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Speaker Big Lie
The drama around a speakerless House of Representatives has come to an end, at least for the moment. It has been a sad spectacle, to be sure, but the means by which it was resolved, and what it augurs for the future, offer no reason to celebrate.
Quite the contrary.
If the elevation of Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson to the speaker’s gavel with unanimous Republican support counts as compromise within the party’s caucus, it reinforces what we already knew — this nation faces grave threats to its constitutional order, because one of our two major political parties has embraced autocratic extremism.
This is not hyperbole. The person who rallied his party to make him second in line to the presidency was a cheerleader for the end of American democracy. There should be no normalization of this fact.
In the wake of President Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, the vast majority of the Republican Party fell in line behind Donald Trump’s attempts to destroy one of the most sacrosanct features of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. We all know what came next, including a violent attempted coup that swarmed the Capitol on January 6. On that day, 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives (including Johnson) voted not to certify the election. It marked arguably the greatest threat to the continuation of the republic since the Civil War.
The new speaker of the House might not be well known by the American public. But he was an influential leader of the movement to deny the will of the people and their selection of president. In late 2020, Johnson pushed House members to sign on to a lawsuit, filed by Texas, that would have thrown out the votes in key battleground states — in essence disenfranchising millions of Americans. To call this ridiculous legal maneuver “fringe” is insufficient. This wasn’t just “out there.” This was the legal equivalent of orbiting Pluto. Even the reactionary right-wing Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
But the purpose of the lawsuit wasn’t just to deny Biden the presidency. It was to delegitimize a legitimate election. And all you have to do to understand how successful this movement has been is to see Mike Johnson now sitting in the speaker’s chair.
It should be noted that Johnson holds the speakership despite espousing extremely radical views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. He also seems to be following Trump’s lead in wanting to stymie U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia. That these views were not disqualifying for a single Republican member — including those purported “moderates” who come from districts Biden won — shows how the party marches in lockstep with radicalism and in the opposite direction of where a majority of Americans want the nation to go.
In the days before Republican elected officials crowned an architect of authoritarianism to lead the House, several of the Trump lawyers who helped orchestrate the specious legal rationale for the coup were busy pleading guilty in the conspiracy case of election interference in Georgia. Georgia, it turns out, was one of the states where Speaker Johnson wanted votes to be thrown out.
In their plea deals, the Trump lawyers had to admit what was obvious from the beginning: All the attempts to steal the election were built on lies. The rule of law seems to be closing in on Trump. And it is being fueled by the truth.
Yet the Big Lie continues to fuel Republicans outside of the courtroom, and especially in the halls of Congress. This puts our nation in peril. We are at a point where the very thing that should most disqualify someone from political leadership in America — the desire to destroy our democracy — has become the litmus test for the speaker of the House.
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