It’s easy to get lost in the bloated malevolence of Donald Trump, or the poor-killing piousness of Paul Ryan, but we shouldn’t forget about Mitch McConnell, who may, actually, be the worst.
I don’t know if there has ever been a more cynical politician in my lifetime, or maybe ever. Bill Clinton watched a mentally-handicapped man get execute to prove his tough-guy bonafides, and that’s unforgivable calculated cynicism. Ronald Reagan stoked every fringe anti-government group while climbing up the ladder of governmental power, which is pretty damn cynical.
Then there are guys like Tom Delay, who spoke the language of the Christian Right while using its gulls as a side-hustle, raking in cash and giving the money guys a free hand in the temple. You also have dudes like Newt Gingrich, whose cynicism is extreme self-righteousness, able to levy teary empurpled criticism at those who won’t respect the results of elections. That’s breathtaking.
But still, there’s no one quite like Mitch, and arguably, there never has been. Sure, there may have been people more cynical, but not in our media climate, and not with the right wing what it is. He’s able to do the most blatantly political actions, without any regard for a right or decent outcome, while blaming the other side for doing exactly what he is. He’s a master at it.
One of my “favorite” examples, which I described as nearly Escherian, was funding for research into the Zika virus. The Republicans blocked any funding for months, refusing to give Obama a “victory”, as if helping pregnant mothers from a deadly airborne illness was anything other than the baseline responsibility of the government. And then they finally put Zika funding in a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood and weaken environmental protections. Obviously, Dems would vote against that. Mitch?
(P)ut Hillary Clinton in the White House and I promise you this, she will double down on the cynical approach that Senate Democrats seem to revel in these days.
Here’s what I mean. As we sit here tonight, a terrifying mosquito born illness threatens expectant mothers and their babies along our southern coast. And, just last week, just last week, Clinton Democrats in the Senate blocked a bill aimed at eradicating that virus before it can spread.
I mean, what can you do? It’s breathtaking, especially when he describes the Dems as using a “cynical approach”. And that’s far from the worst. This quote, during the hearings for Neil Gorsuch, reveal a pathological depth I can barely comprehend.
“This is the latest escalation in the left’s never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said after describing Democratic opposition in the past to Judge Robert H. Bork and Justice Clarence Thomas. “And it cannot and it will not stand. There cannot be two sets of standards: one for the nominees of the Democratic president and another for the nominee of a Republican president.”
This, of course, after a year of blocking Merrick Garland, whom Barack Obama nominated for the Supreme Court during his four-year term.
That’s why Mitch is actually the worst. It isn’t that he is frustrating, or just that he is deeply cynical. It’s that he is actively working against our democracy, destroying the norms that are far more important than laws in keeping our country together. He has no baseline decency, and does literally anything for his side to win.
The Merrick Garland blockade wasn’t merely a power play. It wasn’t just a maneuver. It wasn’t clever, and it wasn’t about winning elections. What Mitch McConnell did (with, it should be said, the entire party and surrounding media environment parroting his squawking righteousness), was nullify the re-election of Barack Obama.
There can’t be any other word for it. Obama was elected for another 4-year term, resoundingly. Part of that is being able to nominate justices, especially on the Supreme Court. There has never been an election in our history where people didn’t talk about its ramifications for the Court. Everybody voting knew what was at stake, knew that Presidential perogative, and we voted for Obama.
And McConnell said no. He said no because he knew that, ultimately, there was nothing that could stop him.
He realized this after Obama’s first election, when he could be as obstructionist as he wanted, and take away all Presidential rights, because he’d be supported by his party and media. He realized that there were no real mechanisms outside of decency to compel him to follow the spirit of the law. And that’s been his whole career.
His entire career, both as minority and as majority leader, has been to shred everything that makes our government work. And in doing so, he’s ripped to pieces the idea of a self-governing people. By breaking these norms, he’s accelerated the devolution of politics, which is really nothing more than the decided self-expression of a free people, into face-painted bloodsports.
When he does whatever he can to delegitimize a party, to nullify an election, to ruin our norms, he is just as much an anti-democratic tyrant as Donald Trump. Which brings me, 800 words later, to the point of this.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he will not allow a vote on a bill that would protect the special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Donald Trump, despite bipartisan concern that the president will act on an impulse to end the Russia investigation.
McConnell said on Tuesday that he did not believe legislative action was necessary because Trump would not fire Mueller, who is overseeing the FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia.
“I don’t think he should fire Mueller and I don’t think he is going to,” McConnell said during an interview on Fox News on Tuesday. “So this is a piece of legislation that’s not necessary, in my judgment.
That’s right: he won’t even allow, because he doesn’t think the President is going to fire Mueller. That would be considered optimistic, if you had any notion he believed it, or particularly cared.
He doesn’t care, of course. Sure, he couches it in the language he has to, that he doesn’t think Trump should fire Mueller, though you can almost physically feel his slump-shouldered shrug through the computer. And he later says that Trump would veto any bill, so what’s the point?
This is rich, of course, coming from a man who sent Obama bills to overturn Obamacare. That was also a probably veto! But the outcome didn’t matter; what mattered was letting his members vote on repealing. And that’s what matters to Mitch here.
Because, make no mistake, even if the bill is “bipartisan”, its Republican sponsors represent a very small minority in their caucus. McConnell doesn’t want the bill to come up not because he is afraid of it passing, but because he knows most of his party would vote against it. And he doesn’t want that on their records, because he knows it would be terrible.
There’s no leadership. There’s no attempt to persuade. There isn’t even the recognition that he has a slight duty to protect the country from Trump, or from encroaching authoritarianism. There’s only the desire to protect his party from taking a vote that he knows will make them look awful.
Mitch McConnell, no less, and probably much more than Trump, has broken our democracy. His entire project has been too degrade the fragile bonds that keep our system together. And he’s been successful.
Trump saw and rode anger and discontent and outright racism to the top. He understood it, lives in it, and knew it matched the rot of his own character. He saw that fundamental American disease, saw it is a weakness, and used it.
Mitch saw something different. He saw that we were more than our Constitution. He saw that we weren’t really a nation bound by laws, but that we were an ongoing experiment in how to create a self-government. We were meant to keep changing, and that meant accepting and participating in unwritten rules that bind us together.
For most people, that’s a strength. That America is an experiment, that it is meant to evolve, that we are bound to our political destiny with each other, and not holy script, is a strength. But Mitch McConnell uniquely saw it as a weakness, and used it against itself. He perverted the experiment. He made it in his own impossibly cynical image, and the country is now the monster he created.
So yeah, he’s probably really the worst of the bunch. But what he broke can be repaired. This isn’t a call for bipatisan decency or anything. That’s a weakness McConnell exploits. It can be repaired by crushing them in November, and then in 2020, and getting rid of all the miscreants. It can be repaired by actually taking back the government, and remembering that it can be the very best of who we are, instead of befouled by the very worst.