Yes, yes, I know Congress has a lot to worry about these days. But have you seen the anime edit videos?

Over now to Crazytown’s favorite son, Congressman Paul Gosar, who this week found himself on the butt end of a censure hearing. His crime? He had retweeted an anime video that depicted a likeness of himself killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword before also attacking Joe Biden. This was, according to the scrupulously nonpartisan Nancy Pelosi, an “emergency,” worthy of a criminal probe, and possibly a threat to the republic as we know it.

We’re 100 words in and already you may be thinking: what in God’s name is wrong with the United States Congress? If so, be assured that this is a perfectly healthy rumination and one you should keep repeating on a near-constant basis. The House of Representatives did indeed vote to censure Gosar largely along party lines. Thus was a punishment last used against Charlie Rangel for spending much of his career flouting tax laws brought to bear against ninja anime.

Fortunately for Gosar, he had several vocal allies among House Republicans. First among them was Congressman Andy Biggs, who went to great pains to stress that this was, in fact, just an anime video, presumably in order to absolve Gosar of having actually murdered Ocasio-Cortez. “I lived in Japan!” Biggs declared. “For several years! I speak Japanese! This is an anime! It is Shingeki no Kyojin!” In response to this, Pelosi’s eyes turned to slits and a giant bead of sweat appeared on her forehead.

Also indignant over the censure vote was Congressman Matt Gaetz, who offered, “Today we’re critiquing Paul Gosar’s anime. Next week we might be indicting the Wile E. Coyote for an explosive ordinance against the Road Runner.” I’ve spent twenty minutes now pondering how Gaetz got from Austin to Albuquerque that way and I’m still coming up blank. My only takeaway is that if anyone really were so blinkered to fall for a fake tunnel painted onto the side of a mountain, it’s probably a member of Congress.

What is it with the children’s characters these days? Recall that Senator Ted Cruz spent much of last week in a flame war with Big Bird after Mr. Bird announced that he’d been vaccinated (Prairie Dawn is reportedly a hardcore Ivermectin gal). And while some of Cruz’s remarks on the subject were actually funny, and the inevitable SNL skit inevitably unfunny, at some point it does start to feel like we’re blurring the line between reality and the posters on an eight-year-old’s bedroom wall. It’s as though some wormhole has opened and fictional characters have come stampeding through the halls of Congress. Next up: Steny Hoyer attacks Ash Ketchum for his position on Vermilion City’s lockdown policy. Meanwhile: the price of milk rises to $14 a gallon.

Gosar is one conservative that even this conservative won’t defend. His account’s original retweet might have been the fault of some overzealous Gen Z intern, except that after he’d been censured, he retweeted the video again. There’s also the matter of Gosar having been denounced by both his brother and his sister, the official two-step authentication that something may be wrong with you.

But then you also can’t deny that Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a point when he noted in a speech that if this standard of punishing violent rhetoric were applied across the board, many Democrats would be censured as well. Didn’t Maxine Waters incite confrontation during the Derek Chauvin trial? Didn’t Ayanna Pressley call for “unrest in the streets”? Didn’t Pelosi herself once mutter, “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country. And maybe there will be”?

In which case, the problem isn’t just with our more performative Republicans but with our elected representatives in general, many of whom are talking like children just before a cap gun fight. What’s most striking is the casualness with which these remarks are being lobbed — casual like the press of a retweet button. This is what (thankfully) separates our own time from, say, the ominous vitriol of the late 1850s. Our representatives are not caning each other or dueling in the woods. It’s all sadly, ludicrously, sophomorically vicarious, with fictional characters and YouTube rioters conscripted as proxies, as the tribalism and lethargy of internet culture continues to define us all down.

It’s vicarious, of course, until it isn’t, until the black-masks and fake Viking shamans leap off the screen and scurry through real life. Yet in the meantime it doesn’t seem censurable so much as pathetic.