Another Jan. 6 in the Capitol
Although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connexion with the physical world.
—George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, 1945
Two years ago today, Kevin McCarthy was trapped in the House of Representatives, terrified for his life. As Trump’s putschists breached the Capitol, the would-be speaker tried desperately to reach the president. He also, according to the January 6th Committee’s final report, called “multiple members of President Trump’s family, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.” (“Kushner characterized Leader McCarthy’s demeanor on the call as ‘scared,’ the committee noted.)
When he finally got through to Trump, begging him to call off the invaders, the then-president infamously told the leader: “Kevin, maybe these people are just more angry about this than you are.” Soon after, a furious McCarthy was caught on tape saying he would demand that Trump resign. But he reversed himself immediately after — fearful of retribution, and fixated on his dream of getting to sit in the big chair at the front of the House chamber.
Today McCarthy and all of his colleagues are again trapped in the Capitol, this time thanks not to putschists breaking down the doors but an insurrection within his caucus. With a razor-thin margin, not a single member can leave the chamber as long as voting continues; and McCarthy has lost thirteen rounds of voting so far. No more able to stand up to the insurrectionists than he was two years ago, he is reportedly giving away his powers one by onet in a desperate fire-sale bid to capture the last remaining votes he needs to make his dream come true.
McCarthy’s problem (and ours) is that no one is sure what the so-called rebels want — probably including many of the “rebels” themselves. If the events that culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, were “a coup in search of a legal theory,” as a federal judge described, then the non-opening of the 118th Congress has been a hostage-taking in search of a point. The anti-McCarthy holdouts, mostly members of the far-right “Freedom Caucus,” don’t seem to be motivated by disagreement on policy or even common principle. Mostly they seem to be operating out of a mix of trolling, undirected personal ambition, and spite. (The simmering beef between Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor-Greene seems to have had the effect of turning the latter into an