Americans have been living under a political system arguably best characterized as a tyranny of the minority for some time. Certainly, for the past four years the nation has suffered the insidious rule of a president who lost the popular vote by 3 million tallies in the 2016 election, just as the nation was hornswoggled into a devastatingly costly war—in human, financial, and geopolitical terms—and financial disaster from 2000 to 2008 by the Bush-Cheney regime, which also sneaked into office having lost the popular vote. And even when the majority vote was able to elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, it had to do so in the context of still-existent gerrymandered districting that meant in many cases, in down-ballot races, Republican candidates could win local elections in states that still featured an overwhelming Democratic electorate.
The current political debacle has lured out into the open the Republican pursuit of and support for a tyranny of minority that disregards the will of the American people as manifested in the November 3 election.
126 Republican members, over 60 percent of House Republicans, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, signed onto the Texas lawsuit seeking to dismiss Americans’ votes in key swing states and thus overturn the election results in Donald Trump’s favor.
So, we should see that the agenda of instituting a tyranny of the minority, rooted in a deep disrespect for democracy, extends well beyond Trump, such that terming this frighteningly real and inveterately mainstream autocracy “Trumpism” really only serves to obscure this agenda’s long history and its broad reach, indeed pervasiveness, in Republican politics.
One potent advocate and practitioner of this tyranny who tends to receive less blame and certainly less association with autocracy, despite the exposure he receives occupying his spotlight position, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Yet McConnell certainly rivals Trump in terms of his tyrannizing rule and his complete disregard for the American people and their hardship and suffering. He tends to lurk in the shadows on Trump, who takes center stage when it comes to an utter disregard for the nearly 300,000 American lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and the millions who have suffered infection and potentially long-term health consequences. In addition to barely lifting a finger to address the pandemic, despite having the abundant resources of the wealthiest nation on the planet, Trump doesn’t even acknowledge in words, much less express mourning for, the deaths American families are enduring.
McConnell, too, though, has the ability, just by lifting a finger, to bring to bear a wealth of resources to alleviate the tremendous stress and formidable challenges Americans and their families are facing by providing financial assistance to them and to the state and local governments that provide the services that help these families by making schools safe, managing testing, making sure hospitals and healthcare workers are properly resourced to treat the sick—in addition by just keeping the basic lights on for their constituents by funding firefighters, police, teachers, and more.
McConnell has been virtually single-handedly blocking bills to provide desperately needed relief to Americans since last March when the CARES Act was passed. The Democrats last May passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act and have since proposed and since then offered a trimmed-down $2.2 trillion dollar package. Last October he rejected the possibility of bringing to the Senate floor a vote on a $1.8 trillion package Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi were negotiating.
Instead, last October, McConnell submitted for a Senate vote a $500 billion “skinny relief” package that provided no funding for state and local governments and minimal funding for extending unemployment. The bill did not pass the Senate.
Most recently, he has refused to bring forward for a vote a $908 billion relief bill forged through painstaking bipartisan compromise by, on the Republican side, Representative Tom Reed of New York and Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah, and on the Democratic side, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New jersey and Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Mark Warner of Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine also participated.
McConnell’s gross dishonesty has been on display as he repeatedly insists he wants to work with the White House and pass a bill the president will sign.
Yet just days ago Mnuchin offered up on behalf of the White House a $916 billion relief package, which included aid to state and local governments and also robust liability protections against COVID-19 –related lawsuits for businesses, schools, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities, so they could not be sued for endangering people.
McConnell is said to be on board, so we know it’s not the price tag. He needs to be able to satisfy the industry special interests for potential bad behavior and endangering lives, such as those of Tyson Foods, whose managers, as recent lawsuit alleges, conducted a betting pool on how many of their workers would contract the coronavirus.
Just as Trump’s behavior has revealed loopholes and lacunae in our democratic processes of which our founders simply could not have imagined our leaders seizing and taking advantage of, McConnell’s power as Senate Majority Leader to prevent any bill he chooses from coming to a vote reveals a similar breakdown.
McConnell’s decisions seem to be about what he wants and the special interests to which he is beholden, as he resists bipartisan efforts to act on behalf of the American people and even resists the White House. He is abusing his power in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of our democratic and constitutional processes.
And he does so with such dishonest and bad-faith gusto. Indeed, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out last April, while McConnell refuses to support aid to states, particularly blue ones, claiming they are fiscally responsible, McConnell’s home state of Kentucky receives far more federal money than it contributes, while blue states like California and New York, against which McConnell rails, contribute far more than they received from the federal government.
McConnell is one man holding up democracy and refusing to act in the interest of the American people.
While Trump may be gone, McConnell abides, cultivating tyranny much more quietly and slyly, and thus maybe more dangerously, than Trump ever could.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.