More than half of us want to see action on gun control, but nobody I know expects Congress to pass a law. It cannot. With few exceptions, Congress is devoid of leaders. Most members on both sides plan their every move with the next election in mind. And they do not have the time to develop legislation because they are too busy fundraising, posting on social media, or trying to get on Fox or MSNBC. It is sad, but that’s only part of the story.
Somehow the quality of people serving in Congress is declining. Missouri once sent Stuart Symington to the Senate. Today fist-pumping Josh Hawley represents it. At least two members of the House of Representatives are openly anti semitic, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Omar Ilhan (D-MN). Tlaib accused Jews serving in Congress of dual loyalty, suggesting they may be more loyal to Israel than to the United States. “They forget who they represent,” she said.
Omar Ilhan is also accused of antisemitism, but is also known for selling t-shirts reading, “F**k around and find out” on her campaign website. Ilhan is not known for her legislative leadership or her ability to collaborate with Republicans.
On the Republican side, more than a dozen members regularly contribute to the destruction of the credibility, and to the worsening dysfunction, of Congress. The list includes gun fanatic Lauren Boebert (R-CO), QAnon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and, of course, Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has been accused of sex trafficking. Other Republicans are accused of complicity in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.
Misbehaving members of Congress are nothing new. Memories of Wayne Hays (D-OH) affair with employee Elizabeth Ray come to mind. Jim Traficant (D-OH) was expelled from the House and served seven years in prison for taking bribes, racketeering, and having staff members perform chores on his farm. Remember Wilber Mills (D-AR) and the “Argentine Firecracker,” Fanne Foxe?
There will be future episodes of bad judgment, alcohol abuse, and plain stupidity involving congresspersons and senators. Those episodes, too, will injure the credibility of Congress. But today we see something worse. We see members of Congress openly disobeying the rules Congress sets for itself. Consider the case of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). As widely expected, he has effectively announced he won’t comply with the subpoena he received from the House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Other subpoenaed Republicans are expected to follow suit. Their plan: Attack the legitimacy of the Committee, make unrealistic demands in exchange for testifying, and run out the clock until Congress adjourns for the year.
McCarthy and the Republicans actions seriously injure Congress for multiple reasons. Among them are openly violating the legitimate request of a duly created committee and seeking to subvert the work of Congress in investigating the most serious threat to democracy in recent times. An extremely dangerous precedent is being established that may please Donald Trump in the short term but will lead to favors being returned in future Congresses.
In eight months, Congress may very well be in Republican control. Mr. McCarthy is expected by many to be elected Speaker. Will he, as members of the Freedom Caucus and Donald Trump have suggested, proceed to impeach President Biden? Unfortunately, the odds are better than 50-50.
Members of Congress of both parties have become increasingly comfortable with open political warfare. Efforts to find common ground are now uncommon. Political fights are not resolved in Congress but fought out in the media. Lying has now become the norm. Members caught in lies no longer fear accountability. You get the idea.
I wonder if all is not lost—if Congress and representational democracy is not living on borrowed time. If it is, get ready for more Donald Trumps and worse (yes, that is possible). The only thing that can save democracy is for the people to start exercising it. That means people following Congress and government closer and holding those who undermine democracy accountable. That means voting members of Congress and senators who are not civil, do not focus on the common good, and who otherwise violate common decency out.
The American people rid itself of Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Today 76 percent of Americans disapprove of how Congress is doing its job. Congress needs to reform itself or get ready to go out of business.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.