“Only in America…”

Our headline today comprises a phrase which has long been used to preface anecdotes which cast the nation in a flattering light.

That usage of the phrase, though, may soon become inoperative. In fact, as with the party once known for law and order, the meaning of the phrase “Only in America” seems destined for reversal.

The House of Representatives just elected a new Speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson, of Louisiana. Citizens who have longed for a functioning national legislature may have been tempted to breath a sigh of relief. Those familiar with Hollywood tropes, of course, knew better.

In well-done horror flicks, audience members may yell at the big screen, “the threat is in the house!” Out here in the allegedly real world, the House is now an actual threat.

The first clause of the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….” For a couple of hundred years, the nation’s reading comprehension level was sufficient for most people to understand that meant there was a separation between church and state.

Yet according to CBS News, in a podcast last month Johnson referred to “the ‘so-called separation of church and state’ and said ‘the founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.’

“If anybody tries to convince you that your biblical beliefs or your religious viewpoint needs to separated from public affairs, you should politely remind them to review their history and you should not back down.”

At this newspaper, we believe in religious tolerance. That is to say, given its prevalence in American life, we’ve learned to tolerate those who hold religious views. This has been becoming easier over time, of course. NPR reported earlier this year, “Just 16 percent of Americans surveyed said religion is the most important thing in their lives… down from 20 percent a decade ago.”

That being said, some religious beliefs seem to cry out for mockery—and Johnson’s are among them. In 2015, before he became a Congressman, Johnson, a lawyer, founded Freedom Guard, which Wikipedia describes as “a nonprofit legal ministry designed to represent Christian clients in lawsuits.”

As Freedom Guard’s chief counsel, Johnson sued the State of Kentucky after it “withdrew millions of dollars of tax breaks from the Ark Encounter theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky because Ark Encounter required park employees to affirm that they held Young Earth creationist beliefs.”

Ark Encounter’s main attraction is a 300-cubit ark. The following description of it came from a Yelp review: “Well, let me start this out by saying I consider myself a Christian. But I consider myself a reasonable Christian. This place isn’t reasonable. There were not t-Rex’s on the ark [but] half of the animal cages were filled with dinosaurs. … There are also statues and art of biblical figures fighting dinosaurs. I don’t remember that in the Bible either.”

Johnson’s nuttiest religious belief has nothing to do with dinosaurs on boats, though. In his first speech after he was elected Speaker, he said, “God is the one who raises up those in authority.”

What, then, are we in for from God’s annointed Speaker? Well, if you’re rich, prepare to be richer. Apparently that’s the way the Bible says it ought to be.

Joe Biden wants to give Israel an additional $14 billion in military aid. Because clearly the Palestinians have not been suffering enough.

On Monday, Speaker Johnson and his GOP colleagues said they’re OK with that—provided they can offset that expenditure by cutting $14 billion from the IRS’s budget. The IRS commissioner estimated that such a cut would cost taxpayers $90 billion over ten years by reducing the agency’s ability to audit corporations and the wealthy. It is a perennial article of faith among Republicans, of course, that the rich have not been coddled enough.

Lest readers jump to the conclusion that Rep. Johnson is self-dealing here, trying to shield his own private Scrooge McDuck vault from IRS agents, let us reassure them. If his financial disclosures can be believed, he has no bank accounts. A regular St. Francis, he is. At least, so sayeth Wednesday’s news reports.

Not to get all RICO about this, but according to Politico’s Heidi Przybyla, Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice and free RV enthusiast Clarence Thomas, teamed up with future election-denier Cleta Mitchell in 2009 to build “a vast network of advocacy around the Supreme Court using nonprofit tax laws,” to act as a political machine for the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo. They succeeded in creating a “billion-dollar network of groups, most registered as tax-exempt charities or social welfare organizations.”

“As a result of Mitchell’s successful effort,” Przybyla writes, “IRS audit rates plunged as the division became overwhelmed by hundreds of new nonprofits supposedly doing charitable and educational work but actually doing mostly political work.”

You have to admit, it’s an elegant scheme. Neuter the IRS so your rich friends can better afford to subsidize the lifestyles of Supreme Court justices, and pack the Court with justices who see nothing wrong with neutering the IRS. Everybody wins—except us schmucks, of course.

Journalists like to assume an imperturbable pose of having seen it all before. The reader can imagine what it’s like for those of us with an institutional memory of the battles at Lexington and Concord. That said, we’re this close to freaking out. We haven’t even gotten to the part where Speaker Johnson wrote the playbook that Congress almost followed to overthrow the 2020 election, and that he’s third in the line of Presidential succession. No time to worry about that, though. Unless this dinosaur-believer gets his cats herded quick, the government’s going broke before the month is over.

Only in America, to be sure.

For some reason that brings to our heathen mind a verse from the Bible:

 “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

– Proverbs 16:18

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