Politicians are generally a waste of time and space. There’s no accompanying counter-cultural laptop sticker I’m looking to peddle here; it’s an earnest, non-judgmental-no-ill-will analysis of the natural order of things. Most elected officials tread water for a few terms until a better-funded or more aesthetically pleasing hotshot comes in and pulls the life raft from under them. Those who do become consequential are almost always creators. Wavemakers. Political figures capable of seeing the future for what it could be and an unbridled determination to move the public toward this better reality. Shrewd men, however, also make for consequential politicians. Just as adept and influential as the former, these creatures do not create waves. They ride them. They look into the future not to shape it but to be the first to foretell and molest it. Almost every waking moment is spent observing what seems like the most inconsequential calamity the ocean can produce. Their gift is knowing which of the waves will eventually become a tsunami.
Mitch McConnell has become perhaps the most accomplished example of the latter our country has ever known. There is not, nor will there ever be, a McConnell anti-abortion bill. He does not create things. Mr. McConell did not directly dismantle Roe v Wade. Still, he is the principal architect of its demise- the man behind, beside, and underneath the crevices that ultimately cracked what was once thought to be unbreakable jurisprudence.
To become an excellent political grafter, one must first be a people person. Mitch McConnell kisses no babies. He shakes no hands and makes no ra-ra speeches. He is a people person insofar as he knows how the game is played and how each important player likes to play it. After Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, the 37-year Senator from Kentucky announced that there would be no hearing for a replacement nominated by then-sitting president Barack Obama. By making this announcement before Obama even produced a nominee, McConnell showed how well he knew the politics of the man. Throughout his tenure and through this moment, Obama believed dignity, reason, and statesmanship would ultimately win out. The 44th president took the path of least resistance and highest hopeful compromise in nominating Merrick Garland, a white man with an exemplary judicial record for taking the middle ground. The nomination did nothing to change McConnell’s position and deflated progressives hopeful for a more activist judge to join the highest court. Almost simultaneously, the blockade became a goldmine for the reeling Trump campaign. If voting for Trump produced a conservative judge hell-bent on overturning abortion, Conservative Christians were willing to make that bed and lie in it, even if it meant partnering with a man thrice married and habitually bragging about grabbing pussies. Still looking for a pivot away from the Access Hollywood tapes released 12 weeks earlier, Trump began to incessantly holler about the right of the people to decide the open Supreme Court seat. The Christian base was properly rallied. Trump won and received his ransom in full- the ability to nominate conservative justice Neil Gorsuch.
When Neil Gorsuch went up for nomination in January 2017, Democrats had the Senate seats necessary to filibuster his appointment. What they knew McConnell could do but did not think he would pull off was the nuclear option. Any rule governing the Senate can be changed by a simple majority vote. Going nuclear, thus, involved Senator McConnell and his party passing a measure allowing Supreme Court filibusters to be ended by a simple majority. On April 6th, 2017, Mitch McConnell and his Republican counterparts did just that, changing a Senate rule that had existed since the nation’s founding. Superseding what would seem like an enormous political risk is Mitch McConnell’s gift for knowing Democrats better than they know themselves. The party is habitually unsure which section of the electorate holds the most juice. Even in the face of political humiliation twice over, an overwhelming state of paralysis existed. The progressive wing of the Democratic party had seen enough of the play-nice-aw-shucks attitude; it was time to do something radical. If not radical, then something other than roll over and die. The Democratic party, with its broken political compass stuck between Obama’s “we go high” ideology and the emerging Left’s push to “play the game the way McConnell does,” tucked its tail between its legs and politically rolled over and died. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed on January 31st, 2017.
It’s one thing to stay a step ahead of the actors inside the arena. It is entirely different to foresee the changing appetites of the masses outside of it. If Donald Trump stumbled ass-backward into every other aspect of his political success, he rightfully sensed a changing internal calculation by the electorate. If nothing was going to get done in Washington D.C., we should at least have a little fun while we’re at it. Politics began to shift into a perverted version of a team sport, and Mitch McConnell was there before the tip-off. Politics as a bloodsport has two simple rules that inevitably define its game. Score more points than the other team and do so in the most humiliating way possible for the opponent.
It feels useless to spend the remainder of our time together remembering in detail what Mitch McConnell pulled off with the successful appointments of Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. No cute adjectives exist to describe his enforcement of the entire Republican party to vote yes on a man who at best embarrassed himself on national television and, at worst, was found to have raped a woman amidst one of the most significant social upheavals of our lifetime. There is no captivating narrative for Mitch McConnell convincing every Republican to vote yes for a Supreme Court candidate facing the same circumstances that Merrick Garland had faced. Our time is best spent not examining how he did it but rather what he knew before the rest of us did. “Republicans” will support a measure or an action or a person they fundamentally know is wrong if it means adding a point to this invisible political scoreboard we all seem to be keeping lately. Blatant hypocrisy, such as the type Mitch McConnell openly flaunted in his Merrick Garland/Amy Coney Barrett reversal, used to have consequences regardless of political affiliation. Senator McConnell knew he could reverse his stance because our perception of politics had changed- his was a crafty move/set of moves to score a point and humiliate his opponent. The opposition should have simply played better defense. The culmination of his grand scheme, placing three conservative judges on the Supreme court, produced an outcome supported by a laughably small portion of the electorate. Most Republicans or Trump supporters could either care less about pro-life dogma or are, in fact, themselves pro-choice. But the reversal of Roe V. Wade, just as all of the proceeding measures conducted by McConnell, ultimately served to embarrass the enemy and represent a “bigger picture” victory for the team in our imaginary struggle for power and bragging rights. Rather than sound the alarms, Mitch McConnell hitched his board to the political tidal wave drowning whatever infrastructure of American democracy existed. In that, he will be forever remembered. Perhaps the saddest part is the knowledge that he is proud of his destruction and accompanying historical legacy. That makes for a dangerous man.