The sorry spectacle playing out in the House of Representatives has become a caricature of the Republican Party; utter chaos from the inside, a party hobbled by a tiny minority that would rather break the toy than let others play with it. But it is more than that. It shows the growing primacy of politicians whose thirst for power and the insatiable need for attention prevails over those who care to get things done.
As of press time, Rep. Kevin McCarthy has lost 12 votes in his bid to become Speaker of the House, a position he said he’s “earned.” It’s the first time in a century that more than a single vote was needed to elect the Speaker. Mr. McCarthy’s bid is being derailed by 20 ultra-right conservatives, members of the Freedom Caucus, people for whom no price is too great for a belief, and for whom their Twitter feed is more important than any single issue.
They are also people who preach democracy but don’t practice it. They have 20 votes. Mr. McCarthy has a bit over 200. [He needs 218 votes to win.] Yet this small minority refuses to budge. Nor do they have a suggestion as to whom they would support. Part of the chaos is of Mr. McCarthy’s making. He’s shown himself as a political panderer. His standard for bargaining is pond water low. Within hours of chastising former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection he was on a plane to Mar a Largo to lick the president’s boots. 
Of the 20 ultra right conservatives opposing Mr. McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker, 17 are Trump disciples. But even Mr. Trump could not convince his sycophants to drop their pretensions and vote for Mr. McCarthy. Why? Two reasons: first, they don’t need Mr. Trump and second, they prize the attention that has been theirs for the last three days. This is about power. Nothing else. They know they don’t have the votes to get any of their priorities passed, but they also know their bellicosity attracts attention. Whereas once upon a time members of Congress spent their time and energy within their own districts, today the adept [shameless?] use of social media brings them not only attention, but money and a wider following. It’s catnip to the egomaniacal. These charlatans place no importance on debate and persuasion. They place importance on power. They demand total victory in the public square.
This zealotry is on the left as it is on the right. It’s just that the right is at the center of today’s tribalist war, and they are more extreme than those on the left. This plays to the fact that social media and cable news outlets amplify those with the loudest and angriest voices. The persuasive argument lies dormant, while those who rage control the narrative. We find ourselves in the age of performative politics and don’t know how to get to a better place.
How have we allowed ourselves to be overtaken by such narcissism? When we understand that six percent of all Twitter users generate 99 percent of the political conversation, why do we think the conversation is anything close to something reflective of what we think as a nation?
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse recently wrote that “Americans can’t do big things if we hate our neighbors.” Yet that’s what we face. How do we function with a system that flattens our institutions, and our leadership, and gives rise to members of Congress who can create their own followings, essentially acting as free agents?
Whether Mr. McCarthy prevails or not is almost beside the point. Should he win, what does he have? The bigger question is what do we, as a nation, have?

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