Tag Archives: Mitch McConnell

What Is The Remedy For A McConnell?

An article I read in Vox a month or so ago has continued to bother me. The subject-matter was summed up in the sub-head: “The political system has an answer for a threat like Donald Trump, but none for a threat like Mitch McConnell.”

If Trump often acts like he is above the law, it is only because McConnell lets him. If McConnell decided to lead Senate Republicans in investigating and curbing Trump’s corruption, abuses of power, and obstruction of justice, Trump’s options would be to reform his behavior or be ejected from office.

The article goes on to make a point that is so obvious it is often overlooked. Despite their  differences (McConnell is evil, calculating and smart, Trump is mentally disordered, undisciplined and stupid) they do have one thing in common. They are both utterly shameless.

At the core of this is McConnell’s peculiar form of political shamelessness. This is the way McConnell and Trump are more similar than is often appreciated: they have both proven that the range of political action is disciplined less by external constraint than by a politician’s sense of shame — the degree to which they turn back in the face of public criticism, media opprobrium, elite backlash.

It was shamelessness, for instance, that let McConnell refuse to hold a hearing on Merrick Garland and then, grinning, admit that he’d fill a Supreme Court seat if one came up in 2020. McConnell’s predecessors held the same power he did and none of them attempted that maneuver. They weren’t restrained by laws or rules. They were restrained by temperament and a belief that to break the system was to betray the public.

When political scientists talk about “democratic norms,” it is the restraints of temperament and fidelity to tradition and rules that they are referencing.  McConnell has demonstrated his rejection of political accountability, and the system has no mechanism for dealing with someone who acts as if the rules simply don’t apply to him.

The Founders designed our form of government with demagogues in mind. That’s why the president is checked by Congress, up to and including the threat of removal. But they believed that Congress would consider itself in competition with the president, that ambition would check ambition. They did not foresee the rise of political parties and the way that would bring parts of Congress into cooperation with the president, that ambition would protect ambition.

The political system has an answer for a threat like Donald Trump but none for a threat like Mitch McConnell.

McConnell isn’t simply ignoring duties imposed by the Constitution; he is– as the Vox article says–shameless. His actions defy our expectations of normal human behavior, not because he is breaking the rules in order to benefit himself (lots of people do that), but because he is publicly flaunting his violations and daring observers to do anything about them.

As Rochefoucauld said, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. McConnell is withholding that tribute. He doesn’t even pretend to behave honorably; his entire, smug demeanor says “I’m demolishing longstanding norms and traditions because I can and there is nothing any of you can do about it.”

The only remedies available are political: McConnell could lose his Senate race in 2020, or Democrats could take the Senate, removing his authority to do significant damage. Given that he represents Kentucky, the first is unlikely. (Possible, but unlikely.)

The second, I submit, is mandatory. Both he and Trump have to go, and only massive turnout will rid us of both of them.

 

Can We Ditch Mitch?

I love Gail Collins, the columnist for the New York Times. Hell, I want to be Gail Collins when I grow up (assuming I ever do).

A couple of days ago, her column was titled “Let’s Ditch Mitch!” It’s a sentiment with which I ardently agree.

She began:

O.K., throwing this one at you without warning: What’s your opinion of Mitch McConnell?

A) Spawn of Satan.

B) Sort of pitiful, what with having Donald Trump on his back.

C) Can we talk about how he looks like a turtle?

Definitely not the last one. It’s true that many Americans think of McConnell as turtle-like, due to his lack of anything resembling a chin.

But this is wrong on two counts. First, you shouldn’t tackle people you disagree with by making fun of their looks. Second, it gives turtles a bad name. Turtles are great for the environment and everybody likes them. They sing to their children. You are never going to see a turtle killing gun control legislation.

Collins proceeds to remind readers of McConnell’s longstanding alliance with the NRA, evidenced by $1.3 million in financial support. As a result, the NRA gets its way; among the bills Mitch has obligingly killed is reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is “moldering away in a corner because the NRA doesn’t want authorities taking guns away from domestic abusers.”

A bill on strengthening background checks is moldering along with it, despite the fact that several Republican Senators have indicated that they would support it– if McConnell would allow it to come to the floor.

This goes on a lot. McConnell, who has near total control over what comes up for a vote, sits on things he doesn’t like until they smother. Farewell, immigration reform, Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, lowering prescription drug prices, protecting election security, restoring net neutrality.

To which we can now add this week’s burial of the bill the House just passed to protect “Dreamers” from deportation.

As Collins notes, you can’t explain away Mitch’s actions by saying he’s simply doing what Trump wants him to do, since Trump hasn’t the foggiest notion what’s happening in Congress (or, I would add, the foggiest notion what Congress does.)

There are well over 100 House-passed bills sitting around gathering mildew in Mitch’s limbo. What do you think that place looks like? A very depressing bus station waiting room? A hospital ward packed with comatose patients? Or maybe just a dimly lit storage bin where little bills sit around drinking juice and playing video games until the end of time?

All of them in the thrall of Mitch McConnell. Before we move on, can we mention that McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, is the nation’s secretary of transportation, and possibly on her way to serious contention for Worst Cabinet Member?

Those of you who read the New York Times have probably seen the recent expose of Chao; in a collection of totally corrupt cabinet secretaries, she has managed to out-corrupt most of them. But then, she is married to Mitch, so she’s learned from a master…

And of course, as Collins reminds us, there was that unprecedented, norm-destroying theft of a Supreme Court seat–the “high point” of Mitch’s career-long fixation on filling the federal courts with right-wing ideologues.

A man who has never gotten a single vote from anyone living outside the state of Kentucky decreed that a man twice elected president of the United States had no right to have his nominee for Supreme Court considered in the Senate. McConnell told Charles Homans of The Times it was “the most consequential thing” he’d ever done. He was extremely proud.

McConnell’s argument was that Obama was too close to the end of his term to make a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. But now he’s saying that if there’s a vacancy before the 2020 election, he’ll of course get Trump’s choice for a successor a confirmation vote. “Oh, we’d fill it,” the senator chortled at a Chamber of Commerce lunch back home in Kentucky.

I know you’re not surprised, but isn’t it sort of awful that McConnell’s so proud of himself? You’d hope that, at least in public, he’d murmur something vague and look a tad sheepish.

No self-respecting turtle would ever behave like that.

Donald Trump is an embarrassing and incompetent buffoon–a bull in the governmental china shop who is doing a lot of damage. But he can’t hold a candle to Mitch McConnell. McConnell has singlehandedly broken American government.

Words Utterly Fail….

A few days ago, I posted about the excellent bill Congressional Democrats have introduced to begin the overdue cleanup of corrupted democratic processes. The bill includes curbs on gerrymandering and safeguards against vote suppression, among other things.

The one element of the bill that I figured was unlikely to be controversial was the proposal to make Election Day a national holiday. Good government groups have been lobbying for this for years. I mean, how can you argue against making voting easier for people who work long hours and have other problems getting to the polls?

Mitch McConnell–aka the most evil man in America–just answered what I thought was a rhetorical question. He has labeled the proposal “a power grab.”

I suppose if you are convinced that facilitating citizens’ ability to cast their votes will lead to  higher vote totals for your political opponents–if you know, in your heart of hearts that you and your party are historically unpopular– that might seem like a power grab…Still, it’s hard to imagine McConnell offering this argument with a straight face.

There has been a lot of outrage expressed in the wake of McConnell’s chutzpah, but I think Ed Brayton’s response at Dispatches from the Culture Wars is my favorite.

The man who refused to allow even a committee vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for nearly a year so a Republican could appoint the next justice is accusing someone else of a power grab? The fact that he wasn’t immediately struck dead by lightning is powerful evidence that there is no god (or that god is a first-class jerk, take your pick). This is Trumpian-level lack of self-awareness and shamelessness. I can’t imagine how the man sleeps at night, other than on a pile of money.

McConnell was recently described by a historian as “the gravedigger of American democracy,” a description he has clearly earned. (Even Donald Trump, who never met a greedy thug he couldn’t relate to, evidently told aides that McConnell was “meaner than a snake.”)

McConnell has defended his opposition to making Election Day a holiday by claiming it would cost money, because it would require government workers to be paid. In Mitch’s world, the country can easily afford to give billions in “tax relief” to corporations, but can’t manage continuing to compensate government employees for one extra day off.

Hoosiers like to make fun of folks from Kentucky, characterizing them as not-too-smart hillbillies. I’ve always maintained that bigotry–even geographical bigotry–is always wrong. But to the extent that there is  evidence for that characterization of our neighbors to the south, it is that they have repeatedly voted for Mitch McConnell.

How It Can Happen Here

A month or so ago, the New York Review of Books ran a lengthy essay by Christopher Browning, titled The Suffocation of Democracy.

Browning is a historian specializing in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and–as one might expect–the essay considers the parallels and differences between then in Germany and now in the United States. He notes several troubling similarities–and one equally troubling difference. After sketching U.S. policies in the run-up to World War Two, and emphasizing the importance of the post-war international agreements, he writes

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

In addition to the “agenda of withdrawal” parallels, he compares the political weakness of those in control of the Weimar Republic–weakness that led them to cast their lot with Hitler–to the shrinking American support for conservatism that led to the GOP’s embrace of Trump.

But Browning saves his most scathing–and accurate– criticism for Mitch McConnell, writing

If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments. Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations. Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the “steal” of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch. The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings….Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump.

The difference Browning identifies between then and now is equally unsettling. Hitler had to take overt actions to dissolve labor unions, to seize control of media and pursue other measures that consolidated his power. Browning says such actions are no longer necessary, because American democracy is being suffocated from within: the independence of the judiciary is being steadily eroded; the free press still exists, but has been neutered by a flood of propaganda and fake news; and systemic flaws like gerrymandering and the Electoral College have allowed the GOP to win elections despite garnering only minority support.

On these issues, often described as the guardrails of democracy against authoritarian encroachment, the Trump administration either has won or seems poised to win significant gains for illiberalism. Upon his appointment as chancellor, Hitler immediately created a new Ministry of People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels, who remained one of his closest political advisers.

In Trump’s presidency, those functions have effectively been privatized in the form of Fox News and Sean Hannity.

I think it was Mark Twain who said history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

 

All The “King’s” Men (And Women)

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has been on a roll since the election of Donald Trump. It’s understandable–Trump provides a target for anyone who takes policy seriously, and an even bigger target for people who are tempted to berate pompous ignoramuses and moral cowards.

Milbank detests both categories.

In the linked column, he points to the obvious: the moral rot that Trump has brought with him to the political process has spread throughout the Republican Party. As he notes, what the President is doing is reprehensible; what the GOP leadership is not doing is unforgivable.(“Unforgivable” is actually my “pet name” for Mitch McConnell. At least, it’s the “pet name” I can use in polite company.)

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) stood on the Senate floor Wednesday morning for his first public remarks since the seismic events of the day before: The president’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to fraud and breaking campaign finance laws, implicating the president in a crime; the president’s former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of financial crimes, making him one of five members of Trump’s team who have been convicted or have admitted guilt; and a Republican congressman was indicted, the second of Trump’s earliest congressional supporters to be charged this month.

It was time for leadership. McConnell ducked.

Instead, he hailed Trump’s campaign rally in West Virginia the night before. He disparaged President Barack Obama’s record. He spoke about low unemployment “under this united Republican government.” He went on about coal, taxes, apprenticeship programs, health research, prisoner rehabilitation and more — and not a peep about the corruption swirling around the president. When reporters pressed McConnell in the hallway for comment, he brushed them off.

Paul Ryan didn’t come off any better. Milbank quoted Ryan saying he “needed more information.”

What more do you need, Mr. Speaker? What more will it take, Republicans? It seems nothing can bring them to state what is manifestly true: The president is unfit to serve, surrounded by hooligans and doing incalculable harm.

Milbank recounted the equally shameful silence of others in the GOP hierarchy, then wrote what most rational Americans–including those who once called the Grand Old Party home– are thinking:

This intolerable silence of the Republicans — through “Access Hollywood,” racist outbursts, diplomatic mayhem and endless scandal — is what allows Trump and his Fox News-viewing supporters to dock their spaceship in a parallel universe where truth isn’t truth. At Tuesday night’s rally in West Virginia, Trump’s irony-challenged audience could be heard chanting “Drain the Swamp!” and “Lock her up!” (Hillary Clinton, that is), just a few hours after Paul Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s guilty plea.

Milbank dismisses the common wisdom that excuses Republican officeholders because they fear the party’s base.

Republican lawmakers fear that with 87 percent of Republican voters backing Trump, crossing him is political suicide. But this is circular. Support among the Republican base remains high because Republican officeholders validate him.

Milbank quotes the “weasel words” of various Republican Senators–Cornyn, Grassley, Graham and Hatch–and references the criminal charges recently filed against two GOP Representatives (who just happened to be the first two to climb aboard the Trump Train). His recitation makes it impossible to disagree with his conclusion:

If Republicans don’t put some moral distance between themselves and Trump, there will soon be nothing left to salvage.