The damage Mitch McConnell has done to democracy is indelible

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To best assess the execrable essence of Mitch McConnell, you just need to connect the dots.

After the MAGA insurrection on Jan. 6, after the dead and the injured and the feces smeared on walls, McConnell tore into Donald Trump. He said, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president” who was guilty of “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

But when the time came to convict Trump during the impeachment trial, McConnell – and other Senate Republicans who followed his lead – voted to acquit. McConnell’s excuse: “We have a criminal justice system in this country… And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable.”

We learned this week the U.S. Supreme Court may make it impossible to hold Trump accountable in the criminal justice system prior to the November election – thanks to the MAGA justices who got their jobs courtesy of McConnell’s cynical machinations.

See how it works? That’s his legacy.

Those of us who love democracy are too dispirited to applaud McConnell’s decision to step down as Senate Republican leader. The damage he has done is too sobering to warrant any celebration. He has said that his reshaping of the Supreme Court, tilting it rightward for a generation or more, is the “most consequential thing I’ve ever done,” and he got that right.

Amazingly, he’s stepping down in part because Trump doesn’t think McConnell is loyal enough. McConnell saved Trump in the Jan. 6 impeachment trial, he has rigged the high court to minimize criminal accountability before the election – but Trump still calls him “Old Crow” and hurls racist insults at his Asian-American wife. Apparently McConnell’s criticism of Trump after Jan. 6 was unforgivable. Rest assured that McConnell’s successor as Senate GOP leader will be fitted with an airtight MAGA armband.

Trump may not to remember McConnell’s craven servitude, but we certainly do.

When high court conservative Antonin Scalia died suddenly in February 2016, it was President Obama’s right to nominate a replacement. He tapped respected centrist Merrick Garland for the seat. But McConnell, as majority leader, refused to schedule a hearing and stonewalled the process all year long.

He held the Scalia seat open until 2017 for Donald Trump and his nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Then, in 2020, during another presidential election year – indeed, just eight days before the balloting – McConnell squeezed Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett onto the court.

So how fitting it was that within hours of McConnell’s step-down announcement, we learned that the MAGA-infested court – McConnell’s creation – has decided to throw Trump a lifeline. There are no constitutional grounds for giving a president total immunity from crimes, as the federal appeals court’s recent bulletproof decision made clear, but now the Supremes say they want to weigh in on that issue anyway. They’ve scheduled oral arguments seven long weeks from now, thereby making it highly unlikely that a criminal conviction in the federal coup-insurrection trial can happen before the election – or that the trial itself might even start before the election.

Voters in a democracy need to know whether the Republican nominee is guilty of trying to end democracy. Instead, thanks to McConnell’s machinations, we’ve been forced to take another goose step toward fascism.

And that’s before we even mention other rancid fruits from McConnell’s orchard – like the high court’s abolishment of affirmation action at most universities, its hostility to anti-gun laws, and its abolishment of women’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy (the fallout from the Dobbs ruling is obvious, most recently, in Alabama, where the state’s top jurists cited the Bible while ruling against in vitro fertilization). Thanks a lot, Mitch.

Jonathan V. Last, a wise center-right political analyst, sums it up nicely: “McConnell’s entire adult life was spent in pursuit of two goals – The placement of conservative judges in the federal judiciary and the advancement of the Republican party’s electoral prospects…Trump understood this. Which is why Trump was able to use McConnell so effectively. McConnell hates Trump. McConnell was never MAGA. McConnell is not in favor of authoritarianism. But none of that mattered because Trump was able to align McConnell’s primary goals with his own. And so in the end, McConnell became Trump’s tool just as surely as if he’d been a toadying true-believer.”

We could sure use a little humor right now, so here we go: When McConnell was a newly elected lawmaker back in January 1985, he stood at the podium in a Washington ballroom and tried to entertain with this joke: “I read about a Paris newspaper that conducted a major survey and asked French men what they did after making love. The results were indeed startling. Ten percent said they made love again. Fifteen percent smoked a cigarette. And 75 percent said they went home to their wives.”

The guy was as funny then as he is now.

Copyright 2024 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at [email protected]