- Alex Pareene
Nihilist in Chief
The banal, evil, all-destructive reign of Mitch McConnell
In the midst of this January’s historic, senselessly protracted government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided it was time to put forward his vision of how government should properly function. So he took to the Washington Post op-ed section to deride a modest set of Democratic proposals to institute election and voting rights reform. Instead of doing the right thing and bowing to President Donald Trump’s demand for the partial funding for a wall along the country’s southern border with Mexico, McConnell complained, congressional Democrats were trying to game America’s electoral system to their own permanent advantage.
McConnell’s litany of complaints spun off into labored assaults on proposals to reorganize the Federal Elections Commission (a bid to give “Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate”) and to make Election Day a national holiday for federal workers, together with six days of paid leave for such employees to work in their local precincts to help get out the vote (or, in McConnell-ese, “extra taxpayer-funded vacation for bureaucrats to hover around while Americans cast their ballots”).
For actually existing ordinary Americans—including the 800,000 or so federal employees plunged into desperate economic uncertainty by the shutdown—this was a singularly bizarre spectacle to behold: The man in Washington arguably most responsible for prolonging the ordeal of the shutdown was now pronouncing that an effort to enlarge the sphere of democratic participation was a venal, bureaucratic power grab, and a brazen affront to the sacred liberty of big-money political donors and their legislative mouthpieces.
Just pan back a moment to savor the larger power dynamics in play here: As he was lecturing Democratic reformers on the folly of voting rights expansion, McConnell was crippling the basic operations of government to assuage the bigoted vanity of the Republican president. Recall that the continuing resolution to finance the government without wall funding at the end of the 115th Congress passed overwhelmingly in the chamber he leads, and that he vigilantly squelched successive House versions of the same funding plan throughout the monthlong shutdown drama for no reason except that he didn’t want to be the person to end it. This isn’t mere lefty hyperbole: At one critical juncture in the shutdown negotiations, Lindsey Graham, the Trump White House’s key Senate liaison, left a conference with the Senate majority leader to blurt the quiet part out loud to CNBC producer Karen James Sloan. Leader McConnell, Graham explained, is “going to let the White House figure out what move they want to make. . . . The Leader is waiting . . . to see what the White House wants to do.”
So much, in other words, for all the sonorous talk of the United States Senate as the world’s most august deliberative body: Its most powerful majority leader over the past decade is an errand boy for both an errant billionaire class of campaign donors, and an errant billionaire president.