By Paul Blythe
If you need an example of the disparity between Republicans and Democrats in their capabilities to govern in a democracy, the political events of the past week or so, especially today, should leave no doubt in your mind: The Republican Party is incapable of governing the U.S. House of Representatives, much less the United States.
But rather than being accused of making a knee-jerk judgment based only on today's historic 216-210 vote to remove Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, let's look at other political and governmental actions of both parties since Sept. 22 for a concise but revealing picture of the relative worth of the two parties.
First, the Republicans’ Week that Was
Late Friday night, Sept. 22: Donald Trump, a former president of the United States and the leading candidate to again become the Republican nominee for the job, posts a comment on his social-media network, Truth Social, that insinuates America’s top general deserved to be put to death.
Trump wrote that a phone call his Chairman of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made to reassure China in the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was “an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH.” But The Atlantic, one of the first publications to report Trump’s post, noted that the phone call, in fact, had been explicitly authorized by Trump-administration officials. Milley is expected to be a witness against Trump at his trial for allegedly defrauding the United State by trying to illegally remain in power after losing the 2020 election, and The Atlantic and other publications have described Trump’s comment as a threat meant to intimidate.
“Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous, not just because it is the exact sort that incites violence against public officials but also because it shows just how numb the country has grown toward threats more typical of broken, authoritarian regimes,” The Atlantic article said.
Monday, Sept. 25: During a campaign trip in South Carolina, Trump – who faces felony indictment in four different jurisdictions – handles and admires a Glock pistol in a Summerville gun shop, raising legal questions about whether he violated his bail bond conditions or a federal law barring indicted defendants from shipping or receiving weapons that have crossed state lines. Trump’s campaign initially posted he had bought the gun, which carried a likeness of him, but has since retracted the post. It’s unclear whether Trump violated the law in handling the crime, but he has not been charged with any type of weapons crime.
Tuesday, Sept. 26: New York Judge Arthur Engoren finds Trump and executives from his real estate company routinely and repeatedly deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork. Engoren sets the trial to determine what damages Trump must pay for Monday, Oct. 2.
Wednesday, Sept. 27: Rather than attend the Republican presidential debate scheduled on this day, Trump takes his presidential campaign to Michigan, where the United Auto Workers strike against the "Big Three" automakers is in high gear, but instead of meeting with union leaders or members, Trump speaks at Drake Enterprises, a non-union automotive parts company, in an effort to appeal to pro-worker, anti-union, blue-collar midwestern voters. This method of deceptive campaigning and disingenuous support for workers or whomever he is making his false promises to is the essence of the governing style of Trump.
Wednesday night, Sept. 27: The second Republican presidential debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, often appears more of a waste of time for Republican viewers than it is for Democrats – because few of the questions, or answers, illicit the type of information that might cause viewers to choose one of the seven candidates on the stage instead of the frontrunner, Trump. Frequently, the debate just devolves into a shouting match among Me First (aka America First) candidates. Besides whining that Trump is refusing to appear at the debates, these weak-hearted Republicans don’t do what most competitive politicians do in most debates -- i.e. they don’t attack the frontrunner. They don’tpoint to Trump’s many problems or weaknesses or how they might be a better nominee than him, although former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (first Christie, then DeSantis) did criticize Trump for adding $7.8 trillion to the debt and helping to set the stage for the inflation we have now.
But, despite a question about how to deal with violence and crime in the U.S., no candidate or moderator makes a connection or comparison to Trump’s implicit call for violence against Milley, Trump’s four criminal indictments, his possible violation of a federal gun law because of handling a handgun while under indictment, or the fact that this week he will be going to trial in New York to determine how big a fine he must pay for defrauding banks, insurers and the state of New York for years about the value of his businesses.
In many ways, the debate is more instructive for undecided viewers on the fence or those looking for reasons not to vote for Republicans:
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina’s U.S. Sen. Tim Scott showing their disregard for the Constitution by saying they would eliminate what rightwing extremists like to call birthright citizenship. Ramaswamy mouthed Heritage Foundation propaganda with his claim that it is only a misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment that its phrase “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside” means what it clearly says: If you’re born in the U.S., you’re a U.S. citizen. If you’re wondering about what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1898 in U.S. vs Wong Kim Ark that it meant everyone except children born to foreign diplomats in the U.S. on diplomatic business, children of an invading army that occupies U.S. territory such as happened in Guam during World War II, and members of Native American tribes. Native Americans, however, were granted citizenship by birth with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
DeSantis showing his ignorance on foreign diplomacy by refusing to recognize it’s in the U.S. interest to degrade Russia’s military without losing an American life by funding Ukraine’s defense for less than 5% our defense budget. Instead he says, “it’s in our interest to end this war” and plays like Trump by saying he’s going to “make” Europeans pay.
DeSantis getting caught in several lies, including his oft-repeated “Democrats support abortion all the way up to the moment of birth,” his lie about supporting fracking in Florida that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pointed out, and his lie that Kamala Harris perpetrated a “hoax” that Florida public school curriculum taught that there were “benefits of slavery” for the slaves. The last of these was such an obvious lie that DeSantis tried to discount it even as he was saying it. First he said it was a hoax perpetrated by Harris, but then he immediately said it was history written by descendants of slaves who were respected historians. You can’t have it both ways, Governor.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who attended the debate because it was held in his state, pointing out afterward to national audiences in separate interviews with Fox News, MSNBC and CNN that President Joe Biden “objectively” was the winner of the debate. “These guys identified problems,” Newsom said of the debate participants, “and Biden actually has not only identified solutions, he’s gotten bipartisan deals to begin the process of implementing those solutions.” One of the best examples of that was when Christie said that when he becomes president, he would stop Putin from putting the USSR back together again, even though it was clear by that time in the debate that Biden has already done that with his support of Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
Thursday, Sept. 28: As the nation faces a looming shutdown of the federal government if Congress doesn’t pass a budget or stop-gap resolution before Oct. 1, House Republicans hold their first hearing to try to impeach President Biden even though they have no proof of wrong-doing by Biden and even their own witnesses admit their evidence does not support articles of impeachment. The House does this even as it has failed to either take up the Senate’s bipartisan budget or pass its own plan to forestall the government shutdown. Not only was this inept governance, but it was classic totalitarianism in two ways: It was a kangaroo court and it was a “wag the dog” move in which a government takes action against an invented enemy or scapegoat to distract from that government’s other problems.
Friday, Sept. 29: In an embarrassing but not surprising defeat for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 21 ultra-rightwing Republicans joined all House Democrats to shoot down a stopgap spending bill meant to avoid a government shutdown. Even though the bill included 30 percent cuts in the budgets of several federal agencies as an inducement for support from far-right Republicans, they opposed the bill because it included $6 billion in military aid for Ukraine and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief. Democrats, who opposed the bill because of the agency cuts, urged McCarthy to allow a vote on a bipartisan Senate bill to fund the government but McCarthy has vowed not to do that or otherwise compromise with Democrats for fear that Republicans will remove him as Speaker.
Meanwhile, the office of U.S. Special Prosecutor Jack Smith cites Trump’s gun stunt and execution remark on Milley in an updated motion to bolster its request to gag Trump ahead of his federal trial.
Saturday, Sept. 30: House Republicans pass stopgap funding bill averting government shutdown – in spite of themselves. After Friday’s 232-198 defeat of McCarthy’s Republican bill, he had to rely on Democrats to come to America’s rescue and help pass a short-term compromise bill that will keep U.S. afloat at current levels of funding for 45 days. The only concession to extreme right Republicans was the elimination of money for Ukraine. The bill passed the House on a 335-91 vote, with all 210 Democrats except for one voting for it. The measure passes 88-9 in the Senate with all nine No votes coming from Republicans, and the shutdown is avoided in the 11th hour because McCarthy tried every conservative option he could before being forced to accept the most logical choice of compromise with Democrats.
Tuesday, Oct. 3: The House votes 216-210 to make McCarthy the first House Speaker in U.S. history to be removed. The motion to vacate the speakership was made by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a MAGA Republican from Florida and a member of the Republican's far-right Freedom Caucus. The votes to remove McCarthy came from that far-right caucus because McCarty compromised with Democrats and from the Democratic Party because they knew they couldn't trust McCarthy.
In summary, Republican politics of the past 12 days show that the House Republicans are -- like the Republican presidential debate and former President Trump -- archetypal examples of the chaos and corruption that results when a party that doesn’t believe in democracy or even respect rules of order tries to govern, or even just hold an organized event.
Now, What Democrats’ Accomplished in Past Week
Monday, Sept. 25: Biden hosts a meeting with Pacific Islands Forum leaders, where he vows to work with Pacific island nations, such as Tonga, Fiji and Micronesia on climate change, economic development and security. Later,, Biden and Harris meet with the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where the administration receives high praise. “No other administration in American history has given so much to HBCUs so quickly, so clearly and with a clear vision for doing more,” Board Chairman Tony Allen said. Both meetings held at the White House.
Tuesday: Biden makes history, by some media accounts, as the first sitting president in more than a century to join a labor union’s picket lines. He told United Auto Workers protesters outside a General Motors Co. parts distribution center near Detroit, "You made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot when the companies were in trouble. Now, they're doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well, too. You deserve a significant raise you need and other benefits. Let's get back what we lost, OK? ... It's time for them to step up for us."
Biden is there at the invitation of UAW President Shawn Fain, who stands with Biden during the event but stops short of endorsing Biden’s re-election, although he tells his members, “We know the president will do right by the working class.”
Contrast that with Fain’s words for Trump when asked if he would be meeting with the former president when Trump was to visit the non-union shop the next day. “I see no point in meeting with him because I don’t think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for,” Fain said of Trump. “He serves a billionaire class, and that’s what’s wrong with this country.” Fain also said, “I find a pathetic irony that the former president is going to hold a rally for union members at a nonunion business.”
Salon writer Amanda Marcotte noted the striking contrast between the two speeches. “Biden was on the ground with the workers, letting them tell him what they needed in this rapidly changing industry. Trump was standing over workers, issuing a long-winded lecture centered on one theme: How he and the automakers are owed their loyalty,” she wrote.
And even though people at the Trump rally were holding signs that said, “Union members for Trump” or “Auto Workers for Trump,” Marcotte pointed out that Craig Mauer of the Detroit News reported that a woman holding a “union members” sign acknowledged she wasn't a union member while a man with an "auto workers” admitted he wasn't even an autoworker.
Meanwhile, another Detroit News story described two union members who got to fist-bump Biden and “were impressed by the president’s remarks and the fact that he took the time to visit.” That story also mentioned a worker who was on a separate picket line in Wayne representing the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, Paul Dunford, who said he tries to vote for candidates who are pro-labor.
“I think he’s the most pro-labor president in my lifetime," Dunford said of Biden, who he supports. "We vote for labor-friendly politicians as much as possible. At this time right now especially, it seems to be that the Democrats are doing more for working families than the other party."
Wednesday: Biden meets with his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in San Francisco, where he expressex concern about the federal government’s reduction in how much it spends on research and development over the past 30 years – from about 2 percent as a share of the economy to less than 0.7 percent. “I don't know how we can be the safest, most secure, and healthiest nation in the world without significant investment in --- in science and technology,” he says before the council discusses two priorities: artificial intelligence and expanding high quality health care for every American, no matter where they live.
Thursday: In announcing the creation of a library in honor of his friend Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at Arizona State University, Biden delivers a major and fiery political speech warning that MAGA Republican extremism seriously threatens American democracy from within unless the rest of America, the majority, puts the preservation of our democracy first and engages in standing up “for American values embedded in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, because we know the MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t.”
He names Trump as one of these extremists threatening the Constitution: “Trump says the Constitution gave him, quote, ‘the right to do whatever he wants as president,’ end of quote. 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. We see the headlines. Quote, ‘sweeping expansion of presidential power.’ Their goal to quote, ‘alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government,’ end of quote.”
Biden doesn’t mention anyone else’s name but we know who he’s talking about.
“Extremists in Congress — more determined to shut down the government, to burn the place down than to let the people’s business be done” (The House Freedom Caucus).
“One guy in Alabama is holding up the promotion of every – hundreds of these officers” in the U.S. military (U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.).
“Just consider these actual quotes from MAGA – the MAGA movement,” Biden says.
“Slitting throats” of civil servants (DeSantis).
“We must destroy the FBI” (U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.).
“Did you ever think you’d hear leaders of political parties in the United States of America speak like that?” Biden asks. “Seizing power, concentrating power, attempting to abuse power, purging and packing key institutions, spewing conspiracy theories, spreading lies for profit and power to divide America in every way, inciting violence against those who risk their lives to keep America safe, weaponizing against the very soul of who we are as Americans.”
It’s a great speech. To read the whole speech, see our post, "President Biden speaks on the danger of MAGA extremism."
Friday: Biden gives another wonderful speech, this one in Arlington, Va., honoring Gen. Milley, at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Milley, who retired Sunday as the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Keep in mind that this is the same Joint Chiefs chair that just a week earlier Trump had suggested in a social media post deserved to be put to death for what Trump, in a lie, described as a treasonous act.
But Biden gives us a vastly different, and much more believable, impression of Milley in his role as America’s top general.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I’ve relied on Mark’s counsel because I know he always gives it to me straight no matter what,” Biden said. “He always gives it to me straight. He’s working with the best information possible, and he doesn’t hold anything back. “During his tenure as Chairman, Mark has been a steady hand, guiding our military as we navigate what, I would argue, is one of the most complex security environments our world has faced in a long time.”
But you really should read this whole speech, too, by going to our post, "How a real president behaves: Biden’s other excellent speech as Trump, Republicans unravel."
Yet, as good as Biden’s two latest speeches were, it is Milley who deserves the last word here, for it was he who used his final speech as the Joint Chiefs chair to emphasize that troops take an oath to the Constitution and not to a “wannabe dictator,” in what was an obvious but reference to Trump, although he never named Trump.
“We don’t take an oath to a king, or a queen, or to a tyrant or dictator, and we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” Milley said in an impassioned speech. “We don’t take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America, and we’re willing to die to protect it.”
“Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, guardian and Coast Guardsman, each of us commits our very life to protect and defend that document, regardless of personal price,” Milley continued. “And we are not easily intimidated.”
What we should all take from this
It’s been obvious for a while to many of us, but the events of the past nine or ten days should have crystalized it for any rational being: Trump is a wannabe dictator, his MAGA Republican followers are neo-fascist thugs who want to rip apart the Constitution and dismantle democracy, and Biden is a good and hard-working president, not to mention a genuinely good guy, who is on a mission to save American democracy.
And today’s spectacle in the House made it clearer than ever that today’s Republican Party is so split that it is incapable of governing.
Let’s do what it takes to help him Biden, and every Democrat on the ballot in 2024, win in a landslide – for decency’s sake.