I try never to miss an article or book by Tom Nichols, who writes for the Atlantic. He has a way of distilling observations into pithy statements that resonate with me (Probably because I agree with them…) A recent essay was particularly “on point.”
Nichols was addressing the situation in Congress, a situation that–sorry for my language–can only be considered a complete and utter shit-show. He began by dismissing the punditry’s seeming belief that the chaos and egomania on display are a betrayal of the Republican voters who voted for these buffoons.
The ongoing drama over electing a speaker of the House is not about governance. It’s about giving Republican voters the drama-filled reality show they voted for and want to see—even at the expense of the country.
Evidence supporting this view is abundant here in Red Indiana, where voters have returned culture warriors like Jim Banks to the House. Banks has enthusiastically supported Jordan, and is one of the many un-productive, anti-“woke,” theocratic and anti-woman fringe characters so beloved by the GOP base. He’s not the only one, but he is one of the worst.
Nichols takes a hard look at the current hard-to-believe debacle that is the Republican caucus:
Like many Americans, I have been both fascinated and horrified by the inability of the Republican majority to elect a new speaker of the House. I admit to watching the votes like I’m rubbernecking at a car wreck, but perhaps that’s not a good analogy, because I at least feel pity for the victims of a traffic accident. What’s happening in the House is more like watching a group of obnoxious (and not very bright) hot-rodders playing chicken and smashing their cars into one another over and over.
As I watch all of this Republican infighting, I wonder, as I often do, about GOP voters. What is it that they think will happen if Jim Jordan becomes speaker? Jordan has been in Congress for 16 years, and he has almost nothing to show for it. He’s never originated any successful legislation, never whipped votes, never accomplished anything except for appearing on Fox and serving up rancid red meat to his Ohio constituents and MAGA allies.
And therefore, as speaker, he would … what? Order up more impeachments, perhaps of Biden-administration officials? Shut down the government? Pound the gavel and prattle on for hours in his never-take-a-breath style? (Jordan’s the kind of guy who probably would have interrupted the Sermon on the Mount.) Perhaps from a position of greater power, he could more effectively assist Donald Trump in undermining yet another election in 2024.
If the continuation of this governance nightmare seems incredible, Nichols points out that it is the consequence of the GOP’s devolution into a White Christian Nationalist cult focused exclusively upon performative signaling and utterly uninterested in governing.
The disorder in the GOP caucus is not some accident or glitch triggered by a handful of reprobates, but rather a direct result of choices by voters. The House is a mess because enough Republican voters want it to be a mess.
This accusation might seem unfair: Jordan is just one member from a super-red (and blatantly gerrymandered) district, and many of his Republican colleagues are furious about this humiliating bungle. But right-wing voters have shown no inclination to punish people such as Matt Gaetz and other political vandals; indeed, Gaetz and his like-minded colleagues are rapidly becoming folk heroes in the Republican Party.
Nichols admits that it isn’t much consolation to recognize that Republicans like Jordan and Banks are doing what their voters want them to do, which is presumably bring government to a halt. After all, their antics endanger us all.
But to treat the GOP as merely dysfunctional is worse than a distraction; it is a fundamental error that offers the false hope that a mature and governing majority is somehow within reach, if only Jordan or Gaetz would get out of the way….
The twists and turns of the Trump years, in which many elected Republicans became big spenders, critics of law enforcement, and apologists for the Kremlin, illustrated that MAGA voters have almost no interest in anything like conservatism, or even in coherent policy. Instead, they want to indulge resentments and grievances that have little to do with government and everything to do with boredom and dissatisfaction in their own lives. A few years ago, I wrote a book about how such voters project that anger and sourness onto everything around them. Their ennui spurs their desire to see chaos, so they argue that the existing order needs to be shaken up, or burned down, or defunded.
Republican voters want entertainment, not governance.
Send in the clowns? Don’t bother–they’re here.