It’s kind of trivial, perhaps, but one of my favorite odd facts about the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — the epic event that produced Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — is that not one but two college kids in the bobbing sea of faces crammed around the Reflecting Pool listening to King’s immortal words would grow up to become U.S. senators many years later.
One future senator would — over the course of his 50-year-long, 1000-1-shot rise to political prominence — remain remarkable true to the expansive vision of that 1963 march, with an almost annoyingly loud but consistent, laser-like focus on expanding economic opportunity and fighting for the working classes.
The other young man in the shadows of MLK grew up to become Mitch McConnell.
The notion that a president can arbitrarily fire the prosecutor looking at possible criminality in that president’s campaign is the power reserved for a dictator, not the leader of a democratic republic.
Unlike the young Bernie Sanders, McConnell must have been taking a dip in the Reflecting Pool or even dozing off when King said that “with this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” To the contrary, the Kentucky Republican has risen to the pinnacle of U.S. power, as Senate majority leader, by turning up those “jangling discords” to a nearly deafening level — with no moral or ideological compass other than following the Big Money that promises political power in our warped 21st century, with a win-at-all costs mentality that crushes norms of basic democracy that had survived for a couple of centuries. It is Mitch McConnell, more than anyone else in Washington, who has turned the notion of comity into comedy.
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The latest episode in McConnell’s sad odyssey came this week, when senators from both parties started circulating a bill that would curb the power of the executive branch — now in the person of one Donald John Trump — to fire a Justice Department special counsel such as Robert Mueller, who is probing the events surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the possible role of all the president’s men and women, including perhaps Trump himself.
The fire alarms for democracy are clanging all across America. The notion that a president can arbitrarily fire the prosecutor looking at possible criminality in that president’s campaign is the power reserved for a dictator, not the leader of a democratic republic. The public gets that — literally hundreds of thousands have pledged to hit the streets if Trump makes a move on Mueller or the deputy attorney general overseeing him, Rod Rosenstein. (Police brass in Pittsburgh even told cops to bring their riot gear to work — an overreaction, but it does speak to the gravity of the potential constitutional crisis.)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t take the threat to our democracy as seriously as the Pittsburgh police. Indeed, the only threat he sees from the tangled politics of Trump and Mueller is the threat to the only thing that matters to McConnell anymore — his 51-49 hold on the Senate majority. He is dead set on using his considerable power over the legislative process to make sure that protecting Mueller and averting this crisis never comes up for a vote, even though it seems that a majority of lawmakers in his upper chamber currently support it.
“We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell told Fox News on Tuesday. His logic is that the bill isn’t necessary because he doesn’t believe that Trump is planning to fire Mueller. As one of my astute Twitter followers pointed out, the majority leader’s stance is akin to refusing to buy car insurance because you have no plans to get into an auto accident anytime in the future. But trying to apply common sense to virtually anything that happens in Congress these days is a waste of time. I’ve followed politics closely for all of McConnell’s career in Washington, and I’m hard pressed to think of anything the Kentuckian stands for — beyond self-preservation.