Generally speaking, great powers do not fall because they are defeated by their rivals. Great powers fall because they rot from within. We might be seeing the same old story play out now in the United States.
Republicans, who control the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, have shown themselves unable to elect a Speaker of the House in an orderly fashion. Their ability to swat down nominees is far greater than their ability to pick one. After House Republicans ousted sitting Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the party caucus raised up Tom Emmer to take his place, only to drop him the next day. Now they have settled upon Mike Johnson, a rookie member who until his nomination was a political non-entity. This is no way to run a country.
As per Carle, the Republicans’ lack of ability to govern with seriousness raises deep concerns about the party. Since at least 2016, we have watched the grand old party (GOP), as it is called, largely jettison its commitment to legality and even to democracy. President Donald Trump dismissed the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, in which he was ousted, and numerous party members, including Johnson, scrambled to repeat his claims. What we have is a potent combination of distrust in institutions together with exaltation of both “the people” and a charismatic leader. This pattern does not merely resemble, but is, fascism.
Make no mistake: Republicans aren’t just undergoing some ordinary political shenanigans. Their inability to select a speaker is a symptom of their fascistic tendency to demonize processes and institutions. Johnson was selected for loyalty to the party, not tenure, experience, political credibility or personal integrity.
Trouble ahead for the not-so-united United States
We are now less than a month away from a government shutdown. This occurs when Congress (both the Senate and the House of Representatives), is unable to authorize spending to fund the US government’s activities. If the House cannot get its act together, this will occur. A significant proportion of the federal government’s four million employees will be furloughed and unable to provide services.
Further, a deadlocked Congress will not be able to authorize support to Ukraine or to Israel. If Congress is not effective, America cannot effectively discharge its role as the hegemonic power that guarantees a stable international system. And no one wants to live in a chaotic world. If the international system cannot look to the US, it will look for another guarantor, like China.
Historically, Americans have been united not by common ethnic or religious identity but by loyalty to a certain set of values and institutions, which are enshrined in the US constitution. Now, that common allegiance is crumbling, and with it, Americans’ ability to work together, find a common purpose and compromise on party interests in order to make decisions concerning necessities.
A political community cannot survive without a common narrative that tells people what their goals are and why they should work together. If America is losing its constitutional and democratic narrative, what will replace it? For Republicans, the replacement seems to be populism. We no longer trust decisions arrived at by rational consensus and compromise forged within institutions. Instead, Republican policy is increasingly based on values, which range from noble ideals to bigoted prejudices to outright conspiracy theories.
Republicans are resorting to populism because voters are lashing out. They feel disenfranchised. It is true that institutions have degraded. Congressmen and Senators spend most of their time raising money. They seem to be more willing to listen to lobbyists and campaign donors than to ordinary Americans and their own constituents. So the government has become detached from the people. Also, the branches of government have become detached from each other. Political dysfunction reigns. The result is that no one feels that they can trust the government or that they have any moral reason to support it.
If American institutions are unable to build consensus, the same is true for American culture. Americans can no longer agree on what is their mission in the world or even on who Americans are as the debates on immigration demonstrate. Technology is partly to blame: These days, everyone feels they have the right to play the expert on Twitter, TikTok or Truth Social with an opinion on everything from public health to nuclear policy. Americans have always been individualistic, but the current brand of hyper-individualistic discourse is dissolving whatever consensus Americans have on anything and, thus, the American ability to act effectively in the world.
[Anton Schauble wrote the first draft of this piece.]
The views expressed in this article/video are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.