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Amazing American Politics

 

Amazing American Politics          Gerry OShea

At the end of Sean O’Casey’s greatest play, Juno and the Paycock, Captain Boyle, faced with unpayable bills and abandonment by his family, bemoans his situation to his drinking buddy, Joxer Daly, declaring “the whole world is in a terrible state of chassis.”

These words are appropriate for the current political climate in America where everything seems out of kilter. A majority of Republicans say that they would not even approve of a family member marrying someone from the other side, and Democrats are almost as insistent in their marital preferences.

Prior to the November election when all polls showed Joe Biden in front, then-President Trump declared that there could only be one winner. If results showed that his opponent received more votes, that could only happen in a rigged election. This kind of preposterous talk was never part of the preamble to any previous American election.

True to the polls, the election results showed that Biden won by over seven million votes and achieved a clear victory in the Electoral College. Mr. Trump challenged the results in dozens of courts with judges repeatedly advising him that his claims of fraud had no merit.

 The Supreme Court also gave him the cold shoulder. He felt that the three judges he appointed there should be responsive to his plight, but they refused even to deliberate about his case. So, he decided to call on his strong base of supporters for help. He invited them to a “wild” gathering in Washington where they could show their reaction to what he called a stolen election.

They came in their thousands on January sixth, many of them affiliated with belligerent far-right groups from all over the country. Following, what they considered, clear orders from their leader in the White House, they invaded and ransacked the Capitol building forcing legislators to scamper for safety. After a few hours of mayhem, Trump, speaking from the White House, told the lawless revelers that he loved them but they should go home.

The despicable behavior on that day resulted in the deaths of five people. The confederate flag, representing a war by secessionists that killed close to 700,000 American Union soldiers, was shamefully carried for the first time through the Capitol building. A dangling noose was displayed in sybolic readiness to hang vice-president Mike Pence and Speaker Pelosi’s office was vandalized.

This narrative so far confirms extraordinary events without precedent in the history of the country. Nothing like these happenings ever took place before. The halls of the National Government were desecrated and the whole event was televised live for the world to see America in shameful disarray.

Democrats, traditionally known for infighting and policy differences, are united behind President Biden who is promoting a really progressive agenda. He argues that they have to follow radical policies to deal with a country in crisis because of the ravages of Covid as well as growing inequality in every state and the challenge of a climate crisis that cries out for major and immediate remediation.

Nancy Pelosi has only a slight majority in the House, but there is no sign of serious dissent in her caucus. Chuck Schumer is full of vim in his new role, declaring to Rachel Maddow in an extended interview that he is enthusiastic about being majority leader, and he is all-in for the President’s plans.

 His Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, did not show him due respect when he had all the power.  Roles are reversed now to the Democrat’s clear satisfaction and in his exuberant interview with Maddow, he made it clear that he will not be worrying about Mitch McConnell’s sensitivities as he presses for the passage of major bills.

On the other side, the Republicans are in disarray and showing it every day. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, associated with QAnon, a group of far-out crazies whose members believe that leading Democrats kill babies and drink their blood, that President Obama and Hillary Clinton deserve execution and Speaker Pelosi should get a bullet between the eyes. While no other member of the Republican congressional caucus uses such extreme rhetoric, relatively few condemn her wild talk.

Above all, former President Trump applauds her bravery and encourages her to continue spitting in the eye of her critics. When Mitch McConnell called her out for her “looney” ideas, she responded by accusing him of weak leadership. It is symptomatic of the strength of Trumpism in the United States Congress that she got a standing ovation from about half the members at a heated party caucus meeting.

Senator Mitt Romney, the one brave Republican senator who voted to convict Trump after his first impeachment, who is listened to more in the party as the crisis deepens, said recently that he would gladly engage with other Republicans in Congress provided they don’t espouse the big lie that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected in November. There is a sizable bloc of Republican leaders in the House plus a few in the Senate who still reject or at least prevaricate about the validity of Biden’s election.

Donald Trump exercises the real power in the party from his new home in Florida. The minority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, after initially condemning Mr. Trump’s role in the Capitol riot, retreated to blaming everyone for the mayhem and then went to Mar- a- Lago to show solidarity with the retired president. Looking ahead to next year’s mid-term elections, McCarthy calculates that he can’t achieve his goal of becoming Speaker without Trump’s benediction.

Liz Cheney, from unquestioned Republican stock and third in the party power ladder in the House, has been strong and unequivocal in accepting the official election results and in lambasting Mr. Trump for causing the January riots. She and nine courageous House colleagues joined all the Democrats in voting to impeach Mr. Trump. Many of the former president’s supporters in the House tried unsuccessfully to have her removed from her position of authority.

Representatives Greene and Cheney represent two irreconcilable wings of the GOP. They can be justifiably seen as proxies for the two clashing cultures in the party: Cheney, a traditional conservative with minority support who wants to achieve power by restoring the old Bush brand of politics and Greene, with the backing of a majority in the party, secure in her MAGA hat, who blames the liberal media as she half-heartedly tries to distance herself from recent anti-Semitic and white-supremacy statements.

What does the GOP stand for apart from the old shibboleths of small government and balanced budgets? For the first time in decades they did not provide any election manifesto in the recent presidential race. Whatever Trump said on any topic was deemed sufficient – una duce, una voce! No other political party in any Western country has contested an election without offering the electorate a policy manifesto.

Trumpism is a double-edged sword for Republicans. It guarantees enthusiastic support for any candidate or cause by up to 70% of the party’s followers. However, this does not provide a winning margin in an election. During his four years in the White House, Republicans lost the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency.

He is also shedding voters since the riots on January sixth. Almost 7000 people returned their party membership cards in North Carolina, and many thoughtful Republicans recoil at the behavior that their president encouraged on that fateful day.

After many members of her caucus cheered Mrs. Greene recently, Sean Patrick Maloney, the Director of Elections for the Democrats in the congressional elections next year, was smiling and planning ads for swing districts displaying her many outrageous statements.

When scholars in the Middle Ages dealt with something really exceptional, away beyond the ordinary, they would use the Latin saying mirabile dictu (amazing to relate) to convey their astonishment. This Latin expression certainly applies to the sorry story of events in Washington over the last few months.

Gerry OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.com

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