Discover more from America, America
A Sad Day for Democracy
MAGA extremist and far-right ideologue Mike Johnson takes the speaker's gavel
I’m an optimist by nature. Maybe Mike Johnson, the newly elected House speaker, will recognize that the path forward truly requires bipartisanship and he needs to work with Democrats to seriously address critical challenges. Perhaps he will realize that MAGA extremism is a danger to the country and it’s time for moderation.
I wouldn’t bet a nickel on that. A little-known Louisiana congressman, Mike Johnson comes with a pleasant, seemingly courteous exterior. He wears glasses, has good hair that Washington types like, and dons both a tie and a jacket, unlike his close ally, Jim Jordan.
But don’t be deceived: Behind that smiling demeanor is a MAGA extremist, a far-right ideologue and a hardcore election denier who The New York Times called “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” and who traded in such lies as the dubious claim that a software voting system was suspect “because it came from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.”
Johnson, who joined Congress in 2016, may appear to be low profile, but he’s been determined to do Donald Trump’s bidding. That includes serving on the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government alongside Jordan, voting against funding for Ukraine and opposing such bipartisan bills as the infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and a modest new gun control law. Johnson is also staunchly anti-abortion, advocating for a national ban, and has aggressively opposed same-sex marriage both in Congress and when he worked as a litigator for groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative counterpoint to the American Civil Liberties Union.
When Johnson said yesterday that he didn’t want to waste time “with all the usual ceremonies and celebrations that traditionally follow a new speakership”—that he wants to get right to work because “the American people's business is too urgent”—that alarmed me more than encouraged me.
Is he going to use his new power to shut down the government in less than a month? Is he going to use the gavel to stop funding for Ukraine? Is he going to take his marching orders from Trump—and that includes doing everything he can to position the criminal defendant to retake power in 2024, the will of the people be damned? We have every reason to worry about what lies ahead.
And then there was this: An evangelical Christian, Johnson also used his first moments after being elected speaker to tell America that he sees his rise in divine terms. No separation of church and state for this theocrat. “I don’t believe there are any coincidences in a manner like this,” he said. “I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority…I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time.”
While Johnson succeeded where Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan and Tom Emmer (who was deep-sixed by Trump) failed before him, don’t assume that 220 Republicans unanimously said yes because they’re all with him. His ascension may have had much to do with rising fatigue and growing recognition that the chaos of 22 days without a speaker is a bad look for a party that still needs some votes from the surviving Republicans who actually want a functioning government.
We can expect a rocky road ahead for Johnson, even within his own party, particularly because he has so little leadership experience and especially because he will prioritize an extreme agenda and important issues like Hunter Biden’s laptop to ensure maximum conflict and please the disgraced ex-president who demands fealty.
And if you had any doubt about the fascist mindset and the determination to make light of the Jan. 6 coup attempt, consider this coda the night before Mike Johnson’s winning vote. During a supposed press conference, ABC News reporter Rachel Scott asked Johnson about his effort to "overturn" the 2020 presidential election results. Boos and jeers from the assembled House Republicans circled around him and North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx shouting “Shut up! Shut up!”
October 25 ushered in the era of Mike Johnson, House speaker. No matter how long or how short a time he holds the gavel, yesterday was a sad day for democracy.
My original plan before Mike Johnson’s arrival was to write about a few new reasons for optimism. Consider two snapshots that, in contrast to the dangers facing democracy, offer hope that the courts will succeed at laying out the truth and limiting the damage of anti-democratic Republicans bent on getting and keeping power by any means necessary.
Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has now convinced four of 18 co-defendants in the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) case to plead guilty and promise to testify against their co-defendants as requested. The latest to flip this week is Jenna Ellis, the third lawyer to do so. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,” she told the court in a tearful statement.
That’s bad news for Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who she was particularly close to. But that’s good news for everyone who cares about democracy, justice and the need to hold the RICO ringleader accountable if America is ever going to escape from his corrupt and criminal grip.
Here’s how Ellis made clear that she’s not about to take the rap alone. “I relied on others, including lawyers with many more years of experience than I, to provide me with true and reliable information,” she said. “What I did not do, but should have done, your honor, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were, in fact, true.”
It remains to be seen whether Mark Meadows, the former Trump chief of staff, only blames his former boss or implicates others. But ABC News reported Tuesday that Meadows was granted immunity by Special Counsel Jack Smith and has met with federal prosecutors at least three times this year for their investigation into the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. This suggests we will eventually get an answer.
According to the report, Meadows confessed to prosecutors that he told Trump repeatedly that there was no basis for alleging significant voting fraud. Meadows also told the investigators that Trump was “dishonest” when he insisted he won the election in the hours after the polls closed on Nov. 3.
The truth won’t set Donald Trump free, but it just might keep Meadows out of jail, at least in this case. He’s still a co-defendant in Georgia.
Tick tock, tick tock.
One last note: I won’t be publishing Friday in my regular time, not just because of this post, but because I’ll be emceeing at a public event on climate change and the water crisis with a focus on storytelling and the ways to drive awareness and impact. See you Saturday!
Can you afford to chip in $50 a year or just $5 a month for a paid subscription? This sustains the work of America, America, keeps nearly all the content available for everyone, and gives you full access to the comments section for every post.