Alan Zendell, September 21, 2020
President Donald Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell couldn’t have more different styles. They have two things in common, however, which make them extremely dangerous when their self-interests align: both are corrupt and addicted to money and power. Trump is shamelessly overt while McConnell prefers to fly under the radar. Trump is constantly in everyone’s face, an intimidation tactic that served him well in business, while McConnell, the quintessential politician is the ultimate snake in the grass.
Trump’s narcissistic flamboyance and McConnell’s southern gentleman veneer often have them at odds. They clearly dislike each other, but they need each other. Neither has an ideology beyond opportunism. Neither respects “Christian” values, although they both pander to groups who do, the best example being their stances on abortion and gender issues.
Almost every significant accomplishment of the Trump administration was facilitated by McConnell. Without the Senate Majority Leader’s support, Trump would have accomplished little of note. If you paid attention since 2017, you noticed a pattern. Trump tweeted and shotgunned, seemingly at random, flouting tradition and ignoring laws and the Constitution. McConnell often remained on the sidelines, letting Trump negotiate with Democrats, knowing those talks would go nowhere and his hands would be clean. McConnell hid as Trump withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Climate Accords, initiated trade wars, alienated our traditional allies, sucked up to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and conducted his absurd love affair with Kim Jong Un. That’s an impressively long list of failures except for the renegotiation of NAFTA. McConnell knows when to lay low.
The 2017 tax cut, on the other hand, was the baby of McConnell and then House Speaker Paul Ryan, that had been gestating in oblivion for twenty years waiting for an opening; that is, waiting for a president who was happy to profit from its passage. Trump returned the favor by looking the other way as McConnell’s wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, ran her department like an old-fashioned corrupt city hall.
She promoted trade agreements that enriched her father’s shipping company and not incidentally, enriched her and her husband as well; she delayed divesting her profitable interest in a construction materials firm, an obvious conflict of interest with her duties in DOT; and she continually diverted money toward Kentucky projects in districts favorable to her husband while holding back funding to repair the crumbling Gateway Tunnel used by railroads serving blue states in the Northeast.
All this is background for Trump and McConnell’s joint effort to pack the courts with judges favorable to their political agendas. The decision to proceed immediately with the appointment of a Supreme Court justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg was one of the rare instances when Trump and McConnell acted publicly in unison as though they were choreographed (which they were.) They want to create a youthful right-wing majority in the courts that will overturn every liberal decision in the last fifty years. It’s in their mutual self-interest to have judges in place who can protect Citizens United, defend the wealthy against programs like universal health coverage that would require them to actually pay taxes, and issue rulings that will help Trump and McConnell retain their power.
Trump has created an environment of chaos and division in which it’s easy to get lost in the weeds, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. The issue is what it has always been – greed and power running roughshod over decency and integrity. Don’t be fooled by feeble attempts to dress this pig in silk. And don’t forget that if Donald and Mitch are successful in placing Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court, we could be living with a right-wing majority for decades.
It would be bad enough if that represented the desires of a majority of Americans. But poll after poll shows that Americans want a balanced judicial system free of political influence. That will never happen in the ideal, but this extreme attempt to pack the court is a test of the viability of our whole political system.
Forcing a nomination through is wrong no matter who wins in November. If Trump is re-elected and McConnell keeps his majority in the Senate, the fight will be moot. But, if they seat their new justice as the Democrats win the presidency and both houses of Congress, the next four years will be a time of retribution and even worse partisanship. Full control of the government will enable Democrats to expand and re-pack the Court while holding public executions of anyone who supported Trump and McConnell. That may gratify some people, but it will be a disaster for a country already staggering from its own missteps.