The Smiths, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"
America has a big problem. One of its major political parties, the same one that controls Congress, is in chaos. There is a authoritarian nationalist tycoon/TV star who is leading the race for the presidential nomination, and a Christian dominionist retired surgeon who has attacked the victims of a mass shooting for being wusses is in second place. The Republican speaker of the House is resigning to prevent the radicals in his party from trying to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. Today the top candidate to replace him, Kevin McCarthy, removed his candidacy, apparently because while he is more conservative than Boehner, he is not conservative enough for the fringe of the party.
Yes, it is funny that a group of men who want to run the most powerful nation on earth are acting like complete buffoons in a combination shitshow/dumpster fire of their own devising. A friend and reader of this blog emailed me today to ask if I was basking in the schadenfreude. I was, but only for about fifteen minutes until I realized the implications of all of this.
A small group of ideological extremists is angling to not only set the tone for their party (as they have done since at least Gingrich), but to actually put their hands on the levers of power. They are political hostage takers who want to shut down the government whenever they feel such a tactic can be used to advance their agenda. If they don't get what they want, they don't care, since they will have "weakened government" which is all part of their agenda. In the bargain they will also ensure that budget issues inordinately dominate our political discourse, pushing issues like housing, incarceration, poverty, and education to the side. By manufacturing a crisis every few months they can get the social state slashed in return for releasing the hostage. They can do this despite having views well outside of the American political mainstream. They do this time and time again, winning despite having only a minority behind them.
In a functioning democracy, such behavior would get a political party tossed out on its ear. America, however, is highly dysfunctional these days. Even though the Democrats have occupied the White House for a majority of the time since 1992, they have only held the House for six of those years. Gerrymandering and voter suppression have something to do with that, but so does a weak Democratic party which has been unable to motivate its base, especially in off-year elections. It is unable to stop the hostage-taking, so it continues, ad infinitum.
If the Democratic Party was doing the bidding of a faction of avowed Marxists, I would imagine that there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I would imagine that the Democrats would get tossed out pretty quickly. However (and this is in no way a reflection of my opinions about Marxism, just an observation) the "freedom caucus" subscribes to an ideology as far to the Right as Bolshevism is to the Left. They also exhibit a certain vanguardism and the kind of absolute moral certainty that is highly dangerous when in the wrong hands for the wrong causes. Since a majority of their constituents in whatever rural or suburban district they hail from voted for them (among those who bothered to vote), they think that they MUST shut down Planned Parenthood and hold the government hostage. To do otherwise would somehow mean not fulfilling their democratic imperative, as if the millions who don't subscribe to their ideology may as well not exist.
In any functioning democracy, these extremists would be marginalized, but in America they are close to controlling the nation's legislative function. That's why, as much as I want to give the Republicans a hearty Nelson Munce "HA! HA!" I am instead looking on with fear.