September 29, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump, GOP gamble on chaos and disorder. Good luck with that
Biden, meanwhile, is making room for people who don’t care about “principles and institutions” but do care about peace and order.
The federal government is poised for shutdown Saturday and already our collective attention has shifted away from its effect on the people and the economy to its effect on the House Republican conference that’s completely responsible for it. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing mutiny for, let me see, giving the mutineers exactly what they wanted.
This is in addition to the inaugural hearing of the House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. It, too, demonstrated the conference’s chaos, dysfunction and disorder. The mutineers who have been beating the drum of shutdown are the same ones who have been beating the drum of impeachment. And like the shutdown, there’s nothing on which to base the impeachment inquiry. Here’s Roll Call:
“[University of North Carolina Professor of Law Michael] Gerhardt said there’s no precedent for launching an impeachment inquiry without evidence of wrongdoing by the president. ‘And in fact, I would just point out that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and President Trump in 2019, the full House authorized those impeachment inquiries,’ Gerhardt said.” (The full House has not authorized the current inquiry; my italics.)
Few condone meaningless impeachments. Fewer condone meaningless disruptions of normal government functioning. Fewer still condone threats of violence to a man who dedicated his life to defending democracy and the US Constitution.
And all this is in addition to the endless drip-drip-dripping of chaos, dysfunction and disorder coming from Donald Trump, who can be trusted to keep reminding everyone who voted against him why they did. Not only did he urge the House GOP to start impeaching Biden – for nothing. Not only did he urge them to shut down the government – again, for nothing. He suggested recently that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have been put to death in another time and place for “disloyalty” to the commander-in-chief.
The tendency among members of the press and pundit corps (me, too) is to suss out how all this chaos, dysfunction and disorder might influence voters in the next election. While some good can come from that, we risk overlooking a demonstrable fact – that all this is chaos, dysfunction and disorder. Few condone meaningless impeachments. Fewer condone meaningless disruptions of normal government functioning. Fewer still condone threats of violence to a man who dedicated his life to defending democracy and the US Constitution.
And yet here we are, talking about how chaos, dysfunction and disorder might influence voter perceptions in the future instead of talking about how they might influence voter perceptions right now. In doing so, we miss an opportunity to state plainly that the House Republicans seemed dedicated to upending the regular order. (Many of them stand ready to overturn, as they were the last time around, the outcome of the next election.) We also miss an opportunity to ask a clarifying question – who are the real defenders of the regular order?
Joe Biden was in Phoenix yesterday to announce funding for a new John McCain Library. While appealing to the late Republican senator’s reputation for putting principle over party, Biden used the moment to “deliver one of his most explicit warnings that Trump poses a threat to democratic principles and institutions,” according to the Post.
For fourth time since taking office, but in the most explicit terms yet, he “called Trump out by name before detailing … his anti-democratic behavior: relentless attacks on the press, praise for the Jan. 6 US Capitol attackers, plans to consolidate power in the executive branch and a desire to fire civil servants who are not sufficiently loyal to him.”
The Post said the speech seemed designed “to create a contrast with several tumultuous Republican-led events this week: a presidential debate rife with insults and interruptions, an impeachment inquiry lacking direct evidence of wrongdoing and a looming government shutdown amid Republicans’ failure to agree on a spending plan.”
By setting John McCain (and himself) against the chaos, dysfunction and disorder of the House Republicans – many are rebelling because, let me see, they got what they wanted – Biden seems to be expanding the meaning of “democratic principles and institutions.” The president seems to be making additional space for those who may not care about principles and institutions one way or the other but who nevertheless react instinctively and aggressively to chaos, dysfunction and disorder with a fierce desire for peace and the restoration of the regular order.
“Trump says the Constitution gave him the right to do whatever he wants,” Biden said. “I’ve never even heard a president say that in jest. Not guided by the Constitution or by common service and decency toward our fellow Americans, but by vengeance and vindictiveness.”
Republican leaders used to talk about “the silent majority.” In the context of the late 1960s, these were Americans who did not get the attention of the news media, because the news media was busy paying attention to civil rights activists and antiwar demonstrators whose objectives depended on disrupting the regular order. The Republicans believed this “silent majority” was on their side. Given the electoral success of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, they were probably right.
The Republicans learned from those civil rights activists and antiwar demonstrators. They learned that upending the regular order gets attention, and with that attention, they are positioned to bend political reality in their favor. They have been doing this for years, of course. (Remember all those “Tea Party protests”?) But no one bet the success of his campaign on his party’s ability to upend the regular order. No one believed a majority was on the side of that. No one, until Trump.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.