Send in the clowns (and chaos ensues)

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register and the Substack newsletter Showing Up, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

Beginning in 1965, the nation tuned into a new television series, “Get Smart,” featuring a bumbling secret agent—Maxwell Smart‚and his misadventures. The program introduced this pre-teen to a new word: KAOS, the name of an international organization of evil. Agent Smart worked for CONTROL, the good guys, confronted weekly by KAOS, both organizational names in capital letters. According to script writers, the name KAOS was chosen because it’s a synonym for evil… and the opposite of chaos is control.

I thought about those bungling Get Smart characters last week when one word kept pulsing out of our nation’s capital. Chaos (same concept, different spelling). Here’s what I mean.

     —“What motivated Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and his cohort to drop this ‘chaos bomb in the middle of the House’?” (New York Times, 10/6). 

     —“Backed by seven right-wing GOP extremists, Gaetz and this ‘chaos caucus’ (to use Mike Pence’s description) notched a historical first by enabling the vote that tossed Representative Kevin McCarthy of California out of the job.” (The Atlantic newsletter, 10/10).   

  —“Representative Scalise withdrew from consideration for the speakership, leaving the House leaderless and the G.O.P. in chaos.” (New York Times, 10/13)

     —“Scalise dropped out, further throwing the House into chaos as Republicans openly ponder whether their fractured conference is capable of electing anyone as speaker.” (Washington Post, 10/13)

     —“‘Republicans continue to triple down on the chaos, the dysfunction, and the extremism visited upon the American people as a result of the House Republican civil war,’ said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader.” (New York Times, 10/13)

     —“Jordan’s nomination was less a celebratory breakthrough and more of an unsteady mile marker for a Republican conference plunged into chaos this week amid deep divisions.” (Washington Post, 10/14)

     —“Minutes after Jordan was chosen as speaker-designate, House Minority Leader Jeffries said the House Freedom Caucus co-founder had become the ‘chairman of the chaos caucus’. (Washington Post, 10/14)

     —“Coupled with the encouragement of a right-wing media ecosystem… there is an incentive for people like Rep. Gaetz to simply lean into chaos. So he did, and here it is.” (Washington Post, 10/14, from an article entitled “The House Republican caucus — like the universe — tends toward chaos”)

     —“Two days after he lost a leadership election, Jim Jordan forced another vote on Capitol Hill. He narrowly won but also set up chaos ahead.” (New York Times, 10/14)

     —“(House Republicans) threatened a mutiny on the floor that had factions of the party in open conflict amid the unrelenting chaos on Capitol Hill. Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota told The Washington Post, ‘Anyone who thought that the same problems that caused the chaos last week would magically disappear today now know how wrong they were.’” (Washington Post, 10/15)

Enough examples! Chaos is obviously this week’s word, the go-to description of what Republicans have brought about in the House. In a modest effort to offer alternatives, I googled the term chaos. My findings: “On this page you’ll find 71 synonyms, antonyms, and words related to chaos, such as: anarchy, disarray, discord, disorder, lawlessness, and pandemonium. (I’ll NOT list all 71, seeking your gratitude.) What is the modern meaning of chaos? The most common uses of chaos today imply either a confused mass or jumble of things, or a state of utter confusion.” Pretty accurate.

By the time you read this, Washington’s chaos fever may have broken. I earnestly hope so, although I’m not especially optimistic. What we’ve witnessed the last eleven days (… and counting, as this is written) is an embarrassing display of misguided priorities. Quoting Molly Jong-Fast, writing in Vanity Fair: “(Jim) Jordan, like Trump, appears more interested in his own personal success than that of his party, which makes sense because the ethos of Trumpism is self-promotion.”

In this regard, Representative Jordan joins other House Republicans placing their self-absorption, their egos, and their vanity before the nation’s business. We can and should expect more.   

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: All four of Iowa’s U.S. House Republicans voted for Jim Jordan on the first ballot for speaker on October 17. On the second ballot on October 18, Representatives Randy Feenstra (IA-04), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), and Zach Nunn (IA-03) voted for Jordan again. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01) voted for House Appropriations Committee chair Kay Granger.

Top image: Interim House Speaker Patrick McHenry smiles after announcing the votes in the second ballot for House speaker on October 18. Screenshot from C-SPAN video.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.

  • I think thug is the word for Jordan and his ilk.

    even the WP is catching on

  • MMM

    I’m reading in the Register that Rep. Meeks, after switching her vote away from JJ, received death threats. I hope the technology is available to reverse track the sources, and bring the threats to justice. We know Jordan is a faithful sycophant of Trump on matters related to January 6, and the use of chaos and real and implied threat. I do wonder if those making threats are ”lone wolf” acting as self-empowered agents. Or, are the threats coming from organized groups like Oath Keepers. Or is the a dark underground network existing, say on the dark web, that can be triggered by a MAGA sympathizer. Before Jan 6, I would put myself in the box with conspiracy theorists. I urge Nunn, Hinson, and Feenstra to unite with Meeks. Whether/not Jordan can compel threats to political enemies, he is a worthless piece of dung who is better suited for a orange jumpsuit that Speaker.