When the history of the 21st Century is written (assuming there are people alive to research and write it) America’s current decline will be attributed largely to one man–and that man isn’t Donald Trump.
Of course Trump is dangerous. A number of his choices–both personnel and what passes for policy in his childlike worldview–are potentially catastrophic. But he is too delusional and ignorant to qualify as evil.
No, the most evil man in American government, in my humble opinion, is Mitch McConnell.
Trump is simply the result of McConnell’s consistent elevation of partisanship and power over principle. As James Fallows has pointed out, it was McConnell who took the filibuster from a seldom-used mechanism meant to ensure that minority opinions would be heard to a routine method of subverting majority rule. It was McConnell who famously promised to obstruct anything and everything Obama might do, irrespective of whether what was being obstructed was good policy, good for the country, or even if it had originated with his own party.
It was McConnell who, in the summer of 2016,” put the kibosh on FBI going public with a warning of the Russian interference in the election, which they were already investigating.
And needless to say, it was McConnell who ignored 200+ years of precedent, and simply refused to allow the Senate to do its constitutional duty of advising and consenting to a sitting president’s nominee for the Supreme Court–doing incalculable damage to the rule of law and ultimately, to respect for close decisions that will be handed down by a court that includes a Justice conspicuously occupying a “stolen” seat.
In 2006, as McConnell was about to emerge as the Republican leader in the Senate, Zachary Roth and Cliff Schecter wrote an article for the Washington Monthly titled “Meet the New Boss.” Here are some excerpts:
McConnell is a staunch conservative and a master of procedure, but no piece of landmark legislation bears his name. Almost the only issue on which he has a national profile is campaign-finance reform, and on that, he’s known as the man who fought it at every turn…
The Senate’s shift toward increased party discipline has been accompanied by a growing willingness to use the legislative process to benefit the Republican Party’s financial backers…
[McConnell is] a master of Senate rules and procedures, and he harbors no presidential aspirations that might distract him from his job. But unlike earlier leaders, he doesn’t keep score by legislative accomplishments. For the first time in recent memory, the Senate will be run by a leader with both the ability and the desire to use the institution entirely for partisan advantage…
I’m hardly the only observer who attributes much of America’s current dysfunction to McConnell. Dana Milbank calls him “The Man Who Broke America.” Milbank starts with one of the many, many examples of McConnell’s hypocrisy and dishonesty:
“No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate,” the minority leader said.
He continued: “Breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American. I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts.”
Are these the words of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the Republican majority changed Senate rules this week to do away with filibusters of Supreme Court nominations?
Actually, they were uttered in 2013, by then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), when Democrats pushed through a similar filibuster change for lesser nominations.
Milbank doesn’t mince words:
No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power.
Milbank further documents McConnell’s willingness to subvert longstanding Senate culture in service of rabid partisanship, pointing out that by 2013 his unprecedented, frequent use of the filibuster had blocked 79 of Obama’s nominees; that compared with 68 presidential appointments blocked during “the entire previous history of the Republic.”
The primacy of the rule of law was the most basic premise of the American constitution; as John Adams famously proclaimed, the Founders gave us a government of laws, not men. The constitutional architecture, with its three branches of government and a federalist structure leaving significant authority to the states, was an effort to constrain the abuse of power.
Trump doesn’t understand any of that, and he clearly has no idea how to use the rules themselves to evade those constraints. He doesn’t even know what the rules are.
McConnell, unfortunately, does.