No Speaker for America’s Democracy – Maybe not so bad

Sheer idiocy. That is the overwhelming message one reads from the smoke signals emanated by American Democracy

By Anil Madan

For the first time in US history, the Speaker of the House of Representatives lost the equivalent of a no-confidence vote in parliamentary systems and was out on his ear. The vote was instigated by Matt Gaetz, a Congressman from Florida, who is on the far-right fringe of the already far right Republican Party, and a vocal opponent of Kevin McCarthy, the speaker until yesterday.

American democracy hangs on a slender thread. Pic – Reuters

This denouement was months, even years, in the making. I will not get into details, reserving that for a future discussion, but my view is that Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican Party, and the spiritual guru of its far, far, right wing, started this debacle when he declared that government is not the solution, government is the problem. As I have written many times, this was the antithesis of the statement in the Declaration of Independence (DOI) that the raison d’être of government is to secure the unalienable rights of the people included among which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Indeed, the DOI goes on to state that when the government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Long before Donald Trump took that well chronicled ride down the escalator at Trump Tower and announced his candidacy for President, American Democracy suffered the machinations of Newt Gingrich (American politician and author who served as the 50th speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 19990, the Tea Party, and assorted other right-wing extremists.

America’s Democracy had a shining moment when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and President George H.W. Bush (the elder Bush) declared: “This will not stand.”

Sadly, Bill Clinton demeaned the office of President with his penchant for fellatio, followed by denial, followed by impeachment. Democrats rallied to rescue their miscreant, President.

American Democracy was in trouble. Al Gore, sensing that equivocation might trump loyalty to his President, sensed—wrongly—and equivocated. So, we got George W. Bush who, in one of the greatest public cons, together with his henchmen sold the American electorate a bill of goods that led to the Iraq war and the invasion of Afghanistan.

GWB’s presidency that accomplished nothing beyond impoverishing the nation with the runup of massive national debt (yes, it is little appreciated that he accumulated more total debt in his 8 years than the preceding 42 presidents), was perhaps the least productive the nation has ever had. But he was about to be trumped.

American Democracy fared no better under Obama whose presidency is probably best remembered for doing nothing other than continuing the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles. Even the praise for Obamacare, the enhancements to American healthcare, such as they are, were accomplished by the House of Representatives to whom Obama ceded the job. It is a fair comment that the Republicans never gave Obama a chance to shine. And he did not. The best that can be said is that he conducted a White House sans scandal. When the best credential you offer is that you did nothing, but did it with integrity, there isn’t much to talk about.

Then, of course, there was Donald Trump. What more needs to be said than that he tried to have a mob overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election? And he has persisted in propagating his LIE that the election was stolen. That this fundamental betrayal of the core idea of America and everything for which it stands, does not engender outrage in every American heart is the most befuddling circumstance in the history of this country.

It is worth pausing here to understand that Trump’s claim is that because he was “winning” as of 10:00 PM on election night, before ALL votes had been counted, the counting should have stopped. The sheer idiocy of this position has eluded his supporters.

Sheer idiocy. That is the overwhelming message one reads from the smoke signals emanated by American Democracy. Trump’s antics to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021, and his continuing lies have cast a pall on the very notion that American Democracy is superior to authoritarian governments. China’s highest officials certainly did not hesitate to tell Secretary of State Antony Blinken that American Democracy was nothing to brag about when he had his inaugural meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Alaska as the Biden administration took office. 

American Democracy remains paralyzed

The Republicans eked out a slim majority to take control of the House of Representatives while the Democrats gained control of the Senate (with the help of a few Independents, so-called, who are Democrats in disguise).

Kevin McCarthy, a congressman from California lusted after the Speakership. Perhaps, he lusted too much. After fifteen (yes, 15) ballots, he won. Or did he? One of the compromises he made with the right-wing yahoo faction was that any one member could initiate a motion to vacate. And that is just what Congressman Matt Gaetz did.

A couple of days earlier, there seemed to be hope that maybe American Democracy could find a bipartisan approach to resolving pressing problems. Funding for the government was about to run out. For those not versed in the American system, it is important to understand that Congress, i.e., both the House and Senate, must approve laws to fund government operations.

The right-wing faction sought to squeeze concessions from McCarthy. In the guise of wanting to bring spending under control, they wanted to cut money for programs that support the most vulnerable and weak of American society. Food stamps for the poor, funding for Medicaid (basic healthcare for the very poor) were on the line. Lost on these right-wing lunatics was the basic realization that in the federal budget of trillions of dollars, these programs are less than a rounding error.

McCarthy was coy. He danced and dallied. He had earlier made a well-publicized agreement with President Biden on funding and some cuts in spending. But McCarthy reneged on the agreement. He could no longer be trusted by the President or the Democrats in Congress.

As the government was about to be shut down, and probably realizing that this would be a disaster for the Republicans, McCarthy worked a compromise with the Democrats to pass a continuing resolution that would fund the government for a few weeks.

This infuriated Gaetz and the right-wing yahoos. Then, even after they had rescued him, McCarthy blamed the Democrats for the impasse. This infuriated the Democrats. And, of course, McCarthy had approved an impeachment investigation of President Biden for acts he is “suspected” of having committed BEFORE he became President. This too infuriated the Democrats.

When you infuriate a faction of your own party and, as well, infuriate the opposition, you lose. McCarthy lost.

Now, we have a Speaker Pro Tempore, Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. One of his first acts was a petty directive, ordering Nancy Pelosi out of her office at the Capitol, and this while she was away at the funeral of the late Senator Diane Feinstein.

It should be understood that aside from taking petty actions, McHenry has no authority other than to declare the House in session, to adjourn it, or to schedule a vote to elect a successor, Speaker. He cannot bring legislation to the floor of the House.

In effect, American Democracy remains paralyzed. We should also note that Donald Trump was cheering the right-wing yahoos on, calling for them to shut down the government and stop American funding for the Ukraine war. Trump’s well-known love affair with Putin is likely responsible for the latter. On the former, this is speculation, but is he devious enough to have been thinking that shutting down the federal government would put the federal courts where his criminal trials are scheduled, out of business, so as to give him time to mount his campaign for reelection without having to be in court for his trial(s)?

Now the battle is on to find a successor. What concessions will he or she have to make to the right-wing yahoos to get elected? Recall that the Republicans have only a four-seat majority in the House. Perhaps the Democrats will cooperate to get a sensible Speaker candidate over the hump. But is there a sensible Republican Speaker candidate?

So far. Representative Jim Jordan, a far-right conservative from Ohio has thrown his hat in the ring. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana also announced his candidacy. He is the House Majority leader.

Trump for House Speaker

Meanwhile, at least one congressman has nominated Donald Trump to be the Speaker. Apparently, one does not have to be an elected Representative to serve as Speaker. More Republicans are joining what could be a crescendo of calls for Trump to be Speaker.

Donald Trump’s ego is probably too big to let him take on a position less than President of the United States. On the other hand, he is devious enough to understand that he could wreak havoc across America’s political landscape, if he wielded the gavel in the House. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of Trump’s acolytes, tweeted (or X’ed): “The only candidate for Speaker I am currently supporting is President Donald J. Trump. He will end the war in Ukraine. He will secure the border. He will end the politically weaponized government. He will make America energy independent again. He will pass my bill to stop transgender surgeries on kids and keep men out of women’s sports. He will support our military and police. And so much more!”

American Democracy surely hangs on a slender thread. If politics is the art of making unfulfillable and unfulfilled promises, Trump and his acolytes have mastered it.

The government may well have to shut down in a few weeks when funding under the continuing resolution just passed runs out.

Winston Churchill is reputed to have said:

‘Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…’ 11 November 1947.

H.L. Mencken wrote:

‘Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right’;


‘Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.’

We Americans may well be on the way to proving Mencken was right. And Churchill too, but that won’t matter.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 6 October 2023

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