McCarthy’s Narrow Victory, US Democracy’s Crushing Defeat

After 15 rounds of voting, Republican Kevin McCarthy has finally been elected the new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, in an embarrassment not seen in a lifetime. This farce, which caused a public outcry, has exposed much of the disorder and dysfunction of American-style democracy.

First, political antagonism is intensifying, and the United States is going further and further down the path of political polarization. For the past 100 years, the election of the speaker of the House of Representatives has been little more than a formality, wrapped up in a single round of voting. Today, however, the fact that it takes more than a dozen rounds before a winner emerges reflects both the increased political polarization in the United States and the sharpening of factional strife within the Republican Party.

On the one hand, the Democratic and Republican parties are now even more at odds with each other, as McCarthy has long been vocal about wanting to fight Democratic policies and launch an investigation into President Joe Biden. For their part, House Democrats are only too eager to see a continuation of the Republican Party’s internal strife and are unlikely to stick their necks out for McCarthy to help him cross party lines, in light of the lack of support he faces from within his own party. On the other hand, although the total number of Republican Party votes may have sufficed, the party’s internal conflicts still run deep, with some right-leaning hardliners having stuck to their positions, not wanting to give in to McCarthy too easily. The 14th round of voting on the evening of Jan. 6 brought the rift within the Republican Party into sharp relief: Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz backtracked at a critical juncture, causing McCarthy to lose again by one vote. McCarthy went to confront Gaetz in frustration, and Republican Rep. Mike Rogers was also disappointed and sought to “reason things out” with Gaetz, until those next to him became concerned matters were about to degenerate, covered Rogers’ mouth, and hurriedly pulled him away.

The last time there were more than 10 rounds of voting in an election for the speaker of the House was in 1859, at the opening of the 36th United States Congress, when the election went to 44 rounds of voting over the fiercely disputed issue of slavery. Two years later saw the outbreak of the American Civil War. Ted Genoways, an associate professor at the University of Tulsa and contributor to various media outlets, believes that the election of the speaker was reminiscent of the tense atmosphere in the House of Representatives before the American Civil War, while Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University, has stated plainly that the United States is in fact in the middle of a type of “neo-Civil War.”

Second, the political instability in the United States has become more apparent as politicians have engaged in political deal-making for the sake of power. After much bargaining, McCarthy finally reached an agreement with his opponents to ensure that he would receive more than half of the votes in the 15th round of voting. It is reported that McCarthy made or offered a series of major concessions to take up the position of speaker — not hesitating to kneecap himself in the process — including lowering the threshold for the number of members of the House to move a motion to remove the speaker to a single representative from either party. In addition, McCarthy promised to put more right-leaning hard-liners on key House committees and to initiate deliberation and voting on a series of conservative bills, among other things. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, warned that these trade-offs would lead to a federal government shutdown or debt default in the future, with devastating consequences for the United States. According to a New York Times article, this political dispute shows that the United States Congress could repeatedly descend into chaos over the next two years.

Once again, American politicians’ predilection for intrigue and second-nature hypocrisy is making U.S. politics increasingly untrustworthy in the eyes of the people. In the halls of Congress, representatives and senators are outwardly impassioned when presenting their views, but privately they are thoroughly Machiavellian. On the campaign trail, they readily agree to voters’ demands, but once elected, they immediately focus on political struggles, and matters of national importance such as the economy and people’s livelihoods, tackling inflation, managing the border crisis and the fight against crime are all relegated to the back burner. Among this term’s elected representatives is serial liar George Santos. At the end of last year, he confessed to having faked his résumé but refused to renounce his bid for office, on the specious grounds that “[It] won’t stop me from having a good legislative success.” A man cannot succeed without honesty, yet it no longer seems surprising that American politicians should be able to reach the upper echelons despite their falsehoods and lack of credibility. According to the results of a Gallup poll released late last year, more than 70% of Americans disapprove of the performance of Congress. As Fox News host and former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has pointed out, it is not surprising in the least that the American public does not trust these politicians, as the Washington clique are all in it for themselves.

Rather ironically, the day before McCarthy was sworn in as speaker of the House was the second anniversary of the Capitol Hill riots in the United States. This violent disturbance shattered the “beauty filter” of the American political system, fully exposing the systemic problems of American democracy and its hypocrisy with regard to democratic issues. Brad Bannon, president of a political consulting firm in the United States, believes that two years after the Capitol Hill riot, American democracy is “still in distress and the House of Representatives is a bloody mess” — yet again demonstrating the decline of the U.S. political establishment.

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About Matthew McKay 103 Articles
A British citizen and raised in Switzerland, Matthew received his honors degree in Chinese Studies from the University of Oxford and, after 15 years in the private sector, went on to earn an MA in Chinese Languages, Literature and Civilization from the University of Geneva. Matthew is an associate of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in the UK, and of the Association of Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters in Switzerland. Apart from Switzerland, he has lived in the UK, Taiwan and Germany, and his translation specialties include arts & culture, international cooperation, and neurodivergence.

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