Saturday, January 25, 2020

BTRTN: "McConnellism"... Power, Party, and the Death of Good Faith

Adam Schiff made it plain as day that the President of the United States committed an egregious abuse of power and an equally blatant stonewalling of Congressional oversight. Yet American citizens will likely never see witnesses because of a new strain of moral bankruptcy that makes Machiavelli look like a choir boy.

According to recent polls, roughly 70% of all Americans – Republicans and Democrats – want the trial of Donald Trump to be conducted like any other trial… with witnesses, documents, and all relevant evidence.

But Republicans are, in all likelihood, going to prevent that from happening.

Despite the riveting and brilliant performance of Adam Schiff, Republicans are probably going to succeed in white-washing what is unquestionably a more virulent abuse of Presidential power than Watergate. Yes, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace for a lesser abuse of power than that executed by Donald Trump, but Trump will walk free. 

Free to further erode our liberties. Free to further crush our institutions. Free to run for re-election, and quite possibly win. Free to serve generations of Americans with a new model for leadership and citizenship, one that proves that crime pays, cheaters win, and corruption – not the rule of law -- reigns supreme in the United States of America.

Some Senate Republicans claim that the articles of impeachment are weak because there is no evidence from direct witnesses, having conveniently forgotten that Donald Trump forbade any of the direct witnesses to his actions from testifying. 

It is a downward spiral of circular logic: Republicans want to clear Donald Trump of abuse of power by essentially acknowledging that he successfully obstructed Congress by refusing to allow witnesses to testify, so there are no direct witnesses to his abuse of power. But, uh, he also isn't guilty of obstructing Congress. Go figure.
A trove of new, damning evidence has just come out that essentially ties all the loose ends in the story together into a single coherent narrative of a President comprehensively orchestrating an illegal quid pro quo, and no Republican apparently wants that evidence to be allowed at the trial. Republicans claim that Lev Parnas is utterly unreliable and not credible, conveniently forgetting that until very recently Parnas was working with and for Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. Rather than test the credibility of his statements against other documents and testimony, the Republican argument seems to be this: “How can you possibly trust this guy’s testimony? This is a guy who was working to implement Rudy Giuliani’s rogue foreign policy under the explicit direction of Donald Trump!”

Senate Republicans cannot even get their story straight. Some will tell you that Trump did something wrong, but it is not impeachable. Others will stick with Trump’s contention that his actions have been “perfect.” Yet surely they know that if Barack Obama had done one percent of what Trump has done, they would have sprinted to impeach him. 

Hypocrisy on the magnitude practiced by Republicans requires the complete surgical removal of any sense of shame. It is to be employed by Satan’s ad agency, tasked with turning night into day, and day into night, and relishing the success in witnessing how the flowering of deceit spawns mistrust, anger, divisiveness, and the destruction of our values and our institutions.

Which brings us to our topic for today.

Is what we are witnessing merely the latest chapter in history of people in power scheming and bending the rules to preserve their power? Is it just a torqued-up, steroids-era, 21st century version of “the ends justify the means?” 

Or are we witnessing something entirely new… something that would make Machiavelli himself shudder in awe?

We should begin to fear that latter. 

Because this is the sickening truth: We are not as strong a country as we thought we were. Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and William Barr may well accomplish what rival armies, forces of nature, and brutal terrorists could not.

They are merely days away from crushing our faith in the rule of law. 

And while each member of this axis of evil could not achieve such carnage on their own, I reserve my most acrid loathing for the one who should know better: Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  

Not since Joseph McCarthy gave birth to the cruel, manipulative, self-serving, and rabid form of hate politics that now bears his name have we seen a single Senator cynically aim a wrecking ball of deceit on our government, our principles, and the will of our people.

It is a potent, toxic blending of Machiavellianism and McCarthyism, and it is sucking the lifeblood out of our country.  It is draining our belief that our government, our Constitution, and our institutions are strong enough to withstand a full-on, category five, direct hit from malevolent actors. Call it McConnellism, and until it is stamped out, it represents a lethal risk to our democracy.

It is tempting to blame our current catastrophe on Donald Trump, but make no mistake: Donald Trump without Mitch McConnell is just a celebrity television host reading off a teleprompter, far too unschooled in the mechanics of government to get anything done, or -- more aptly -- block anything he doesn't want done.

What, exactly, is McConnellism?

1. The heart of McConnellism is the belief that loyalty to party – and maintaining the party’s power -- is more important than loyalty to country.
2.  McConnellism is the belief that time is better spent destroying the opposition party and denying it any accomplishments than to actually accomplish anything.  
3.  McConnellism is a rarified hyper-hypocrisy that shamelessly applies different standards to the actions of one party than to one’s own, and stubbornly refuses to apply the same standards to comparable actions taken by both parties.
4.  McConnellism is a parasite that lives and thrives by sucking off the lies of others, be it Fox News or the President of the United States.

The signature philosophy of McConnellism was laid down in Barack Obama’s first term, when Mitch McConnell announced his intent and purpose as Senate Majority Leader. This is a direct quote from McConnell about the duly elected President of the United States:

 “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.”

Reflect on those words for a moment… he certainly had plenty of options for the single notion that he held to be the “most important” thing he could be doing. Perhaps something like “serving the needs of the American people.” How about “Respect the judgment of the electorate and work closely with my Democratic colleagues to find common ground, compromise, and make progress on issues of greatest importance to the American people.” Nah. The singular focus of his life was to do everything in his power to take down the President of the United States.

Thus McConnell introduced a concept that would once have been considered unspeakably unpatriotic: that the essential mission of one party was to destroy the Presidency of the opposing party; to cause it to fail. Considering that the newly elected President carried the electoral mandate of the American people, the idea that the opposing party’s raison d’etre is to sabotage the Presidency would logically suggest that it was simultaneously bent on subverting the will of the American people. A person bent on ensuring that the failure of President of the United States appears to believe that any resulting wound to the United States of America is simply justifiable collateral damage. 

But there was Mitch, publicly espousing the that his job was to find every possible way for Barack Obama to fail. 

The particular aorta that Mitch McConnell severed the day he uttered those words cut the flow of blood to a particularly American notion of public conduct… to act in good faith. Chris Hayes of MSNBC mentioned this phrase in his commentary about the impeachment trial on MSNBC Wednesday night. His focus on that phrase made an impression in light of the madness surrounding this trial. 

In fact, every single day, we expect that the people put in positions of responsibility in businesses, schools, churches, and government will act in good faith. They will honorably set out to do the job they have agreed to do. It is a basic covenant: I am hiring you to do this job. You agree that you will do your best. It is an underpinning of our society that is repeated in millions of social contracts every day.

I used to own a small advertising agency. Imagine, if you will, that I hired a person and tasked them with the job of soliciting new advertising accounts for my agency. Can you imagine how I would have felt it that individual had decided to spend every hour of every day soiling the reputation of other advertising agencies, on the theory that we would win more accounts if every other agency looked worse? How despicable, destructive, and unproductive would that exercise be?

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I did not believe in “trickle down economics.” But it would have been obscene for anyone in government to take actions in order to increase the likelihood that it would fail. Far better to allow the markets to prove yet again that the theory is fundamentally flawed. But Mitch McConnell? He thinks he is smarter than the markets and wiser than the people. He would do anything in his power as an officer of the United States government to make sure an opponent’s idea failed.

The full lethal and weaponized poison of McConnellism was most profoundly felt when the Senate Majority leader overtly blocked the rightful nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. McConnell achieved this by exercising his right of Senate Majority Leader to refuse to bring pending Senate matters for a floor vote. In this decision, we witnessed an astonishing destruction of precedent. Generations of Senators had understood that the Constitution obligated the President to move with dispatch to fill openings in the Supreme Court, so that the American people were served with a full complement of Supreme Court justices. It was Obama’s constitutional right and indeed obligation to make that nomination, and McConnell brazenly negated that Constitutional imperative.  McConnell did not believe that Garland was unqualified; indeed, he knew Garland was exceptionally qualified. He did it knowing full well that he was cheating Barack Obama and the American people of their rights.

The long-term effect of McConnell’s action is that the only judges who will ever be appointed to the Supreme Court will be those nominated when a Presidency and the Senate Majority are held by the same party. Due to McConnell’s precedent, why would any future Senate Majority Leader ever allow a floor vote to be taken on a nominee of the opposition party? To do so would be to act in good faith, knowing that such an action was the obvious intent and will of the Founding Fathers. But Mitch McConnell has demonstrated to us that vastly superior political outcomes can be secured by acting in bad faith.
And now, with Donald Trump in the White House, we witness the spectacle of Mitch McConnell turning the sober Constitutional measure of impeachment into a political hack job, with the Senate Majority leader placing one fat, clumsy hand on the scales of justice.
Here is where we see a level of hypocrisy that would be comic if the mask of tragedy did not fit so well. McConnell claims that his decision to not include the calling of witnesses in his impeachment rules is based on the rules governing the impeachment of Bill Clinton. In the case of Clinton, however, the White House had already fully complied with executive branch testimony and documents. Bill Clinton himself had been deposed on video. The entire reason that the current House passed an article of impeachment relating to “obstruction of Congress” is precisely because Trump refused to provide documents or allow the first-hand witnesses among his immediate subordinates to testify. 

McConnell claims that if the Democrats had wanted more witnesses, they should have done it in the House impeachment process. He has commented on a number of occasions with words to the effect that the House “should have done a better job” in their impeachment inquiry. Again: Trump prevented witness testimony. Had the House Democrats attempted to use the court system to force Executive branch employees to comply with Congressional subpoenas, the impeachment process would have been delayed until after the 2020 election… by which time the fundamental issue – Trump’s efforts to tamper with the 2020 election – would have been long since moot. 

McConnell pretends that he does not understand that the House impeachment process is akin to a grand jury, which only needs sufficient evidence to decide that a full trial is merited. It was never intended to obviate the need for a Senate trial. Moreover, we now see a flood of new evidence… a common occurrence as a legal proceeding moves from grand jury to trial. 

McConnell and Republicans frequently excoriated the Democrats for “moving so quickly” with the House articles of impeachment, and now they think that the Senate trial should be a two-week blitzkrieg devoid of witnesses and documents.

My single favorite moment of the past three days?

Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania announced that “I didn’t hear anything new today.”
Is there a scale that is capable of measuring such stupidity? 

Hey, Pat! If you want to hear something new, you should ask for Trump’s direct reports to testify! You should ask the White House to comply with document requests! You should be the first person who demands that John Bolton raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

The Senate trial is McConnellism run rampant. It is a cheating, scheming, double-crossing fiasco of hiding the truth and hiding from the truth. 

The final irony? All the people who watched the Democrats present their case to the Senate actually witnessed a proceeding of great depth, deep respect for American values, and powerful idealism.

It looked like a dignified proceeding, because the Democrats are acting in good faith

Adam Schiff has spoken with flawless logic, comprehensive knowledge, and deep respect for the institutions of government. Even those that do not currently deserve it. 

Schiff and his colleagues acted in the good faith that if their words are heard by objective, attentive ears, the conclusion will be self-evident. Justice will be served. 

Invoking the brave testimony of Jovanovitch, Vindman, Taylor, and others, he asked only that members of the Senate have the same courage as the career diplomats who risked their careers to testify. Surely, Schiff asked, if career diplomats can risk their careers to do the right thing, so too can a United States Senator. 

Schiff spoke in good faith to our better angels.

And all he encountered on the Republican side was McConnellism, where there are no betters and there are no angels. 

Only people who are more loyal to party than to country.

People who are more motivated by keeping power – their own and that of their party -- than by finding justice, respecting the Constitution, and by acting in good faith to do the jobs the were elected to do. 

One gets the feeling, looking at the rumpled, grumpy, sour McConnell that he is an unfulfilled man. We see it all the time: people who live lives compelled with the dark purpose of hurting those who are more popular and successful than themselves. People who are not able to create, and therefore find meaning only in obstructing those who can, and criticizing the work product that has been created. Even when McConnell smiles, it appears to be merely the self-satisfied smirk of someone who has merely temporarily tripped up his better. 

What if we become a nation of Mitch McConnells? A nation of people who throw hammers, set trip-wires, and are more motivated to sabotage rivals than to actually accomplish something of value? A nation of devious, scheming, cheaters?

That is the example that is being set at the highest levels of our government.

Where we were once galvanized to idealistic purpose and action by Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Obama, we now are neck deep in the deceit, disgrace, and destruction of Trump, Barr, and McConnell. 

In this dark period, we of course must do all the work we can to remove this blight from the pinnacle of government.

We must have faith that we can prevail.

But we cannot stoop to beating McConnellism by succumbing to it, practicing a progressive mutation of it, using the excuse of the ends to justify replicating the deceitful means of Republicans.

We must indeed have faith that we can prevail… but the faith we hold must be good faith, or it is not faith at all.

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  1. Fine summary of complaints against McConnell.

    I'd add Roberts and others of the Supreme Court's conservative caucus, noting their willingness to allow gerrymanders, voting rights limits and disenfranchisement, election interference, and diminished controls and transparency of money in politics.


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