A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.”—Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet-playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” (1921), in The Tower (1928)
In the U.S., the disillusionment expressed by Yeats had long since set in. Nevertheless, “the worst rogues and rascals” had never been more brazenly evident than during last week’s 15-vote count to elect Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House.
It wasn't just serial liar George Santos was waiting to join a body he instantly dishonors by his presence. It was also that the last-ditch holdouts (notably including the mendacious Matt Gaetz, shown in the attached image in a tense moment with McCarthy) were merely fighting for their moment to shine on Fox News.
“Nihilists” might have been the most common word I kept hearing about the small group (less than 10%) of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives who obstinately voted against McCarthy.
But the epithet could just as well have applied to many of his supporters. It was all too appropriate that the final ballots that moved McCarthy into his long-desired position took place on the second anniversary of the assault on the Capitol, for 118 members of the House who voted against Joe Biden’s certification as President have returned to their jobs.
In fact, it might be said that a straight line runs from January 6, 2021 to January 6, 2023. McCarthy not only joined those voting against certification, but went crawling down to Mar-a-Lago after coming under attack from MAGA forces for criticizing Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection.
To the longtime Republican leader’s horror, his consistent efforts since then to placate the Jacobin wing of his party may only have encouraged them. Policy differences between him and them are nonexistent, as he has continually yielded to their demands. But his attempts at appeasing them only confirmed their belief that he would do or say anything to become Speaker.
On January 6, 2023 as on January 6, 2021, a far-right coalition temporarily disrupted electoral processes long taken for granted. In their desire to sow division and disorder, they only managed to bring democracy into disrepute—and at a time when dictators were watching and gloating.
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