It was a month that inspired and appalled us all. This month, the first of the new year, we have witnessed the best and the worst of life in America.
On the one hand, millions of us were inspired by the plight of Damar Hamlin, a player on the NFL’s Buffalo Bills who unexpectedly suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a nationally televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals. More than 245,000 of us donated $9 million to Hamlin’s charity, which quickly became the country’s largest toy drive. And an entire nation applauded Hamlin’s release from the hospital and his continuing and remarkable recovery — capped by his appearance at a playoff game last Sunday.
On the other hand, Americans watched, horrified, as gunmen once again took to the streets. With six days left in January, the Gun Violence Archive reported killers had slaughtered more than 60 people in 39 mass shootings. In North Carolina, killers with guns murdered eight people and wounded five. It was a catastrophic binge of senseless homicide that continues to plague our society with no relief in sight.
Then, there’s Congress, or more specifically, the U.S. House of Representatives. As Americans watched — at first with bemusement, but soon with increasing anxiety — the (barely) GOP majority tried to come together long enough to elect a speaker. The election should have required a single vote, as it has on every occasion since 1923. But the cantankerous objections of 20 ultra-conservative Republicans prevented an orderly outcome.
After 15 votes, the House finally elected Kevin McCarthy, ending the first chapter of a sad saga that will mark the House for the next two years. McCarthy’s victory came at a price. The newly minted speaker had to make major concessions to his right flank, which seem intent on creating chaos and weakening democracy. At the top of the list is a rule allowing any of the 435 members of the House to force a vote for his removal at any time. Another promise is to create a new subcommittee with an ominous mission to “investigate the government.”
The GOP’s weak performance in the November elections left it with a narrow 222-212 majority in the House that gives outsized power to a small group of right-wing hardliners. Unless their more moderate brethren can corral them (perhaps by joining Democrats on key votes), the 118th Congress has a chance to be remembered as contentious, chaotic and uninspired.
It was a month that inspired and appalled us all.