The election of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives on Friday night demonstrated the weakened and divided state of the Republican party. While some argue that this is a limitation on democracy and a blow to the reputation of the United States as the world’s largest democracy, such an argument is simplistic and incomplete. This is an extraordinary situation that has only occurred twice in US history, with the first instance occurring in 1856, when it took 133 rounds of voting over the course of two months to elect a qualified person. The fact that Kevin McCarthy was elected after only 15 rounds of voting shows the new challenges and issues that the American society is facing.
The democratization of speech has highlighted the fact that citizens belonging to the same political party can diverge based on geographical, cultural, or racial factors. For example, a Republican voter in New York is likely to have a different perspective than a Republican voter in Texas. As a result, a Republican voter in a major city may be more sympathetic to local Democratic candidates on matters of local interest, while a metropolitan Republican may disagree with national Republican positions on certain issues. In addition, the accessibility of politics through social media and the increased interest of young people in influencing policy has also led to the expression of radical opinions in the public sphere. Movements advocating for ecological principles, while legitimate and defendable, may abuse the public space to assert their own viewpoints as supreme and unquestionable. Others, feeling like they are victims of « cancel culture, » seek to regain power by declaring the current system illegitimate and corrupt.
It is clear that there are limits to democratic expression. Public expression is not limited to social media or demonstrations, but rather manifested through the ballot box and accountability for citizen actions. In the case of this election, the attempt to paralyze the US Congress could have had serious consequences. As a matter of fact, the Speaker is considered as the third most important figure in American politics, behind the President and Vice President, and without whom, members of Congress would not have been able to be sworn in and therefore would not have been able to vote on legislation. It would also have been impossible for them to participate in parliamentary committees or access classified information.
The « hardcore » group of conservative MPs, who view Kevin McCarthy as being too soft on the Washington establishment, took advantage of the narrow Republican majority in the November midterm elections to disrupt the process. They only relented after securing important guarantees, including a procedure for ousting the Speaker. The Democratic party is not immune to this type of infighting either, as negotiations on raising the public debt ceiling, federal funding, and arms related topics in Ukraine will be on the agenda in the upcoming months. With their new control of Congress, Republicans have expressed an interest in launching investigations into President Joe Biden’s handling of the pandemic or the Afghanistan withdrawal.
In conclusion, this dispute can be seen as a sign of a healthy democracy. The difference between political parties is not the only issue at play here. Instead, the divergence of opinions within the same party demonstrates the maturity of American democracy, which is sometimes called into question in other Western countries. Democracy can be slow, difficult to understand, bureaucratic, demanding, and sometimes shocking and extreme. However, it is the only check on power and remains the legitimate expression of the people, and no one has the right to question it.
As said by the new Speaker Kevin McCarthy: “It’s time for us to be the check and provide some balance to the President’s policies”. He thus demonstrates the central role of legislators in maintaining control over the executive and acting of the people, by the people and for the people.
Because otherwise, “Democracy dies in the darkness” …