Ted Cruz's 'Boomerang' Rhetoric Problem - Word&Way

Ted Cruz’s ‘Boomerang’ Rhetoric Problem

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas archly accuses the “far left” of believing America’s existence is “fundamentally illegitimate.” He bases his case on the issue of immigration. In particular, he is hyper-hyperbolic over the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. But Cruz launched an attack on liberals that became a boomerang that returned to hit him in the head.

Rodney Kennedy

The best biblical trope I have discovered to bring Cruz’s disgusting rhetoric into focus is the story of an unclean spirit leaving a person, wandering through waterless regions looking for a resting place. Finally, he returns to his own house and finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then, according to Matthew 12:45, “it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

According to Cruz, the leaders of the “far left” are Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. At a loss for other Democrats to blame, Cruz lumps them all in the “radical open borders crowd.” In no mood for diplomacy, political respect, or rational expression, Cruz blurted, “Some of those nuts believe America shouldn’t exist, that our existence is fundamentally illegitimate.”

At first, I was tempted to believe that Cruz had been traveling around Texas with Willie Nelson and company for some heavy marijuana smoking, but Cruz and Willie don’t go together. Cruz is a mere cipher in the much larger Christian Nationalist outfit that has written a revisionist version of American history. The purpose of this false history is to replace democracy with something like theocracy while pretending it’s still a democracy. The First Amendment with its strong insistence on the separation of church and state will be the first freedom to disappear if these right-wingers take control. And yet, as a member of a political party “gone crazy,” Cruz claims Democrats are attempting to destroy the nation.

The United States has survived since 1776 with an array of foundational institutions — the courts, the press, the public schools, and democracy. Cruz and the Republican Party have opened vicious campaigns against all our anchor institutions. Let by former president Donald Trump, the courts along with the judges and judicial employees face a withering attack that causes people to call into question our entire legal system. The free press has faced six years with a rhetorical “millstone” around its neck and wearing a sign, “Fake News.” The public schools and universities are under attack in furious anti-science and anti-history assumptions.

Cruz has the nerve to accuse Democrats are attempting to destroy America as he helps guide a “fundamental nihilism” segregated from democratic traditions. His overblown reliance on vitriol — good for a headline but otherwise worthless — promotes political mistrust, destroys democratic norms and values, undercuts civic culture, and blocks reasonable deliberation. In rhetorical language, Cruz is a demagogue attempting to shut down the democratic process by scapegoating and oversimplifying an issue as complicated as immigration. He plays to an audience already scared and filled with hatred of the Other as he promotes his devious agenda.

As an election denier, Cruz has dirtied his own politics by a blatant violation of Constitutional rules that if left unchecked could lead the nation into the abyss. We have always taken great pride in the transfer of power on Inauguration Day every four years. Americans proudly express that this is one of the major differences between us and the “third-world” countries that former president Trump dismissed as “shithole nations.” But on Jan. 6, the MAGA movement invaded the citadel of democracy.

The ensuing insurrection was witnessed on national television by almost all Americans. No amount of Republican revisionism about this act being a “tour,” will ever cover the multitude of democracy-hating transgressions on this dark day in our nation’s history. Never forget that almost immediately after the “insurrection,” many Americans were shocked anew to see elected Republicans, after initially condemning Trump’s attack on democracy, rationalize the violent insurrection itself as “legitimate political discourse.” And Cruz is part of this anti-democratic movement.

Alan Levine / PxHere

Here is where “the worm turns.” Legitimate vs. illegitimate. When you call an insurrection a legitimate democratic exercise, you are no longer qualified to speak of what may or may not be illegitimate. Cruz tried to overturn the results of a fair and legitimate presidential election. And now he wants to claim that liberals are trying to destroy America. A university first-year student majoring in political science easily sees that Cruz attempts to trick his audience by accusing liberals of what he and his fellow right-wingers are doing. The Jan. 6 insurrection was the public face of the desire to destroy democracy. The efforts of Cruz and millions of evangelical Christians are not as obvious but are just as dangerous.

As to the charge that the “far left” believes the U.S. shouldn’t exist, Cruz has pronounced an emotional plea to cover his own sins and to provoke rage in MAGA country. He defaults to the lowest, bottom-of-the-barrel rhetoric that trades in spectacle, false claims, and outright lies. Cruz, selecting an undemocratic trope to attack liberals, has revealed his own inability to see clearly that he has offered an illegitimate set of arguments. Arguments like those made by Cruz should be compared to arguments that encourage, build up, and empower democracy. Cruz has no words that would strengthen democratic life. He deals in demagogic authoritarianism.

Senator Cruz has unwittingly employed “boomerang rhetoric.” He launched an attack on liberals that returned to hit him. As these specific attacks from Cruz fade into the darkness, revealed as an illusion, we should renew our commitments to restoring democratic values, protecting our anchor institutions, and improving democratic discourse that doesn’t sound as if it came from a local pub on Saturday night.


Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, New York. His seventh book – Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy – is now out from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).