Prepare for a bumpy ride. 2024 is here.

January 2nd, 2024 by Tom Lynch

The 118th Congress won’t return from recess for its second year until a week from today, 9 January. What can we expect?

Well, if it’s anything like its first year, not much. In 2023, our divided and very partisan government passed 27 pieces of legislation (the previous Congress passed 362), three of them major, and they were crisis-driven: two short-term extensions of funding to keep the government open and one to raise the U.S. government’s debt ceiling — essentially so the government could pay the bills Congress had already directed it to spend. Other than that, the fruits of our hard-working representatives were such things as naming some Veterans Affairs clinics and commissioning a commemorative coin for the 250th anniversary of the Marine Corps.

The major legislation passed during the Biden Administration, for example, 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act and 2021’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, were passed well before the current bunch arrived and busied themselves with taking 15 votes and five days to elect Kevin McCarthy Speaker, passing the aforementioned debt ceiling bill, kicking out Kevin McCarthy for passing the aforementioned debt ceiling bill, electing Louisiana’s Mike Johnson Speaker, repeatedly telling Americans how bad things are (they’re not), and stiffing Ukraine while making cat-on-the-hot-tin-roof demands about our southern border.

And who is this Johnson fellow, anyway? Why, he’s the very rookie Speaker of the House whom the National Association of Christian Lawmakers’ (NACL) asked to give the keynote address at its annual meeting and awards gala on 5 December, which was attended by the organization’s members and supporters across 33 states.

In his speech, Johnson compared himself first to Moses and then to Moses’s brother Aaron. Aaron, you may recall, is the man God told to speak to Pharaoh for Moses, because Moses stuttered. Johnson told the crowd, “This is a Red Sea moment. And so I work to get Steve Scalise elected Speaker, that didn’t happen. And then Jim Jordan, who is like another big brother of mine. No, that didn’t happen. Ultimately, 13 people ran for the vote. And the Lord had told me to wait, wait, wait. So I waited and waited and then, at the end, when it came to the end, the Lord said, ‘Now, step forward.'”

All that was missing was a burning bush.

Next week, when Congress returns, it will immediately face, once again, the debt ceiling issue it put off when McCarthy still ran the show. It will have ten days to act on the first of two spending bills that must be passed to avoid shutting down the government and defaulting on our debt. If the past is prologue, we’re in for a rough ride.

It will also face the urgent need of funding for Ukraine. Failure to do so could be globally catastrophic. Perhaps our new Moses, or Aaron, or whoever he is, will see that as a real Red Sea moment.

A Republic…if you can keep it

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Secretary of War James McHenry recorded in the journal he kept during the Convention that politically and socially prominent Philadelphian Elizabeth Willing Powel had asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”  McHenry wrote that Franklin replied, “A republic . . . if you can keep it.”

A Republic is representative government without a monarchy. In a republic, a written constitution limits the majority and provides safeguards for individuals and minorities, which is what America’s Founders wanted.

As we enter 2024, the 236th anniversary of our Republic, representative rule is threatened. It’s been threatened before, most notably during the Civil War. At that time our “better angels” triumphed.

Today, we face a different kind of threat: authoritarian nationalism. Our 118th Congress is smack dab in the middle of this, and much of its membership has decided the preferred action is to throw more gasoline on the fire. Many seem to yearn for authoritarian nationalism, another name for Fascism.

We have faced Fascism before, of course. In the 1930s, the German American Bund dragged itself out of the muck to genuflect to Adolph Hitler. In 1939, twenty-thousand of them gathered in Madison Square Garden to hear Bundesfuhrer Fritz Kuhn wax eloquent about the benefits of Nazism. At this biggest Nazi rally ever held on American soil, he told them, “The Bund is open to you, provided you are sincere, of good character, of White Gentile Stock, and an American Citizen imbued with patriotic zeal. Therefore: Join!” The Garden crowd consistently booed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and chanted, “Heil Hitler.”

Fritz Kuhn proved to be a non-entity. The German American Bund imploded on itself, and after Pearl Harbor was heard no more. But other fascist groups consistently popped up over time. All of them lacked one important thing — a galvanizing, charismatic leader.

Enter Donald Trump.

“A Republic…if you can keep it.”