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Letters from an American

I’ve really been enjoying the posts from historian Heather Cox Richardson, in her free column “Letters from an American“. Here’s an excerpt from her April 12 post, talking about the ongoing destruction of our democracy. Of course there are plenty of mentions of Donald Trump, but then she points out a related problem that many of us may not be very aware of, in the person of Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate.

Our system has a built-in remedy for a president who abuses his power. Our Constitution requires Congress to check a runaway president. The House of Representatives is trying hard to do so, but the Republican Senate refuses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has consistently supported Trump as he has attacked our democracy, and a terrific piece by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker today explores why. In a piece entitled “How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief,” Mayer argues that McConnell is determined to wield power above all else, and believes that the only way to do that is to control huge financial resources to get his party’s candidates elected. To gather those resources, he needs to work with wealthy donors, including business leaders for whom he does favors.

McConnell is virtually shutting down Congress to avoid taking up anything that would upset Republican donors. “At the end of 2019,” Mayer writes, “more than two hundred and seventy-five bills, passed by the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, were sitting dormant on McConnell’s desk.” These included an enormously popular bill for lowering the costs of prescription drugs, but McConnell, who gets more contributions from the pharmaceutical industry than any other senator, refused to take it up, saying he opposes “socialist price controls.” Political scientist Norm Ornstein of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute says McConnell “will go down in history as one of the most significant people in destroying the fundamentals of our constitutional democracy.” He told Mayer, “There isn’t anyone remotely close. There’s nobody as corrupt, in terms of violating the norms of government.”

McConnell is no fan of Trump, but needs him. McConnell is enormously unpopular in his home state of Kentucky. Voters there love Trump, though, and McConnell’s ratings go up whenever he bolsters the president. So while he works to keep money flowing into the coffers of Republican Party leaders, McConnell is careful not to cross Trump, no matter what he does. In turn, his fellow Republicans cannot buck McConnell without losing access to the money and favors that will keep them in office.

It is indeed dangerous that Trump has such sweeping emergency powers at his disposal, but the problem is not the emergency powers. The problem is the president and the Republican senators, who could check Trump’s increasing authoritarianism at any time, if only they wanted to.

Also note that four of the top five donors to McConnell’s leadership committee are executives for the Fox News Channel. Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Viet Dinh (FNC’s Legal Adviser and Policy Director), and the president of 21st Century Fox all gave $20,600.