Habemus Speaker. After 22 days, four nominees, and immeasurable national embarrassment at this entire circus, Republicans in the House of Representatives have finally gotten their crap together and elected a new Speaker of the House. That would be good news, if the man selected and the caucus that selected him were not so intent on destroying our nation.
In some ways, this is a lesson to me in being careful what I wish for. Over the past three weeks I have desperately prayed that House Republicans would find someone – anyone – to lead them. Whether I like it or not, they have the majority in the House, and the House needs a Speaker to properly function. The dysfunction – a word which feels like an understatement given the absolute embarrassment of the past 22 days – exhibited by the GOP should be disqualifying in the next election. Our nation became a global laughingstock because one of our chambers was held hostage by a party more interested in destroying democracy than legislating for the American people.
Our new speaker, Mike Johnson, is a prime example of that dysfunction and the disaster it has and will continue to wrought. A far-right congressman from Louisiana, Johnson once worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center warns is a hate group. A dyed-in-the-MAGA-red-wool acolyte of the twice impeached, multiply-indicted Donald Trump, Johnson is every bit the authoritarian the real leader of the Republican Party is.
Given the former president’s quick dispatching of previous Speaker nominee Tom Emmer of Minnesota for being insufficiently loyal, we can only assume Trump feels certain Johnson will do his bidding in the House. Despite Johnson vowing to find “common ground” with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and his fellow Democrats, make no mistake: Johnson is Trump’s new man in Washington.
If that wasn’t frightening enough, take a look at his voting record. Johnson voted to overturn the 2020 election, supports a nationwide abortion ban, opposes equal marriage and last year introduced a federal version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. He has attacked transgender healthcare access, is a climate change denier, and opposes aid to Ukraine.
It is hard to celebrate a man who clearly despises so many Americans being elevated to two heartbeats from the presidency itself. This is a man for whom equality applies only to those who look and think like him, a man whose record proves he believes himself to be a better judge of how you and I live than we ourselves are.
Perhaps nothing indicates the contempt in which Johnson and his ilk hold us than their booing of a reporter last night. ABC News’ Rachel Scott asked Johnson about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election – a perfectly reasonable question given the fact that Johnson will likely be the man overseeing the certification of the 2024 election. She was met with a chorus of boos from Republican Representatives flanking a smirking Johnson, with one of them – arch-conservative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina – telling her to shut up.
Rather than answer the question, Johnson ignored her. It was a galling scene, one which illustrated his contempt for the free press and for legitimate scrutiny and oversight. This is not the behaviour of a man who believes in democracy, but of a man who believes he is above being questioned by the fourth estate. It is a blatant disrespect of press freedom enshrined in the First Amendment, and of the role the press plays in advocating for and informing the American people.
We shouldn’t be surprised, though. Johnson’s aforementioned record illustrates an utter contempt for the civil rights and liberties of his fellow citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee to equal protection under the law? Not for gay couples. The right to privacy it guarantees – or did until five justices overturned half-a-century of Constitutional precedent? Not in Johnson’s world. The only rights you have are the rights he and his fellow far-right travelers grant you. From the looks of it, those will be few and far between.
That makes this whole charade even more frustrating. Johnson was likely palatable to “moderate” Republicans – I do not believe such a thing exists anymore, but for argument’s sake let us pretend – in ways that Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise weren’t because unlike their foaming-at-the-mouth vitriol, Johnson is cordial. Affable, even; Jeffries even concedes he has a “pleasant demeanor.”
Perhaps. I do not know Johnson and make no claims about him as a person. He may be a lovely neighbour, a good friend, and an agreeable enough colleague. All this can be true, and he still be utterly unfit to govern.
With wars in Ukraine and Gaza, with a government shutdown looming, with a climate crisis raging from Maui to Manhattan, and with a deeply divided nation looking for someone to unite us, the American people deserve a leader who does more than smirk at reporters and pass Donald Trump’s absurd loyalty test. That is not what we get in Mike Johnson.
Instead, a Johnson speakership guarantees the MAGA agenda will continue to dominate House business despite being thoroughly rejected by the American people in multiple elections. It means disruption and chaos. Johnson can put a smiley face on shutting down the government, denying aid to our ally fighting a hostile invasion, or stripping Americans of Constitutional rights they hold dear, but the result is still the same – an authoritarian assault on our democracy and freedom. Mike Johnson’s demeanour may be pleasant enough, but the consequences for our nation will be anything but.