Act 1, Scene 1: Interior, Ethical Drama

Oh, Oysters, come and walk with us!

Oh, Oysters, come and walk with us!

On January 1, 2017, the 115th Congress of the United States was born. The new Congress is dominated by the Republican Party, which won control of all three branches of the federal government with little scrutiny of its agenda as down-ballot races were drowned out by the sturm-und-drang of the presidential election race. The one thing the GOP did say loudly enough for voters to hear was, as usual, that they would fix everything they said President Obama did wrong.

On January 2, 2017, in an unannounced, late-night, closed-door, one-party meeting (no Democrats invited), GOP House members voted to change the rules governing the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (NYT 1/2/17), established in 2008 to help clean house on Capitol Hill in the wake of several high-profile House corruption scandals.

“The 119-to-74 vote … means that the House rules package to be adopted Tuesday, the first day of the 115th Congress, would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Under the proposed new rules, the office could not employ a spokesman, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe.” — Washington Post, 1/2/17

“Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) pushed for the weakening of the OCE on Monday. His office said it would have provided ‘protections against any disclosures to the public or other government entities.’” — Washington Post, 1/3/17

Yes, I have no doubt it would.

So, after eight years of GOP obstruction, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and complaints that the Democratic Party are simply the worst thing ever, and sixteen years of GOP-initiated wars and economic failure, and having finally won back control of all three branches of the federal government, the GOP’s first order of business is to put an end to transparency and accountability.

What are we to make of that?

Imagine a novel, with this as its opening chapter. What kind of world would we expect to unfold from this beginning? What sorts of leading characters would we expect to read?

An autocracy, perhaps, in which there are no independent authorities, no right of the people to know, no freedom of information or of communication. This same meeting, by the way, produced a rule penalizing the recording of activities on the House floor. No peaking, Public.

This suggests to me a Star Chamber government, a closed cabal ruling by secret fiat, answerable to no people and no law, in which the only punishable offense is to expose the elites who indulge their greed and fancies at the public’s expense.

Or perhaps, we’d be reading about a kleptocracy, an America ruled by thieves and gangsters with their foreign entanglements (Slate, 7/4/16) and felonious praise-singers (Guardian, 1/3/17), blessedly free of interference, as they wasted no time getting rid of all the cops so they may pillage and fleece with a free hand.

And what role do We the People play in this auto-klepto dystopia?

On January 3, 2017, following a, by many accounts, firestorm of backlash from left and right (NPR, 1/3/17) and deluge of phone calls from angry constituents (ThinkProgress, 1/4/17) once this little gambit hit social media (plus some limp waffling from the new puppet-king, Trumpogigio), House Republicans pulled a 180 and voted not to change the OCE rules after all.

For now. They’ll try again later.

Well, this is grand! I never expected I should be a Queen so soon."

Well, this is grand! I never expected I should be a Queen so soon.”

Maya Angelou told us “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

On January 2, the GOP showed us that they are the Bastard Villains in the drama of 2017. They are ready to rock, and subtlety be damned.

On January 3, We the People showed them that we see them, we hear them, we know where they work, and we’re not subtle, either.

The whole drama played out in less than twenty-four hours. Thus begins a story of force versus resistance, of secrets versus transparency, of move and counter-move.

Important details include:

– The brazenness of the Bastard Villains’ opening move.

– The bipartisan voices of the backlash.

– The speed, force, and effectiveness of the backlash.

Remember all those points. They are instructive.

Now we know who our antagonists are. The challenge has been issued and answered. At stake is the kind of America that will exist in the 21st century and who will build it. Who gets to write chapter 2? That depends. Do you have a phone?

Then save and use this handy list of the district office contact numbers for every member of Congress. Find your Representative and Senators and use those numbers: Congressional Contacts courtesy of Daily Kos. See also Reference Materials.

All must have prizes.

All must have prizes.

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