GELFAND’S WORLD - What's the point of being the majority party if you don't act like it? Somebody might mention that point to the five or seven members of the House of Representatives who continue to hold their party hostage. Who knows what the party might accomplish if they were willing to use their majority in a way which was effective. But there are still members who are apparently at the level of early to mid-adolescence, who believe that if they just hold their breath, they can get their way. This congressional session will go down in history as the House that couldn't get it together. And by "together," we mean that in the literal sense.
The party that wins the majority is supposed to unify, figure out its leadership and its plans, and go out onto the House floor and do it. Elect a speaker -- which should take all of 30 minutes -- and pass some legislation.
If there is split government, then the leaders and the House members will have to decide how much they are willing to compromise, but if they wish to keep the American government going, then compromise they must.
And then there is this year's group -- the clown caucus -- which has a subset whose mission seems to be to oppose the very idea of compromise. I don't know how much more right wing you would have to be to please those people, but apparently McCarthy and Jordan and Scalise are not over that magic bar.
Let's consider a recent counterexample. When the Democrats held the House, they also had their own competing factions. There were centrist Democrats and there was that group known as "the squad," who epitomize liberalism. But when it came time to vote, the Democrats knew how to count, and they made sure that they won the position of Speaker and they made sure that they could put together the required number of votes to win.
For all their bluster about toughness and discipline (in the home, at any rate), the Republicans are putting on a show which makes some of those European parliamentary systems seem like finely tuned machines by comparison.
Sadly, there is one Republican agenda item which is downright evil, and has to be called out. And there is an evil force behind it that has to -- once again -- be called out.
Looking the other way on war, murder, torture, and rape
We have to start with a comment about the recent violence. What happened in Israel was horrible, unjustified, and will continue to be an agony to the friends and families of the hostages. The United States, by long precedent and tradition, is sending supplies to Israel. As of this writing, supplies were already arriving. A naval fleet was heading to the eastern Mediterranean. Israel has more than enough soldiers and aircraft to put a temporary halt to the incursion, although rooting out the Hamas terrorist network is a different question.
But the same kinds of outrages have been going on in the Russian war against Ukraine for nearly two years. Missile strikes killing children, whole families even, are the norm, not the exception. Hostage taking and kidnapping, rape theft and murder are the daily acts of the invaders.
You would think that there would be a unified response by the American government against these actions. Continued support for the Ukrainian resistance should be the minimum.
It is not.
And why is it not the unified position of the American government? There is an answer, and it is not a pretty one.
Those same Republicans in the House of Representatives who refuse to unify behind their own majority candidate for Speaker have been holding up aid for Ukraine.
What happened to all that Republican bluster about being anti-communist going back to Richard Nixon? What happened to standing up to the Russians that Ronald Reagan at least postured about? Hell, even Rush Limbaugh made a big deal about calling out Soviet leaders, even the one who was most demonstrative about liberalizing Soviet society.
But a faction of Republicans in the House oppose aid to Ukraine. Perhaps they don't mean it personally, or perhaps they see it as another bargaining chip to use against the hated Democrats who control the Senate and the presidency.
Whatever their political and personal motives, what they are doing is an evil thing. Ukrainians have been suffering full scale war for almost two years. Their children have been kidnapped and removed to a foreign country. Rape has been the norm for the Russian invaders. And the dead number in the tens of thousands.
So why isn't the House of Representatives joining unanimously to support Ukraine?
It's a chain with three links.
House Republicans are terrified of getting on the wrong side of Donald Trump because he can create an uprising against them in their own district. In Republican language, it's called "getting primaried." That means that any Republican who is not sufficiently obedient to Trump will be considered to be inadequate, and a worse toady will be found as a primary election opponent. And Trump is known for his temper and his need for vengeance. You don't see a lot of Republicans who voted for the impeachment still around on Capitol Hill.
And the reason the Republicans who had qualms about Trump are now gone is that the voters who support Trump are all in on that support. Some people refer to it as a cult, in that the worshipful approach taken by Trump voters has the characteristics and trappings of previous cults. Only there are a lot more of them, and they are in every congressional district.
So there is that three-link chain of Trump, the Trump voters, and the Republican politicians. The politicians are afraid of being seen as disobedient or antagonistic to Trump, because in their world there is retribution.
So we have the first key to the failure of the United States to support Ukraine properly. It is blood on Donald Trump's hands.
But why would Trump adopt this position. He is savvy enough to pretend to be on both sides of the abortion argument (he recently supported allowing abortions out to 15 weeks), so why the Ukraine position?
The answer, as before, has to come down to Vladimir Putin, and his hold on Donald Trump.
The only reason Trump would whisper to Republican House members to kill Ukraine aid is that Trump is still in thrall to Putin. And the only reason the Republicans in the House listen to this bit of advice from Trump is that they are terrified of Trump voters.
Curiously, it's not obvious that most Trump voters are partial to Moscow. But they are devoted to Trump, and they seem to be fairly open to accepting one kind of advice from Trump, which is who to vote for. It doesn't always work (Trump endorsed Jim Jordan for Speaker) but it has worked in a lot of Republican primaries.
It's truly strange that Republican voters have made that 180 degree turn from anti-communist to supporters of the new Russian Empire. The lesson for the rest of us is that we have to get out and vote against Trump, once again, in 2024.
The musical portion of the screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc, performed by the Pacific Chorale and accompanying orchestra, was stunning. The acoustics in Segerstrom Hall are excellent. The soloists did a wonderful job.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)