The Circus, i.e., the U.S. Congress

As a child, I went to a couple of circuses that came to Montgomery, but it was only one or two times. My father did not like clowns, and so we rarely went. What I do remember is that there were some serious performers: lion tamers, acrobats, tightrope walkers. Then there were the outrageous acts: clowns, magicians, and other stunt-oriented artists. Just as Congress is a diverse group of politicians, a circus is a diverse group of entertainers. The two groups have a lot in common. Congress also has those who are serious and want to help Americans. Then there are those who are there just for theatrics, posturing, and acting like clowns.

Contemporary circuses experiment with new circus formats and aesthetics, typically focusing on human artistry. Modern circuses tended to favor a theatrical approach, combining character-driven circus acts with original music in a broad variety of styles to convey complex themes or stories. A contemporary circus continues to develop new variations on the circus tradition while absorbing new skills, techniques, and stylistic influences from other performing arts. Congress has changed in much the same way. There is a lot of posturing and performances, but the difference is that circuses have a purpose of entertaining their audience, and Congress has the duty to makes laws that influence the daily lives of Americans through legislative debate and compromise. Congress has failed in this duty. They debate, but nothing gets accomplished because they refuse to compromise. The Constitution directs Congress to serve as the voice of the people and the states in the federal government. Yet, it is apparent, especially with the stunts and attempts to overturn the re ent presidential election, they no longer represent anyone but their quest for power.

In my opinion, the circus atmosphere of the U.S. Congress is not tied to one party affiliation. Both Democrats and Republicans have their own ridiculousness. The so-called Progressives of the Democratic Party attempts to block any compromise, just as the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus of the Republican Party do the same. Both want to punish those who do not align with their political philosophies. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have no control over their respective party’s more radical factions. Pelosi can’t control the Progressives because they oppose her, and McCarthy has joined in with the insanity of his radical factions. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) does have greater control over his Democratic colleagues as they seem primarily to have the same goal, but the last few days/weeks have shown that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has lost control of many members of this party. If McConnell had control, there would not be at least fourteen senators, led by Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), who plan to reject Biden’s electoral votes from states Trump claims, without evidence, to have won. The two Republican Senators in Georgia, in a reelection fight, have now signed onto the effort, although it means they are saying that the voters in their state should be overruled in their choice for president.

In the craziness of the current political situation, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, but the bottom line is there is a major fight over whether or not the United States will remain a democracy. On one side are Americans, Republicans as well as Democrats, who might agree on virtually nothing else, agreeing on the reality that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, and by a significant amount. They recognize that he is the president-elect. On the other hand, Trump and his supporters argue without any evidence that the president has somehow been cheated of reelection. They are using the uncertainty their words have created in the minds of weak-minded and deluded Americans to argue that the election now must be reexamined. They have abandoned democracy and broken their oaths to the Constitution. Just as a reminder, the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate take the following oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Donald Trump and his supporters have become domestic enemies of the United States and our Constitution. They are also backed by foreign enemies, considering Trump’s allegiance to Russia. Few members of Congress are currently faithfully discharging the duties of their office. I lay more blame on Republicans in the Senate, especially Mitch McConnell, for Congress’s dereliction of duty. The fact that it took nine months to pass another, yet wholly inadequate, stimulus package to help struggling Americans showed that they no longer care about the American people. They only care about themselves. Quite frankly, I would not mind if every member of Congress resigned and pledged never to seek reelection, allowing an entirely new Congress to take over, one that would compromise and work to better this country. Congress desperately needs term limits. We need new blood and new ideas in our legislative branch. If the members of Congress knew they had limits to how long they could serve, they might be more amenable to compromise. They would not always be thinking of reelection and could accomplish their obligations to their government office. Currently, the absence of term limits merely perpetuates the circus atmosphere of the United States government.

The only sanity that can be found in the Republican Party are those who are opposing a very public attempted coup of the U.S. government. A few Republicans are standing on the principle of democracy. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) called Trump’s Saturday phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State a “new low in this whole futile and sorry episode.” Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) characterized the call by saying it was “deeply troubling” and people should listen to the full recording. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said the call was “absolutely appalling” and tweeted, “To every member of Congress considering objecting to the election results, you cannot—in light of this—do so with a clean conscience.” Former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO), who has supported the political career of Josh Hawley, the first senator to back Trump’s challenge to the Electoral College votes, rejected those efforts. Danforth said, “Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen is a highly destructive attack on our constitutional government. It is the opposite of conservative; it is radical….”

The best voice of reason came from former President Barack Obama. Writing on Twitter about yesterday’s runoff elections in Georgia, Obama warned that Trump and his supporters are threatening “the fundamental principles of our democracy.” Obama went on to identify what at stake in Trump’s effort to stay in office despite his election loss: “Our democracy isn’t about any individual,” he wrote, “even a president.” Trump and his supporters have abandoned the core principle of the U.S. Constitution, as outlined in its Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Trump cares only about one person: himself. He doesn’t believe in “We the People” but “I, Donald J. Trump,” and far too many Republicans have supported this belief. Luckily, at noon on January 20, we will return to the rule of “We the People,” and democracy will be restored. 

When a joint session of Congress meets today (in what is sure to be a circus of the absurd), the task will be to count and confirm Biden’s win. Here’s what we can expect to see:

  • Congress will meet around 1 p.m. Eastern time in a joint session convened in the House chamber and with Vice President Mike Pence presiding.
  • Clerks will hand Pence the envelopes of states’ electoral college results in alphabetical order. He will read them aloud. Congress will vote on each one.
  • When they get to Arizona, Senator Ted Cruz (Tex.) and a number of other Republican senators, as well as Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ.) and probably Mo Brooks (R-AL) among other Representatives, will object. They are supposed to object in writing and hand it to Pence to read. (But these lawmakers will probably try to make speeches, too. They should not be allowed to do this, but I doubt Pence will silence them.)
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or other top House Democrats may respond, which may or may not be allowed by Pence.
  • Then the House and the Senate split up and can debate each challenge for up to two hours. Leaders in both chambers want to quash these quickly. They will hold a vote on whether to accept the challenge. It will fail in each chamber because there are enough Senate Republicans who will not vote to reject the votes and the House is controlled by Democrats. Both chambers must vote individually to reject the votes or else the votes must be accepted.
  • Lawmakers will rejoin in a joint session and keep going down the list of states. It is expected that Republicans will challenge all or most of the swing states that Trump lost, from Arizona to Georgia and on to Wisconsin.
  • While this process usually takes no more than half an hour, this could stretch well into the overnight hours or even through the day Thursday. By the end, Pence will have to declare that Biden has won the electoral college and that Biden will be the next president. (Even though Trump has started pressuring Pence not to do so.)

All that’s left after this is to inaugurate Biden on January 20. But the rift in the Republican Party created by this day will remain long afterward, and if they allow Trump to continue with his insanity, it may very well be the end of the Republican Party. At the very least, it will be the end of the Republican Party as we knew it. It will no longer be the Party of Lincoln, but the Party of Trump. My fervent hope is that that this is a learned lesson for American democracy, and all Americans realize just how close we came to losing the democracy we hold so dear. Sadly, listening to the incredible and unbelievable stupidity of Trump’s supporters, it is a lesson that is unlikely to be learned because they no longer want democracy. They want a one-party system and the destruction of the Democratic Party. However, what they do not understand is they are destroying the Republican Party they proclaim they believe in. I’m afraid the circus that is our government will continue. They will carry on their imitation of “The Greatest Show on Earth” even though that circus ceased to exist in 2017, just a few months after the circus that has been the Trump administration began.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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