The familiar fear of a government shutdown skyrocketed and collapsed early Saturday morning when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a stopgap bill approving federal spending for the next 45 days, averting the furloughing of over 1.5 million federal government employees and indefinite suspension of federally-funded food and housing assistance. The fate of the continuing resolution was highly uncertain due to a Republican party being attacked by its own right flank, led by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, over what a significant portion of House Republicans considered high deficit spending, excessive aid to Ukraine and insufficient militarization of U.S. border patrol included within the bill brought forth by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif).
Now waging an effort to oust McCarthy as House Speaker using a “motion to vacate,” Gaetz’s fierce rivalry with the California congressman appears to be couched in purely bureaucratic concerns regarding his demonstrated lack of willingness to bend to his party’s far-right colleagues, including Gaetz and congress members Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz) and members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. However, Gaetz’s rhetoric belies deeply cynical and populist appeals to his role as a representative of Republicans.
In a post to the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Gaetz wrote, “You can fight alongside me and tens of millions of patriotic Americans who know DC is broken and we can do better than this.” What this language — which is implicitly supportive of anti-migrant and anti-LGBTQIA+ violence as well as wholly antipathetic to government workers and the immiseration
If you study political science, you’ve probably been bashed over the head with how the United States’ founding figures construed the idea of representation. As is patently clear in the Declaration of Independence — history’s cornerstone argument for representative republicanism in what would become the United States — the idea that states derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed” was a foundational expression of political representation through elected officials as a supposed answer to the absolute and oppressive power of monarchs. Of course, the ultra-precise and inclusive definition of who possessed those “inalienable rights” that states exist to protect (see: men) allowed room for enslaved Black people and women to be denied personhood in the case of the former, independence from the latter and representation from both (if political scientists mention this part at all, they’ll usually do so in the most awkward, sanitized fashion possible).
There are many issues with the idea of “representation as politics,” which I would frame as the idea that being granted access to powerful institutions necessarily advances the social interests of underrepresented groups.” Namely, uncritical advocates for increased representation of women in politics, for example, presume that the new next class of female legislators don’t support policies that threaten poor women, Black women, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, incarcerated women, migrant women and other groups who face face different but related forms of oppression by the state, capitalism and imperialism.
Notwithstanding the vital problems associated with representation politics, its proponents at least try to show that representation helps marginalized groups in some way. As evinced by the explosive struggle between the Gaetz and McCarthy camps, the same is not true for Republicans. Republican policies don’t do anything positive for their base; they are completely structured around physical and economic violence against those who aren’t in their base.
As the most mundane example, the Republican crusade against President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and the rest of the “Biden crime family” as a vehicle for impeachment, in addition to producing no evidence, has negligible implications compared to the regular scandal of Congressional insider trading.
If Republicans are concerned with the issue of the “crisis at the border” — vague, decontextualized evidence of which fills television screens and social media prior to every election highlighting the incumbent’s so-called border crisis — they’re probably not talking about endemic violence against Latin American and Haitian migrants. This includes the installation of floating circular saws and barbed wire in the Rio Grande by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in which the bodies of two asylum-seekers were found to be entangled, as well as the 151 migrants who died in the process of Customs and Border Patrol enforcement, the majority of which occurred in CBP custody. How these migrant deaths and many others caused by the militarization of the border benefits the average American, other than fulfilling ideologically-driven fantasies of wanton anti-migrant violence, remains to be seen. It is also worth mentioning that conservative screeds about Biden’s supposed border crisis expose the real harm his administration has caused at the border by escalating enforcement.
Less media attention has been paid to the prevalence of proposed prohibitions of allocating federal funds to gender-affirming care for minors or anything remotely related to the LGBTQIA+ community attached to a Republican spending bill drafted over the summer. This is a particularly acute case of Republican policies accomplishing nothing constructive for their base other than writing into law the imperative to wipe transgender children out of existence and exercise suffocating, absolute control over children and public education.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D candidate to see how wanting to pull both military and humanitarian funding for Ukrainians is an empty policy position for Republicans. While some, myself included, would argue that halting military aid to Ukraine is integral to limiting the hegemony of U.S. imperialism and its own war machine — Ukrainians can’t eat missiles — this is clearly not a sentiment shared by war hawks in the Republican party who approved $816 billion in funding to the Pentagon after agreeing to cut war aid. This stance is only a ploy to funnel weapons out of the war spearheaded by Russian president Vladimir Putin so the U.S. military can do the same thing to a country of its own choice.
But the most bald-faced evidence that far-right Republicans could not make it any more clear they don’t care about any of us is the 1.5 million federal workers, which include air traffic controllers who would have had to work through the government shutdown without pay, whose livelihoods were put at risk for a Gaetz’s extremely clumsy power grab. This huge population, as well as the 2 million-person military the right is supposed to cherish, presumably includes registered Republicans — Gaetz and his cohorts just don’t care.
Over the next few weeks as Gaetz ramps up his push to vacate the seat of House Speaker, Democrats will have the jumbled choice of “bailing out” McCarthy by voting against the motion, abstaining or voting “present”; versus ousting McCarthy for the political chaos attributed to his leadership. More importantly, they take advantage of the squabble to juxtapose their own party with their beleaguered opposition’s to convince Americans that their party is a little less terrible. Either way, we will see this discourse take center stage as the 2024 Republican presidential primaries.
Featured photo courtesy of Senate Television/AP News.