The State of Our Union
If you’ve been watching the opening days of the 118th Congress, you know it’s an out-of-control dumpster fire. Kevin McCarthy, at this point, reminds me of the kid who gets picked last when his peers are choosing up teams. Not that I feel sorry for him (not one bit!). Indeed, his soulless ambition and blatant hypocrisy (his immediate reaction condemning the January 6th Insurrection before beating a path to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the former guy’s ring) make him a less than sympathetic character. What, in fact, does he stand for? As bad, what do the 20 or so Republicans opposing his Speakership want and what do they stand for --- other than an opposition to majority rule? Who is their candidate for Speaker? In fact, we’re dealing with a renegade band of nihilists who, somehow, call themselves “patriots” while propping up autocratic beliefs.
So here we are, watching “democracy” in action. Interestingly, much of what we’re seeing has to do with what I used to teach as the “unwritten Constitution” in my secondary United States History classes. Like political parties, the rules of the House of Representatives are not prescribed or described in the U.S. Constitution. Section 5 of Article One states: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” It does not specify what we are watching: that is, that no business can transpire until a Speaker is elected by the majority of Representatives. We have learned, of course, that the Speaker need not even be an elected member of the House of! Article 1, Section 2 simply says: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers.” The Unwritten Constitution is “based chiefly on custom and precedent as expressed in statutes and judicial decisions” (Merriam-Webster) and is not specified in the Constitution and its Amendments. So, we now find that one long-term result of the January 6th Insurrection has been the establishment of a group of “Congressional Kardashians” (as I heard it called on “Morning Joe”) holding up the business of government. To what end, other than to reinforce that majority rule (90% of their party supports McCarthy), is not something they agree with!
Basically, we have a half dozen or so Congress-people who clearly dislike Kevin McCarthy to such a degree that they will never cast a vote for him as Speaker of the House. Let’s remember, again, that 118 members (out of 222) of the Republican caucus voted against the certification of a “free and fair election.” It is not simply that this party is dysfunctional --- more than half of its Representatives (and eight of their Senators) are opposed to the tenets of democracy that the nation abided by since 1789 (except for the Civil War, 1861-1865, of course).
These Republicans have not done the simple calculus (which reflects their mid-term failure) that has left them with such a slim majority that FIVE undemocratic renegades can torpedo any legislation or other business either party may want to put forward. With such a small majority their ability to “govern” (not that they necessarily want to) is severely hamstrung. We must remember, however, that this is the vestigial (autocratic) Trump Republican Party. Today marks two years since that party attempted to overthrow the government. And I am not convinced people have kept that event in proper historical perspective, given our 24/7 news cycle and the presence of Fox News, NewsMax, Steve Bannon’s podcast, etc.
January 6, 2021 was a serious attempt at a palace coup! The then-President of the United States incited a mob to attack the Capitol to intentionally disrupt --- if not totally stop ---the legitimate business of certifying the election of the winner of the 2020 Presidential election. Not since Southern states seceded from the Union have we been confronted with as serious a Constitutional crisis as this. We can only hope that 2023 will see an aggressive Department of Justice, led by Jack Smith, deliver justice to the perpetrators and their criminal mob boss, Donald J. Trump.
In the aftermath of that attack, Kevin McCarthy calculated his path to the Speakership was through the disgraced ex-President and, by April 2021 was seizing on every photo-op at Bedminster, Mar-a-Lago, or anywhere else he could. One of the original “Young Guns” (the title of a book co-written with Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor) touted as the future of their Party, McCarthy is now their Last Man Standing. Ryan, of course, had a brief stint as Speaker --- and retired from the House after that experience. Cantor, in 2014, when he was the second-ranking Republican, was primaried out of his Virginia seat by a Tea Party radical --- and that’s when the writing started to appear on the wall. Trump simply brought all the far-right, megalomaniacal chickens home to roost when he rode down his golden elevator.
And now we have this shitshow, entering Day Five with no clear end in sight. It seems McCarthy has already given away the store to a group of self-serving “brand-conscious” elected officials who care more about appearing on Fox and NewsMax than accomplishing anything for the American people. When the House finally is brought to order, these Congressional Clowns will start their investigations into Hunter Biden’s laptop and begin childish attempts to impeach Joe Biden, showing their dedication to Trump and their preference to screen time over substance. It’s an unfortunate situation but one that, sadly, has been predictable. Once we headed down the Trump path there was no going back to “business as usual.” This is not to say that the United States government does not reforms. But there is a huge chasm between reform and destruction --- and that is the point we are approaching. The mid-terms were encouraging in that there wasn’t a “Red Wave”, but the Republicans did gain the majority in the House, and we can see where that’s going. We can see that a small minority within that Party can hold 90% hostage ---essentially a second insurrection against majority rule!
An encouraging fact we might keep an eye on is that, historically, during every two-year Congressional term, anywhere from 15 to 20 House members leave their seats (death, indictment, personal reasons, etc.). Given the George Santos situation, we may see the first of those in the next few months --- and who knows if some Republican members may tire of the “Freedom Caucus” antics and choose a Kristen Sinema defection to “Independent” and caucus with the Dems (I can dream, can’t I?). In all, don’t blink because this show is just starting and promises to be one of the great train wrecks of all time. Fasten your seat belt.