We are in an era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation,” Max Fisher wrote in the New York Times earlier this month.

“Plenty of bad actors are helping the trend along.”

Those bad actors produce divisive content because they see a ripe market for stories, memes and videos that make political opponents look bad — particularly when they mock Democrats for the entertainment of Republicans.

In the last year, the whole country has been storm-tossed.

There is the rollercoaster ride of living through a pandemic that has killed almost 600,000 Americans.

Then there is the cultural and racial change taking place.

The fast changing realities of American life are particularly threatening for the Trump base of white, non-college educated, rural voters. It makes them open to what social scientists call “ingrouping.”

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In other words, people seek the company of people like themselves in terms of economic class, race, and political ideology.

And they turn against people outside their club, blaming them for their problems.

A prime example comes from an in-depth look at the people who took part in the attack on the Capitol that Republicans don’t want to review.

Of the almost 400 people arrested or charged, most are white males and they typically come from cities and towns “where the non-White populations are growing fastest,” Robert Pape, the director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, wrote in an April column in The Washington Post.

Are those rioters upset about loss of jobs?

No, according to Pape. The primary factor, he wrote, is “fear of the ‘Great Replacement.’”

“Great Replacement theory has achieved iconic status with white nationalists and holds that minorities are progressively replacing White populations due to mass immigration policies and low birthrates,” according to Pape.

Happy Memorial Day, indeed.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.