Opening the “Gaetz” of Hell
Matt Gaetz dismisses the idea that Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as speaker is fueling government dysfunction. Gaetz claims, “The chaos narrative is a bit overplayed.” I’m not buying what Gaetz is selling. As the House descends into the chaos Gaetz denies, the “Gaetz” of hell are flung open wide.
In the first place, there’s no such thing as “overplayed” in the rhetorical performances of Congress. The house of the people has descended into what one commentator has called the “Gaetz” of hell.
Gaetz claiming “This is not my fault,” sounds too much like Eve and Adam after the debacle in the garden. Eve said the serpent tricked her. Adam claimed the woman gave him the fruit and he ate what he was given. The snake didn’t present a defense – he took the 5th I suppose.
Gaetz claiming there’s no chaos is like the rich man dying and finding himself in hell. He thought that Lazarus could be sent to fetch him a glass of water. He thought the world would go on as before with Lazarus has his servant “boy”.
Gaetz sounds like a Japanese admiral saying, “I had no idea that attacking Pearl Harbor would lead to the end of our Empire.”
Gaetz sounds like a man standing at a fire with an empty gas can and a cigarette lighter explaining to the media, “I didn’t start this fire.”
He could have had the decency to deflect by claiming, “This bed was on fire when I lay down on it.”
The Sarcasm of Demagogues
Somehow Gaetz decided that raw sarcasm was the best way to spin the narrative. “I find it a little ridiculous, right? Like, oh no, the world is ending because the House of Representatives isn’t passing ceremonial resolutions this week,” Gaetz told host Michael Smerconish.
“The entire United States Senate was out all week,” he continued. “The House of Representatives takes seven weeks off every single year for essentially a summer vacation. There are days when all we vote on are procedural votes and post offices.”
“Just because lobbyists and special interests have been disempowered by the motion to vacate doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision,” he continued. “And it doesn’t mean that we’re in chaos because there were 10 days when the lights were off on the House floor. We have not put our pencils down.”
“Pencils” in the digital/computer/internet/smart phone age may be the most apt metaphor of how out of touch Gaetz really is.
“Don’t believe that just because there isn’t floor action, that somehow all of our representatives aren’t working,” he said. “We in fact, are continuing the work of the Congress.” What exactly does Rep. Gaetz mean by “continuing the work of Congress?” Does he mean the ill-advised attempt to impeach President Biden? The United States House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government is a select subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee created by the House on January 10, 2023. Established to investigate alleged abuses of federal authority, including collusion between federal agencies and private sector entities to suppress conservative viewpoints, the committee has broad authority to subpoena law enforcement and national security agencies, including with regard to ongoing criminal investigations. The subcommittee is chaired by Representative Jim Jordan, who also chairs the Judiciary Committee.
A Congress paralyzed by partisan bickering and threats of being “primaried” is not working. Look up the definition of dysfunctional and a synonym will be “The United States Congress.” Members of Congress who’ve been “primaried” from their party’s ideological extreme are less likely to co-sponsor legislation with someone from the other party.
Bitten By Media Bug
One of the most unnoticed reasons for the lack of work in Congress has been the obsession that some members of Congress have with the media spotlight. Members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, AOC, and Gaetz spend more time concocting outrageous statements that ensure media coverage than they do governing. An entire entourage of Congress has converted to being part of the dazzling, white-hot lights of being media darlings.
Demagogues Pour Forth from Hell
Congress has trouble getting work done because demagogues are not workers. Consider an analogy from Scripture: “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest.” Congress has too many “queen ants” and too few worker ants. “Queen bees,” on second thought, may fit better. Gaetz and his fellow spotlight addicts make sweeping condemnations of media, fellow politicians, and public figures. They set up “straw persons” like “wokeness” and CRT to attack as if they are actual warriors in the Crusades rather than the media cultural warriors they actually are. They practice what rhetorical scholar Patricia Roberts-Miller calls “naïve realism” which is a mixture of world views composed of simple truths and simple falsehoods.
Roberts-Miller argues that it is more productive to think of demagoguery as a form of argument that emphasizes in-group identity to avoid the complexities of policy and the challenges of democratic deliberation. In demagogic argument, reasoning is all about who belongs in the tribe. Any effort to compromise, or acknowledge the shared humanity of the out-group, in turn seems unreasonable. The traditional demands of democracy—acknowledging nuance, making sacrifices, living with difference—become threatening.
In an atmosphere of political alienation, demagoguery, advancing authoritarianism, and violence, there can be little faith in the advancement of the work of democracy. The will of the people can’t be center stage when members of the Congress vie for the starring roles in what they have turned into “American Idol.”
The aim of the demagogue is to shut down democratic deliberation by scapegoating and simplifying complex problems. Instead of good information and informed policy decisions, Gatz and Company serve the people a form of propaganda that exacerbates a pre-existing culture of fear and anger in the pursuit of power. Mr. Gatz could not care less about the will of the people. The people be damned; power be grasped by any means possible.
The insurrectionists of January 6 were right about the place. This is the people’s House. But we send our representatives to the place to enact laws for the common good not to make the place into a three-ring circus.
My fear is that Gaetz and company have no idea of the meaning of democracy. According to James Kloppenberg, in Toward Democracy, our government has always been based on deliberation, pluralism, and reciprocity. Gaetz now attempts to base it on disregard for democratic norms. His heedlessness and disrespect are dangerous. He rejects pluralism for a vicious partisanship and nativism that makes Others “less than human.” He replaces reciprocity with revenge.
Democracy depends on Americans broadening their perspectives enough to consider the views of others. Reciprocity insists that all persons be treated with respect and that their perspectives be honored.
Opening the “Gaetz” of hell doesn’t unleash hordes of demons, but a gaggle of demagogues anxious to stoke fear, anger, and resentment.