It took nearly a week and a mere 15 tries for Kevin McCarthy to secure his lifelong dream of becoming House Speaker. But this didn’t come close to the record, which was in 1855-6. That contest spanned two months and required 133 rounds of ballots. Five years later, chaos ensued in the form of the U.S. Civil War. Lincoln and the class he represented – the budding capitalist class – wanted to avert that chaos. History did not allow them. Today, a political civil war seems to be rolling down the tracks. The tables are turned and today it is the Democrats (rather than the Republicans under Lincoln) who represent the US capitalist class and want to avert such a war. If the goings on in the House of Representatives is any sign, it seems the Democrats will be as successful as was Lincoln in averting an all-out crisis.
And let’s be clear, this is not just a crisis at home; it’s a crisis for US capitalism globally. As Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said on CNN after McCarthy was ousted, “there are too many problems going on in this world for the House [and therefore the entire US government] to be in chaos.”
CNN, the Democrats and the US capitalist class
CNN pretty much represents the same forces as do the Democrats as a whole. This is the overwhelming majority of the US capitalist class, which is desperate to avert the coming crisis. That channel was the living embodiment of what is to come on the night after McCarthy was removed. Republican Representative Mark Alford from Missouri appeared that night. Speaking volumes about the hopelessness of their situation, all he could say was “I’m trusting God that He will raise up the next Speaker of the House.” Alford had to hope for a miracle from god because no solution seemed to be forthcoming from down below in the House of Representatives.
In order to avoid having to go through the public humiliation of round after round of failed votes again, the Republicans adjourned the House for a week to try to get their own house in order. The Democrats – and CNN – were furious since the expiration of the 45 day stopgap spending bill is rolling down the tracks at us. CNN mainstay Jake Tapper put it this way: “I don’t talk football very often, but the New England Patriots got shellacked by the Dallas Cowboys last week by a score of 38-3. I’ll tell you one thing they’re not doing since then. They’re not taking a week off!”
Can a (political) civil war be averted?
CNN and the Democrats are still hoping that an all-out showdown – AKA a political civil war – can be averted. Abbey Phillips explained their delusory hopes: “Donald Trump is a sideshow looming over the Republicans. If Trump were gone, that would change the Republican Party.” In other words, the problem is just one individual. But then, in a recognition of reality, she turned right around and said “the base is running the [Republican] Party… The inmates are running the asylum.” In other words, the Republican Party is beholden to the 74 million people who voted for Trump, almost all of whom continue to support him today even while he’s gone to even greater extremes. They are a minority, but still a force to be reckoned with. Phillips explained it further: “The American government is broken. The tyranny of a minority is now paralyzing the American institutions.” That minority is able to “tyrannize the majority” in part due to the constant attempts to “work across the aisle” – in other words, compromise by the Democrats, and also in part due to the undemocratic structure of the US Constitution (the electoral college, the power of the Supreme Court, etc.) and also due to the extreme gerrymandering of the Republicans.
“Problem Solvers” caucus and mainstream Republicans
One most clear example of the attempt to avoid an all-out confrontation is the congressional “Problem Solvers Caucus”. This is a group of right wing Democrats and “moderate” (meaning non QAnon) Republicans. The Republicans in that caucus were reportedly furious with their Democratic friends for refusing to have stepped in and saved McCarthy. They are reportedly thinking of breaking up the group altogether. For their part, these Democrats wanted to step in and vote for McCarthy, thereby canceling out the votes of the QAnon Republicans like Matt Gaetz. However, in order to do so, they would have had to get McCarthy to make some concessions, and not just concessions that he would turn right around and refuse to honor as he has done so many times in the past. But McCarthy could not do that because it would not only rip his party apart, it could lead to his losing his next primary back at home. A Republican equivalent was Republican pollster Frank Lutz. He commented “We need to stop talking about cutting a deal with the other side. We’re on the same side.”
The mainstream Republicans are aghast. Former Republican Representative Barbara Comstock commented (on CNN), “This was a MAGA civil war…. MAGA showed they’re unfit to govern.” And unfit they are if by “governing” we mean administering US capitalism. However, key here is the word “former” as in “former Representative”, because almost all these Republicans are either out the door (like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney) or on their way out. The only ones who remain in office come from Democratic leaning districts, where they had to present themselves as “moderates”, but it’s their presence in office that has given the Republicans the House majority! They are just the enablers of the QAnon Republicans.
Nevertheless, a compromise cannot be ruled out. Part of the problem with McCarthy was that he had proven how untrustworthy he was. He broke one promise, one agreement he’d made, after another. It’s possible that some sort of power sharing arrangement could be worked out with a more trustworthy Republican, but it seems that would only be possible to end a major crisis such as a long-term government shutdown, one against which some union leaders start to organize a strike. That’s what finally brought the last shutdown to a halt.
As for the overt QAnon Republicans, they are unrepentant. It is full speed ahead. To paraphrase the famous line from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, for them it is “chaos? We don’t care about no stinking chaos.” Or, as Gaetz put it on CNN: “Chaos is Speaker McCarthy in office.” A fellow Qanonist, Bob Good (R, Virginia) used the moment to whip up his base when he was interviewed by CNN. “The American people are suffering. We have a broken border, inflation… [Removal of McCarthy was] a win for the American people.” Good also denounced the 45 day spending agreement, and he warned “the swamp will strike back. The empire sill strike back.”
What comes next?
Will the 45-day spending bill expire and no new spending bill gets passed, meaning a new government shutdown? Will the Republicans even be able to elect a new Speaker in this period of time or will they stagger on with a Speaker pro-tem? One name being put forward as a moderate acceptable to both the majority of Republicans and some Democrats is Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana. An indication of how moderate he is is the fact that he reportedly once spoke at a rally of the KKK and described himself as “(former KKK leader) David Duke without the baggage.”
As for the Democrats, their attitude can be seen in the words (again, on CNN that night) of Democratic Representative Matt Cartwright: “We need to put people over police and stop throwing bombs. Both sides are guilty of that…. I place a priority of working across the aisle [presumably with “moderates” like Scalise]….”
What does “people over politics” even mean? Does it mean anything at all, or is it just a cover for making even more concessions to “moderates” like a Republican who is “David Duke without the baggage”, in other words the QAnons without the crazed look in their eyes?
The union leadership is silent. And as for a “left” alternative, a few days later the “peace and justice” crowd showed up in Washington DC to lobby for what amounts for.a victory by Putin under the guise of “peace” in Ukraine. A couple of them posed with their far right ally – Marjorie Taylor Greene!
How, when, through what channels will a working class alternative develop? Will the current strikes like that of the United Auto Workers break out of their bounds and lead to a wider working class political revolt? Will some new outrage such as a violent fascist – yes, really a fascist – attack spark a new movement like that after the George Floyd murder, but one which breaks the handcuffs of the NGOs? Will the ongoing capitalist-caused climate disaster finally spark outrage?
Does anybody know?