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Updated: Dec 17, 2020

December 15, 2020

Illustration: Joe Cummings/Financial Times

Kentucky had a chance to get rid of Mitch McConnell this past election and somehow it didn't. Despite being a pretty uniformly despised figure in American politics — among Democrats especially, of course — and with approval ratings in the low 20's or even teens at times, Mitch continues to win his races — all 30+ years of them.

This past election, his opponent Amy McGrath raised a whopping $88 million in her bid to defeat him. Yet Mitch sailed to victory with 58% of the vote.

I've read that his popularity (a different measure than approval rating, to be sure) is based on his effectiveness. And we all have to admit he is effective. He plays a calculating, cynical, stealthy game with the coldness of a reptile — a game only he seems to really excel at. Many don't like him but, as with Trump, there seems to be consensus that it's better to be his friend than his enemy. Or, let's say, one of "his" senators. Because they do belong to him.

It is hard and actually a bit humiliating to live in a country where one person has so much say in what happens — even and maybe especially in life-and-death matters, like now. The whole country is waiting to see whether Mitch will let us have more aid in 2020. How is it that America's three branches of government come down to one cold and ruthless man? How is it that families are waiting to see if they can afford Christmas this year, or food, or rent, and instead of looking to Congress, or even the Senate as a whole, they look to Mitch McConnell? Who has been watching us starve most of the year.

And somehow there really is nothing we can do about it. All of our Democratic representatives in Washington D.C. can do nothing to budge the Senate, and the Senate to a person, bows to Mitch McConnell. He holds the Senate Republicans so tightly that I've wondered, honestly, how it feels for them to go to work every day … or, well, the days they call workdays. In between recesses.

The nation looks up to its Senators, rewards them handsomely in privilege and in dollars, yet at work they're like a roomful of pre-schoolers waiting to be told when it's time to get their hats and mittens out of their cubbies.

Despite his power, McConnell's state's economy is nearly the worst (#5 from the bottom) in the nation. Kentucky ranks 44th in education, 38th in health care and 35th in fiscal stability, It is among the nation's leaders in teen pregnancy and pollution from coal plants. The numbers can't help make you wonder why it is that the most powerful Congressman in the nation doesn't take better care of his own people.

But maybe he doesn't care about Kentuckians, just as he doesn't care about "blue states" or, it seems, about Americans generally. His loyalty seems pretty clearly to be to himself, his pocket, and his party, in that order. I'm not the first person to say this, and to note the allegations of corruption following him for nearly a decade.

Like a lot of people who specialize in flying under the radar, McConnell has figured out how to manipulate systems. Over the decades, his values have slid from moderate/willing to compromise to hardcore tribalist, while his loyalties have oozed in whichever direction seemed to promise the greatest advantage to himself. His wealth has steadily risen over the years, while he rode to greater and greater heights of power during the Obama era on a tiny, two-letter word: NO.

I do hold Mitch McConnell personally responsible for a large portion of what's wrong with America today, and so do a lot of other people.

What's wrong with America today is deeply wrong. Yes, we've always had divisions, and yes, democracies allow difference, so the tension that feels uncomfortable may actually be what makes it a good system to live in. But I don't feel like Mitch is part of this dynamic. In an effort to secure power for himself and his party, he has rejected the American political tradition of debate, compromise, and exchanging power via free elections, in favor of sheer obstinance.

Who could possibly admire that?

Republicans have no excuse for following a man who told the press in 2010, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." How can that be the main goal of a national party? For the agenda of a Congress that was elected by the people and is supposed to serve them? I can't forgive that, especially since it helped lead us where we are today.

In the Trump era, the only thing McCconnell seemed willing to actually, you know, work at was appointing judges. A total of 194 judges, all Republican of course, were appointed during Trump's single term in office. Many were young or unready or in unfit in some other way. But they were Republicans. So.

Meanwhile a shocking 394 legislative bills, drafted by Democrats, sit on McConnell's desk. If he won't look at them, they can't be passed, so the whole Senate collects a paycheck ($174,000 a year) for doing nothing.

I really wonder why it is that Americans on both sides of the aisle continue to put up with half the legislative body enjoying a life of leisure while we pay them. We, the people, who have been denied relief aid this year by the very party that's living so well off our tax dollars themselves.

It blows my mind how they can face themselves and their constituents, taking a salary for doing no work, following their leader without evidence of their own minds or morals, and supporting legislative agendas that harm the nation.

The callousness of the role McConnell has fashioned for himself in our government has become even more evident during the Trump Administration. While Trump actively tried to kill the soul of the nation by betraying us to international adversaries, upending the Constitution and breaking federal and state laws, discarding our allies, denying science in the face of an epidemic, and personally profiting from his office, McConnell did so passively. He made sure no Republican Congressman objected. He placated Trump's most destructive whims and cooperated with every illegality he engaged in with a corrupt Justice Department. Most seriously, he refused to hold a trial after the President was impeached by Congress.

During this grueling year, he has helped send the largest portion of the people's relief aid to corporations, dribbled a few dollars to us, then cut it off when he believed we'd had enough. Since the spring, America has been waiting for help from its leaders — help in the form of aid; aid that's funded by the tax dollars we supply to our government. Our tax dollars pay him $2.75 million annual salary (which is about $52,000 a week, if you're interested). Yet we've been told we don't "need another handout." He's said "the blue states can go bankrupt." In the numerous collisions between Republican senators and House Democrats in the second half of this year, the one expenditure McConnell has been willing to make is legal protections for corporations if employees sue them after being forced to go to work during a pandemic … because they have no money. Because the U.S. Senate, by which I mean Mitch McConnell, won't let the relief aid go through.

And around and around it goes.

In the last weeks of 2020, Mitch McConnell has proven he is not a patriot, probably not even what we understand to be a Republican, by indulging the President in his cries of "fraud" following the election.

To repudiate the results of a free and fair election is, I personally believe, an act of sedition.

I don't mean the many individuals expressing their disappointment or even their doubts about the election's fairness on Facebook or Fox News. I mean the leader of the American Senate using his outsize influence to assist in perpetrating the myth Trump is the rightful President.

I mean the leader of the Senate maintaining that stance for 42 days, while homegrown militias and self-appointed "electors" expressed their rage in statehouses and on the streets of the nation's capitol.

I mean the leader of the Senate remaining silent after 127 Republicans signed a Trump loyalty pledge in the form of an amicus brief charging election fraud that was put before the Supreme Court.

In his silence and inaction, and due to his position in our government, McConnell has undermined democracy every bit as much as those 127 members of his party. And frankly, he's been doing it for decades now — probably better than anyone else.

Only today did Mitch McConnell finally congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their win. He did so on the Senate floor, at a microphone, in his characteristically expressionless, flat-voiced manner. News outlets dutifully ran the footage and everyone, Republican or Democrat, felt a sense of closure at last. Even the ones who didn't want to. Even the ones, like Trump himself, who are still vowing to fight on.

Mitch McConnell's declaration that the 2020 election is over is probably what will make it actually be over, at last. But it's hard to feel grateful. Today a man I'd call a patriot, Steve Schmidt, joined the Democratic party because he believes it is the only major American political party that still believes in democracy. A former GOP strategist and campaign manager for John McCain, and a founder of the now highly influential Lincoln Project, Schmidt registered as an Independent in 2018 in response to the harm Trump was inflicting on the Republican Party and the country, as well as the party's continued embrace of his leadership.

Another GOP defector, Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan, broke away due to the party's refusal to accept Trump's defeat, saying, "It is unacceptable for political candidates incite distrust of something so basic as the sancity of our vote."

The GOP has slowly morphed into an unrecognizable entity under Trump; the defections have been coming for years. In the summer of 2019 U.S. Representative Justin Amash left the party over the GOP's refusal to try Trump after he was impeached, aided by the U.S. Justice Department and Bill Barr. Other notable defections include Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" news analysis program; George Conway, member of the Lincoln Project and husband of top Trump aide Kelly Conway; political ethics experts Tom Nichols and Peter Whener, and others.

But it will take more departures than these to restore unity, faith in democracy, and the practice of fairness and collegial respect in the party and the halls of Congress, not to mention among the citizenry. Firing Trump was, of course, a huge step in the right direction. But given Mitch MCConnell's behavior in the last two administrations, and most recently his response to this election, I really wonder if the person who's most damaging to our democracy is the one we left in office.

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