Farce and Sophistry: The Difficult Birthing of a US House Speaker

The United States political arena has recently witnessed yet another spectacle. Earlier this month, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was removed following rebellion from within his own party, and for nearly three weeks since then, the office of the speaker of the House of Representatives has remained vacant. With the country’s entire legislative agenda now shelved, the Republican and Democratic parties have been incapable of electing McCarthy’s successor.*

The U.S. House of Representatives should be made up of 435 members, but there are currently 433; some 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats. A simple majority of 217 votes is required in a vote of the full House to be elected speaker. This means that as long as the Republican camp stays united, there is no doubt that they will elect a speaker.

The suspense is real, however. Jim Jordan, the candidate put forward by the Republican camp after all sorts of games, was unable to get the number of votes needed to ensure victory — and by some margin at that. Evidently, there is a fair number of people within the party who do not find the gentleman convincing. To all appearances, the august speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America is once again experiencing a troublesome birth.

Earlier this year, the Republican Party, which regained control of the House last year, made McCarthy, a self-interested career politician, endure 15 rounds of voting before electing him speaker. American democracy truly treated itself to a heretofore unseen embarrassment —except that, less than 10 months later, Republicans voted to vacate McCarthy’s position, making history yet again.

Not only did the “protagonist” McCarthy single-handedly disgrace American democracy, he also exposed its underbelly. In fact, his troubled rise to and rapid fall from power and the current farce over electing his replacement share the same linear logic: between parties, and even between factions within parties, the only talk is of interests; they are completely incompatible and have utter disregard for the interests of the country and the well-being of the people.

During the election for speaker at the start of this year, McCarthy compromised in order to win the support of the ultra-conservative faction within his party, agreeing to reduce to one the number of lawmakers required to bring a “motion to vacate” the speaker position. When the ultra-conservatives were therefore dissatisfied with McCarthy’s recent concessions to the Democratic administration, they resorted to inflicting the coup de grâce and ousted him, resolutely stabbing him in the back during the vote.

The current divisions in public opinion and the polarization of politics in the U.S. have long been indisputable, and in the global scheme of things, such simple, crude and even savage democratic operations may be regarded as a spectacle. In the eyes of the world, when partisan and personal interests are pursued in the name of democracy, the so-called city on a hill has long since crumbled.

*Editor’s note: Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana was elected speaker of the House Oct. 25.

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About Matthew McKay 97 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 for 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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