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The Campus

Mike Johnson’s catastrophic House speakership

Weeks of bewildering chaos came to an abrupt end this week with the dispiriting and deeply concerning election of little-known Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson to the position of speaker of the House.
Although most Americans are understandably celebrating the end of this brief but destabilizing era of dysfunction, I believe that this outcome is harrowing for anyone who cares about the fate of democracy or civil rights in this country.
Mike Johnson is a staunch supporter of twice-impeached, ninety-times-indicted former President Donald Trump. Being a supporter of Trump means supporting or turning a blind eye to horrifying acts like attempting to overturn a legitimate democratic election, using the presidential office to spread hateful rhetoric and inspire real-world acts of violence, rolling back protections for abortion and LGBTQ rights and denying scientific truths in the face of deadly catastrophes like climate change and a global pandemic. I could go on.
I find it especially repugnant that Johnson personally aided Trump in his attempt to illegally change the results of the 2020 election. Johnson “took the lead in filing a brief in a lawsuit that sought to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win,” according to the Associated Press. This is chilling to me because it is the speaker of the House who is responsible for certifying the results of the presidential election, and I can only wonder what sickening implications this may have for the upcoming presidential election.
I fear that Johnson will use his position as speaker to illegitimately certify the vote in favor of Trump, or at the very least to implement Trump’s policy agenda by-proxy. The speaker of the House is one of the most powerful people in Washington; he not only certifies the general election vote, but is also responsible for setting the legislative agenda in the House — meaning he gets to decide what possible pieces of legislation will and will not be voted on — and is third in line to the presidency.
As someone who is deeply concerned about the fate of our increasingly fragile democracy, the prospect of a Trumpist wielding near-absolute, virtually-unchecked power over our government causes me enormous anxiety. I believe that American democracy cannot survive another bitterly contested election. It simply cannot. The weight of such a thing would be too much for our already-damaged, beleaguered institutions to bear, and yet I fear that Johnson’s election as speaker may be setting us up for another 2020 election-type scenario next year.
As if his political allegiances and utter disrespect for our democratic tradition are not proof enough of how terrible Johnson’s election to the speakership is, he also holds extreme beliefs on abortion and LGBTQ rights.
“Johnson has co-sponsored bills for a nationwide ban” on abortion, according to The Guardian, and prior to entering Congress he “worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom — designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
The SPLC says that the ADF, Johnson’s former employer, supports “the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ+ adults…defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad; and claimed that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.”
While women and LGBTQ Americans should be enormously worried about Johnson, you do not need to be either to be gravely concerned by these statements. Anyone who cares about the freedom of adults to live as they wish and exercise their own bodily autonomy without government interference should be deeply worried about the fact that the speaker of the House holds such illiberal views.
I am happy that my local representative, U.S. Representative Chris Deluzio (D-PA), has vocally opposed Johnson’s extremist rhetoric, and I only wish that everyone could have representatives who are as committed to liberal democracy and human rights as mine is. I would encourage those who have a pro-Johnson House representative to contact their representative and make their displeasure known.
As opposed to Johnson’s appointment as I am, I will concede that the weeks of chaos that preceded it were not acceptable. The fact that the ineptitude and stubbornness of a group of extremists could hold part of the legislative branch effectively hostage for weeks — and that House Democrats were seemingly powerless to stop it — is maddening and frankly makes me feel as if I have been failed by my government. That a vital organ of our government can so easily grind to a halt and descend into chaos makes me seriously wonder about the functionality of our institutions.
Is our current model of governance still working? Why was there no way for House Democrats or moderate Republicans to intervene? Will this happen again and what steps can be taken to prevent it? I do not know the answer to these questions, but I know that I am not the only citizen who has been asking them.
In my view, dysfunction like this has the potential to undermine our government’s legitimacy by making people feel as though they are not being represented, and that will be corrosive to our already-damaged democracy. At the same time, Johnson’s appointment represents a profound betrayal of the millions of Americans whose rights and freedoms he has actively attacked. Chaos in government is terrible, but I would have preferred for the discord to continue for a few weeks longer if it meant that a moderate Republican could have been appointed, or perhaps that interim House Speaker Patrick McHenry (R-NC) could have stayed in office.
Perhaps that is wishful thinking, and regardless of my feelings, the worst possible outcome of this situation has already come to pass. An extremist, LGBTQ-phobic, anti-choice Republican who is opposed to liberal democracy is already the Speaker of the House. There is no undoing this; all there is left to do now is respond.
We must rise to this challenge with courage and strength, holding fast to our principles of tolerance, being an ally to those who will be disproportionately affected by the whims of a Trumpist legislature, and above all, working to bring about a better world by exercising our right to vote.
I do not mean to sound pessimistic, and those who know me know that I am not a pessimistic person by nature. I am simply expressing the truth that every informed person and serious student of political science already knows, which is that the political situation in this country is quite bleak.
We cannot confront the challenge posed by this horrifying new development if we are not honest with ourselves about what it means, and its meaning is dark.

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