For the first time in US history, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has been ousted. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, it is nothing to cheer.
Under the theory that moderation is the best weapon against extremism, members on both sides of the aisle need to rise above the dysfunction and extend an olive branch to whomever succeeds McCarthy. Democrats in particular should resist the urge to cluck, identify where they can work with moderate Republicans, and present bi-partisan proposals on immigration reform, keeping the government funded, and defeating Putin’s attempt to annihilate Ukraine.
Too many Democrats think the mess, entirely of the GOP’s making for failure to hold Trump accountable, belongs to the GOP alone. As Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) quipped, “It’s not our circus, and [McCarthy is] not our clown.”
McCarthy wasn’t 100% reliable. He broke his pledge to the White House to carry out the debt ceiling agreement, spearheaded an evidence-less impeachment inquiry, and tried to block the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In a pique of poor timing, McCarthy also gave a recent interview accusing Democrats of wanting to shut down the government, even though far more Democrats than Republicans voted for his proposal to keep the government running. But that was then, and this is now, and what comes next is anyone’s guess.
Any successor from the chaos caucus - like Jim Jordan or Matt Gaetz - will seek to cripple the federal government just to please Trump. Gaetz claimed the vote against McCarthy’s speakership was a “vote to end runaway federal spending” and decrease the federal deficit. But their efforts, including failure to pass a looming budget deadline in November, will downgrade the US credit rating and dramatically increase the national debt via hikes in interest rates.
Political chaos is dangerous
The performative clown faction also opposes continued spending on Ukraine, in line with Trump’s admiration for Russia’s strongman. Never mind that giving the green light to Putin would endanger NATO countries like Poland, and encourage the festering impulses of other authoritarian actors. Chairman Xi may be thinking that now - while the US Republican Party spins out of control and military spending is in jeopardy - would be the perfect time to invade Taiwan.
In short, a world power in disarray presents an ominous threat to security and global order. Although the dysfunction may be seeded by right wing extremists, moderates on both sides have a moral imperative to act, and assess the dangers of what the nation’s flirtation with authoritarianism really means: A majority of Republicans support a candidate who seeks to destroy the rule of law as he champions and promotes political violence.
Trump recently suggested that his own chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deserves execution; he arranged a violent attack on the US capital to block his electoral defeat; he encouraged assaults on political protestors and supports shooting petty thieves in the back; and he recently mocked the hammer attack on Nancy Pelosi’s elderly husband. When his audience laughed and applauded Trump’s violent rhetoric, they told the nation that they don’t want civil governance, they want violence and chaos. Clearly, our public schools have failed to teach what really happens when fascism takes root; it is likely many low information voters disbelieve or minimize the Holocaust.
This is what lawlessness and fascism look like
Hakeem Jeffries and other leaders on the left need to appreciate the danger and meet the moment with probity and maturity, not mirth. It will be exceptionally difficult for any speaker to manage Trump-inspired extremists in the House, so moderates on both sides need to come together and digest how upending government and the rule of law manifests on the streets in real time: Drug cartels in Mexico drive armored tanks outfitted with gun turrets, steel armor and battering rams on Mexican highways, and the powerless police either look the other way or get in on the action. Morality police in Iran murder women for failing to wear proper headscarves. North Korea and Russia assassinate, murder and imprison government critics for life and torture captives for fun. This is what lawlessness and dictatorship looks like once it is unleashed, and America will not be an exception.
Strengthening the center is the only defense to America’s (and the world’s) rising extremism. A moderate coalition must emerge in the House - 175 center-right moderates added to 175 center-left moderates will add up to a deafening bi-partisan majority.
When the adults in the room open their eyes and see the cliff in front of them and finally decide to drive, extremists will have to take the back seat or, better yet, walk.
Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.