The month of October 2023 was full of turmoil for the United States House of Representatives after the Republican majority elected to remove the speaker, Kevin McCarthy, from his leadership position. It should have come as no surprise that his party lost faith in him as it took fifteen votes for him to be elected in the first place. Though, this is another transparent instance of democratic precedence the Republicans in Congress have continued to brush aside. The most extreme members of the party, coupled with the silent onlookers, have been broadcasting and clumsily accelerating this kind of behavior since the 2016 Presidential election, and the ousting of Speaker McCarthy was a blatant example.
After only nine short months and a list of grievances, all but one Republican member of The House of Representatives voted to elect Representative Mike Johnson as the new Speaker of the House. He has represented the state of Louisiana since 2017 but has been relatively unknown until being nominated for his newly appointed position. However, the more we learn about the new Speaker and his ideological positions, the harder it is to believe he has not been a more prominent party leader. His vocal opinions on LGBTQ+ matters, women’s reproductive rights and other pressing social issues are exceptionally extreme and not in line with a significant portion of the country; though, his aid in attempting to not certify the 2020 Presidential election results perfectly illustrate the systematic erosion these kinds of elected officials are inflicting upon our democratic norms.
The Speaker of the House can sometimes be a forgotten position, but the importance of the role cannot be understated. After the Vice President, the Speaker is next in line to assume the Presidency, if necessary. The Speaker also proposes what bills are brought to the floor and assigns members to committees. The elected official that holds this office should be trustworthy, reliable and ethical because of the reasons listed above, but most importantly to uphold the democratic institutions that hold our country together. One of the most significant threats we have witnessed is the denial of the 2020 Presidential election results, and some scholars say the Speaker is capable of making the certification process significantly harder.
After Speaker Johnson’s win in early October, Amy Gardner and Michael Kranish of The Washington Post analyzed and spoke with experts regarding the Speaker’s history with election denial and what he could be capable of. After President Biden’s win in 2020, they found that Johnson was personally contacted by former President Trump to look further into the ballot counting and its legality. He continued to follow explicit instructions from Trump and rallied members of his party that helped him administer doubt regarding the results of the election. After a loss in the courts, Johnson went even further to recruit his peers in an attempt to overturn the election. Despite the exhaustive research done by non-partisan sources that show zero evidence of voter fraud with the Presidential election, that did not deter Johnson from using his vote to not certify President Biden’s election results. This kind of rhetoric is dangerous for voters to believe, alarming to see elected officials assert but it has the potential to be jeopardous for our democracy. The most frightening part of Johnson’s responsibility and role in the election denial, is that scholars think he could use his sudden promotion to affect the 2024 election results, and it hard to imagine a scenario where his fellow Republican colleagues would prevent him from abusing this power.
Out of everything our democracy has endured over the last several years, the blind support from so many of our elected officials and politicians should be one of the most important issues to understand and address. In “How Democracy Dies”, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat assert that, “the abdication of political responsibility by existing leaders often marks a nations first step toward authoritarianism” (Levitsky, Ziblatt 19). Witnessing one hundred and forty-seven members of Congress, Speaker Johnson included, wield unsubstantiated claims in an attempt to overturn legitimate election results, perfectly showcases what the authors were alluding to. By endorsing this level of disinformation in such a consequential way and then promoting one of the most loyal election deniers, these Congressmen showed support for those that want to dismantle our democracy.
Since President Trump announced his presidential bid in 2015, the United States has seen a complete upheaval of the democratic processes and institutions it has grown accustomed to. Disinformation is commonplace and sometimes undistinguishable; respect and the expectation of integrity are much harder to come by. Political extremism is tolerated more plainly than ever, and the appearance of diplomacy has vanished. Of these examples, the fight to certify the 2020 election results is among the most egregious, tangible attacks on our democratic norms. Electing a speaker that cannot be trusted to execute the wishes of the voters at the behest of a dangerous demagogue could be the final vestige that our politics have evolved past a functional democracy.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. First edition. New York, Crown, 2018.