By Ross Barkan
Friday, May 12, 2017
Don't expect Mitch McConnell to defend the American republic
By Ross Barkan
The congressman would go on to lose that fall.
Two decades later, McConnell is the Republican majority leader who will always put the fate of his party over the functioning of government. As Barack Obama’s tormentor, his legislative achievements were nonexistent, but he succeeded in stifling much of the Democrats’ agenda. Now he is in full bloom as an obstructionist, even with his own party in power.
As Democrats and some lawmakers in the Republican party, including John McCain, called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to probe possible Russian interference in last year’s election after Donald Trump fired James Comey, the FBI director, McConnell held his ground: he will not ask for a new investigation because it would “impede the current work” being done.
Trump’s firing of Comey, who was once the Democrats’ bête noire after he reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before the election, was yet another disturbing action from a White House committed to obliterating whatever democratic norms remain.
Like Richard Nixon, Trump dismissed someone investigating potential misconduct in his own administration, raising new questions about what exactly he is trying to hide. We don’t really know. As a compulsive liar with an addiction to misdirection, Trump will never be forthcoming unless the rule of law forces facts out of the darkness.
There is some hyperbole coming from the Democratic side. This is not necessarily a constitutional crisis; presidents reserve the right to dismiss FBI directors, and the bureau, created in 1908, does not exist in the constitution. While intelligence agencies agree that Russian agents hacked Clinton’s emails to benefit Trump’s campaign, no direct evidence has been aired in the public to bolster this case. Democrats call Trump Vladimir Putin’s puppet, but the reality is far more complex. The Democratic obsession with fomenting a new cold war – once the domain of hawkish Republicans not too long ago – doesn’t serve the country well.
But the public must know exactly what’s going on. Now that Trump has sacked Comey, he might seek a successor who toes the party line. Trump does not believe in political independence, separation of powers or the idea of other entities holding him accountable. His ideology, so porous and ill informed that it’s often a mere mirror of whatever he’s last seen on television, is rooted chiefly in loyalty. People who are good to him, who never say no, are rewarded. All dissent is shut out.
This is a dangerous place for any executive to be, let alone one as terrifyingly inexperienced as Trump. Republicans need to recognize this. Were McConnell another kind of man – one motivated primarily by preserving the integrity of the American republic – he would see that a special prosecutor is needed to tell us what happened last year, what’s happening now, and why exactly Trump fired an FBI director a third of the way into a 10-year term.
McConnell will not do this because self-preservation is all that animates him. He is a brilliant tactician and an empty shell, driven to cling to power at all costs, with the only endgame being a perpetual stranglehold on the majority. Never mind the corruption in the White House. Never mind the lack of serious policy coming from his party.
Lyndon Johnson was similarly obsessed with power, charting a path from majority leader to the presidency. Like McConnell, he was consumed by politics, kneecapping rivals and elevating his career at all costs. But he knew his power needed to be wielded for an end: to join history, he had to try to help people. And he did, shepherding Medicare, Medicaid and civil rights protections into law. He knew that power for power’s sake was worthless.
McConnell and his Republican allies drew their strength from opposition to Obama. Under Trump they are bereft of purpose, unable and unwilling to govern. Democrats aren’t blameless in this era of polarization, but it was the Tea Party and McConnell’s own vow to make Obama a one-term president which birthed the strife we have now.
McConnell knows that as Trump’s fortunes dim, so does his party’s, and an independent investigation unearthing uncomfortable facts may just endanger his slim majority. McConnell will fight to survive. He won’t fight for anything else.