Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is famously a man of institutions. Even a brief stint of four years as a resident of Kentucky was enough for me to learn how well he knows the levers of power. Outsiders wondering why Kentucky reelects him by double-digit margins need to study the way he maneuvers bills through Congress to bring billions of tax dollars back home. Even if you disagree with his politics, you cannot help but admire his genius in managing his caucus to push a conservative agenda by staying within the bounds of the Constitution. He knows that the gall of Trump supporters storming the Capitol this week is an indelible blot on his illustrious career.
This is one for the history books. The only other time US Congress has been attacked since independence was in 1814, by the British. A student of history and acutely self-aware, McConnell imbibed the gravitas of his office, aware that, perhaps because of his lack of charisma, Senate majority leadership was his calling. After he won his long-coveted prize in 2015, he made it count. In addition to making Bush-era tax cuts permanent and reducing corporate tax cuts, he remade the federal judiciary in his own image. Most famously, through unsavory yet constitutional means, he thwarted President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and got three nominees sworn in to tighten conservative grip on the highest court of the land.
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On the one hand, McConnell cast the deciding vote and spoke eloquently to uphold Americans’ right to burn the national flag under the First Amendment. On the other, he cynically exploited Donald Trump as a useful idiot for four years, willfully ignoring the president’s majoritarian rhetoric and race-baiting. One could grudgingly admit that there was nothing wrong in McConnell supporting Trump’s constitutional right to challenge vote counts and electoral procedures in various states. As a true originalist, he finally stood on the Senate floor on January 6 to declare that “The framers built the Senate to stop short-term passions from boiling over and melting the foundations of our republic.” Little did he know that those same passions were boiling over just outside his chamber and were about to interrupt one of those foundations — the peaceful transfer of power.
As an Indian-American who spent most of his childhood in the 1980s and 1990s India, I grew up seeing political violence around me. While the peaceful transfer of power remains a remarkable and admirable anomaly, election campaigns were often marred by members of opposing parties clashing in the streets. On election days, thugs would occasionally capture voting booths by force to stuff ballot boxes. The state of Punjab, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, witnessed bloody Pakistan-backed insurgencies. Terrorist attacks around the country would often lead to Hindu-Muslim violence. Unruly behavior in state legislatures, often by elected representatives, was not uncommon.
One could countenance these as baby steps of a fledgling republic. An inefficient and corrupt judiciary allows some to break laws with impunity while it pushes the disadvantaged to employ desperate measures for justice. Weak democratic institutions, lack of awareness about their importance due to dismal quality of education, colonial-era sociopolitical wounds — the underlying causes were a dime a dozen in India. With a long tradition of independent institutions, it was assumed that the United States had grown out of its anything-goes Wild West days.
My initial fascination with America was limited to academic opportunities, infrastructure and prosperity the country offered. It didn’t take long to realize the bedrock constitutional principles that enabled it all. Many at the top of the power hierarchy still enjoy impunity, and racism is a long-festering wound, but the rule of law seems well established for those in the middle. On college campuses, in city halls and in state and national legislatures, I could see people passionately debate their rights and duties. Despite the bitter divisions following the contentious 2000 election, I saw the country rally behind George W. Bush after 9/11. The 2008-09 economic collapse brought the nation together again to rebuild with a shared sense of purpose.
That stable system was a source of inspiration. This was a forward-thinking country. By refusing to get bogged down by religious prejudices or historical baggage, Americans believed in writing their own destiny. Or so we thought, until Donald Trump brought it all to the brink of collapse. The scenes inside and outside the Capitol this week made the United States look like a banana republic.
In a country that prides itself on pioneering the separation of church and state, the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court are the only real temples. While President Trump has permanently besmirched the White House — and will most likely damage it even further in his remaining days in office — the Supreme Court has admirably protected its hallowed turf. Congress has repeatedly been found wanting. With his stint as Senate majority leader winding down, McConnell has earned an abominable asterisk: the only time in history when his fellow Americans, people of his own party, desecrated the temple he presided over.
We can only hope that Mitch McConnell realizes the price the republic is paying for his silence, not just domestically, but also on the international stage. Starting a new conservative political party that unequivocally condemns the behavior of President Trump and his supporters should be the first step on McConnell’s path to redemption.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.