Two firsts happened yesterday. A black lesbian was sworn in as Senator from California, despite a dubious connection to the state. A Speaker of the House of Representatives was ousted by eight MAGA insurgents of his own party, with the cooperation of the Democrats, leaving the House incapable of acting unless and until a new Speaker is chosen.
There is a story that a woman asked Benjamin Franklin following the Constitutional Convention of 1787 what form of government was chosen, a republic or a monarchy. Franklin is said to have replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Can we?
On both ends of the political spectrum, the focus is to gain hegemony over the government. Contrary to what many believe, this didn’t start with the election of Trump, as Congress was largely dysfunctional well before him. Trump would be better seen as the warning, the lesson of what dysfunctional government bring rather than its cause.
To the extent electing Joe Biden was seen as the path to return to normality, to moderation rather than extremism, it hasn’t worked. He’s too moderate for the left and too left for the moderate and the right. He’s played to his party’s most radical fringe presumably in the hope of appeasing them, but they are not to be appeased. In the process, he failed the middle, the moderate Democrats and independents.
With no speaker, the House cannot function. There will be no money for the border, for Ukraine, for a continuing resolution when the money runs dry, for an investigation into Hunter Biden or pay for the military, or the “losers” and “suckers” as Trump, who was able to avoid the military service, calls them.
Kevin McCarthy has decided not to run again for Speaker, which is likely a wise move on his part. The name currently being bandied about it House Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, blood cancer, in August and is undergoing treatment. Why he would take the job knowing that he serves as the pleasure of Matt Gaetz is unclear, but even if he does, the dynamic in the House no longer suggests that anything can be accomplished without the explicit approval of the insurgents.
Ironically, Trump was critical of McCarthy’s ouster, although Gaetz appeared to suggest he was serving as Trump’s proxy in moving to vacate. Perhaps Gaetz misunderstood, or perhaps Trump can’t tell the same story twice. Who knows?
This is one of these rare opportunities that arise organically in the midst of chaos for a leader to emerge who will represent a cooperative moderate view that will bring together the men and women of good faith who reject the extremists of the right and left and decide that we are at a crossroads where we can either devolve further into partisan warfare where there will be no winners or losers, or we can seek consensus that will thrill neither right nor left but best serve a pluralistic society that, for the most part, is capable of finding middle ground that the majority of Americans can accept and lie with.
But at the moment, that doesn’t seem very likely. Most will choose to blame and grieve. Few will take the chance of trying to be better, to move forward with integrity and the belief that succumbing to the extremists on either side will not work and is not what the majority of Americans want. For one extreme to “win,” the other must “lose,” as there is no middle ground between them anymore. And if either extreme wins, the losers will be the majority of Americans who are neither slaves to ideology nor sycophants of a vulgar lying narcissistic ignoramus who doesn’t care to be seen in the company of wounded warriors because they don’t make him look good.
We will anyone step up and be the leader American heeds? Can we keep it?