By Robert Reich
How is Jim Jordan rounding up votes among House Republicans to make himself speaker? The same way Trump maintains Republican support for his dangerous lies: by threatening to unleash the rage of the party’s MAGA base and far-right media ecosystem against any lawmaker standing in the way.
Some of Jordan’s Republican House colleagues have refused to back him because he opposes more aid for Ukraine. A few worry about this past eagerness to shutter the government (current funding ends November 17).
But Jordan is a political thug — former Republican Speaker John Boehner described him as a “legislative terrorist” — and his thuggery may pay off today.
Jordan has scheduled a public roll-call vote on the House floor, daring his opponents to openly vote against him and incur the wrath of the extremist MAGA right.
His supporters have been phoning holdouts and threatening primary challengers if they don’t go along. Jordan has enlisted the rightwing media in the fight. Fox News host Sean Hannity has been contacting swing district Republicans.
Extremist Republicans get what they want by unleashing the MAGA base.
That’s the way Jordan’s mentor, Donald Trump, has long operated. In recent months Trump has even been threatening judges and prosecutors trying to hold him accountable for alleged crimes.
Judge Tanya S. Churkan, who is presiding over Trump’s trial for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, imposed a “limited gag order” that bars Trump from publicly attacking special counsel Jack Smith, other prosecutors, court staff, or potential witnesses.
She ruled that “First Amendment protections yield to the administration of justice and to the protection of witnesses,” adding that Trump’s “presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify … public servants who are simply doing their job .… No other defendant would be allowed to do so, and I’m not going to allow it in this case.”
(Her order allows Trump to continue disparaging the Justice Department and President Biden and to assert that his prosecution is politically motivated. She also apparently left Trump free to attack her.)
Judge Churkan did not address how she will enforce her order. She merely said she would assess any consequences for Trump if and when he violates it. As a practical matter, though, what is she to do if his attacks continue? Throw Trump in jail and put his MAGA base into a frenzy?
Thuggery is inconsistent with democracy. It gives a few fanatics the power to dictate policy. It is a step on the road to fascism.
We have come to expect thuggery from Trump, but now it’s spread through the highest reaches of the Republican Party — pulling the GOP to the extreme right.
I worry most about Trump’s (and Jordan’s) cultish MAGA followers. Threats to unleash their wrath are credible because they have already demonstrated blind obedience and proclivities toward violence, as on January 6, 2021.
Ninety years ago, these sorts of people wore black shirts or brown shirts or red armbands with swastikas, and their hateful lies and threats silenced the publics of several nations.
Americans didn’t succumb, but the world sacrificed millions of people to contain the scourge. America remained resolute against the fanatics because we had leaders motivated by the common good rather than personal ambition, and a civic culture that respected the rule of law and the Constitution.
But the Constitution is impotent if powerful people — a former president, a potential speaker of the House — get their way by threatening to unleash the rage of their supporters, and if the public normalizes this behavior.
This is not normal. All of us must condemn it — and on Election Day send Trump and his House Republicans packing.
As Charles Evans Hughes, the chief justice of the Supreme Court during the 1930s when fascist thugs threatened democracy, noted, “You may think that the Constitution is your security — it is nothing but a piece of paper … it is nothing at all, unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion.”