According to the coverage, the US House of Representatives has a Speaker again. That means all the chaos is over, right? Republicans are no longer in ruins; legislation can pass through the chamber, and we can begin talking about issues again (as much as we ever were). No need to worry or panic: the government is up and running and ready for business.
It’s very tempting to believe that we are due for some peace and quiet after three weeks without a functioning federal legislative branch, but it’s not true. And that’s not just because Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the real life manifestation of the ChatGPT prompt for “soulless minor bureaucrat in a fascist regime,” is an extremist in every way that’s relevant to politics in this country. It’s because, for House Republicans, electing the Speaker is the easy part.
The hard part that lies ahead—about three weeks out from another government shutdown—is coordinating the fractious coalition of Republicans for long enough to get meaningful legislation developed and passed out of the chamber. And then getting it through the Senate. And then getting President Biden’s signature. It’s about managing, you know, those basics of lawmaking we all learned from Schoolhouse Rock (either from network television or YouTube). And Mike Johnson is exactly the wrong person to do it.
Johnson only consolidated his caucus by being a legislative bomb thrower who can dress ruinous, retrograde policy up in milquetoast mediocrity to disguise the fact that he’s trying to make most of our fundamental rights only exist in the past tense. He’s for massive government intrusion into citizens’ lives—from the clothes we wear and the books we read to the partnerships we form as professionals, friends, and lovers to when and how we choose to become parents (regardless of whether we want to). And to avoid any interference from that pesky little “consent of the governed,” Rep. Johnson believes in preventing, ignoring, or outright nullifying the votes of anyone who disagrees with his program.
The House GOP didn’t end the chaos by choosing a Speaker; they embraced it as their brand. As we hurtle towards the closure of the federal government and the pain of millions of workers, beneficiaries, and agencies that rely on its function, it’s worth noting that Mike Johnson is more likely to let all of us burn than to try to keep it open and running. He isn’t going to negotiate with Democrats, or find a third option between liberals and conservatives, or try to support moderation or reflection among his caucus to get the votes necessary. Instead, Johnson is going to let his coalition run wild: churning out unhinged conspiracy theories, vomiting out dangerous and volatile rhetoric, and serving their entirely detached egos rather than the American people. Mike Johnson’s government isn’t about solving problems; it’s about amplifying them until it hurts so badly we’ll do anything to make it stop.
And I am not just guessing here, because that description sums up how Mike Johnson got the Speaker job in the first place.
Republicans didn’t genuinely agree that he was the best person for the role; they didn’t have long and thoughtful conversations as to what makes him a capable and credible leader. They were tired, embarrassed, and couldn’t see any real, workable solution on the horizon. Many who had vowed to never vote for an election denier, or a Jordan ally, or a pro-Trump Republican simply sold out their thin principles for a chance to stop being asked questions that made them feel bad. So after minimal vetting, after days of failed votes and weeks of public humiliation, House Republicans stopped trying to control the calamity and gave into it instead.
The mask is off; the hood is lifted. This is who Republicans are now, and who they’ve been for a while. The Speakership of Mike Johnson isn’t the end of the chaos; it’s the beginning of a new phase of it. The bad news is that it’s going to reign supreme until we oust him and his cronies. The good news is? Midterms are a year out, and all we need to do is see him and the caucus he leads for who they are.