This is not the way that Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to kick off the triumphant return of conservative governance.
With no advance warning, last night the Republican caucus voted 119-74 to basically gut the Office of Congressional Ethics – an independent agency established in 2008 in response to scandals relating to Rep. Duke Cunningham and Tom DeLay. That move consumed the news today, with bipartisan blowback and reports that members’ phones were ringing off the hook this morning. The GOP called an emergency conference meeting and apparently the idea has been scrapped…for now. Rachel Bade did a good job of capturing the fiasco:
The abrupt reversal marked a rocky first day of the new, 115th Congress. It was supposed to have been a jubilant opening for conservatives, with Republicans taking control of both chambers and prepping for the takeover of the White House by their party leader, Donald Trump.
Then came this self-inflicted public relations debacle — and the whole day unraveled from there.
But as Esme Cribb documents, according to the media, this is all a big win for our president-elect, who tweeted simply that this shouldn’t have been the “number one act and priority.” Notice who gets all the credit for the Republican reversal on the ethics office.
Breaking: Republicans back off gutting of House ethics office after critical Trump tweet https://t.co/hWXrbEeeT2
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 3, 2017
GOP drops weakening of ethics office, challenged by Trump. https://t.co/ynejv7s9ha
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 3, 2017
BREAKING: House Republicans pull proposal that would gut independent ethics panel after Trump tweets criticism https://t.co/49GtqUWVWE pic.twitter.com/Kgatwv8FFa
— CNN (@CNN) January 3, 2017
Those headlines are a massive ego boost for Trump – the guy who is obsessed with taking credit for things he didn’t do. For the truth of what really happened, here’s Robert Costa:
Most members tell me blizzard of angry constituent calls were most impt factor in getting the House to sideline the amdt
— Robert Costa (@costareports) January 3, 2017
There are those who will see this and conclude that the motivation behind the headlines is a media that is in the tank for Trump. I would suggest that the problem is much more broad. It is one more illustration of the way the Great Man theory of history has permeated our culture. As a reminder, here is what Megan Carpentier wrote about that theory:
Under this view of things, all historical change is a project reserved for our leaders; the rest of us are just drawn along in their wake with little agency or responsibility.
In this example, all political power is vested in president-elect Trump, while none of the credit is given to the reaction of both individuals and organizations who were aghast at this move by House Republicans.
This might be a theme we’ll have to return to over and over again during the Trump era. If a resistance movement is ever going to develop, it is important to recognize when/where the power of collective voice has an impact.