Thistlethwaite: A House divided against itself cannot stand |

Thistlethwaite: A House divided against itself cannot stand

Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858, after more than 1,000 delegates meeting in Springfield, Illinois, had chosen him as their candidate for the U.S. Senate. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Lincoln’s theme, was a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

This speech is a warning and one we in the United States need to hear again, loud and clear. For a house or a nation to be strong, it must rest on a firm foundation. For the United States, this firm foundation, Lincoln showed, should be a firm moral foundation, a bedrock dedication to equality.

More than 150 years later, Lincoln still might recognize the divisions driving the unedifying spectacle in the U.S. House of Representatives in recent days. Repeated votes in the House failed to elect Kevin McCarthy speaker. Finally, on the 15th vote, just past midnight early Saturday in Washington D.C., a deal was struck and McCarthy was elected. The cost was extremely high. Most of the power of the speakership was traded away in the process.

So, who won? Actually, the Freedom Caucus, a small band of ultra-right wing Republicans who have repeatedly been shown to espouse white supremacist, antisemitic and xenophobic views. Its members believe government does too much and they want to reduce its capacity to legislate. They want, in fact, to reduce the union to a bunch of self-governing states and do away with the New Deal.

To accomplish this, the Freedom Caucus wants minority rule. Will they be able to work to pass budgets, raise the debt ceiling, further address climate change, tackle our collapsing infrastructure and promote equality of all citizens? Not likely.

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We are, in some respects, still fighting the Civil War and the contest over whether all people are created equal and have inalienable rights. And we are certainly still fighting over President Roosevelt’s reshaping of the idea of government as an advocate for workers, the elderly, the poor and the dispossessed. Government under Roosevelt and after became, however imperfectly, a way to redress entrenched civil inequalities such as racism, sexism, homophobia and religious prejudice. The Freedom Caucus wants that to stop.

It is instructive that this dismantling of the traditional way the House of Representatives functions took place on and around the second anniversary of the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, on our nation’s Capitol building. This was an organized attack by the ultra-right wing to stop the certification of the election of President Biden despite his winning more than 81 million votes and 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. It was an attack on the heart of this democracy.

 While many have been prosecuted for that attack, the congressional Republicans who voted not to certify the election have so far faced no consequences.

The attack of Jan. 6, 2021, came from outside the Capitol Building. This new attack is coming from inside, trying to drive a spoke into the wheel of how actual governing takes place in this country.

Many have made fun of this Republican spectacle, calling it a clown show. It’s not at all funny. This is a concerted effort to damage the way our democracy functions.

It is incredibly dangerous.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.

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