What's Tony Thinking

Mitch McConnell and the Real House of Cards


The Netflix series “House of Cards” (2013 – 2018) portrays a cynical Washington political couple, the Underwoods, who will stop at nothing in their pursuit of power.

While I’m sure there are many real life candidates for House of Cards- like characters in D.C. (and elsewhere), Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, certainly appears to be the prime candidate. McConnell is about power and power alone, for himself and his party. His wife Elaine Chao is Secretary of Labor.

With the now likely confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, McConnell has achieved one of his major goals, a conservative majority on the Court for many years to come.

Meanwhile, an article in the New York Review of Books by the eminent historian of the Holocaust, Christopher Browning, considers the parallels between the last years of the Weimar Republic, before the Nazi takeover, and our own country at the present moment. Browning calls out McConnell as a key figure.

While many have made comparisons between the Nazi era and our own time, Browning as Zach Beauchamp writes in Vox, cannot be considered a lightweight or blowhard. He is a widely respected scholar, who 1992 book Ordinary Men showed how ordinary Germans became mass murderers.

McConnell figures prominently in Browning’s analysis. in his New York Review of Books article. He sees McConnell as parallel to Paul von Hindenburg, the German President. Given powers to protect German democracy, Hindenburg was instead democracy’s gravedigger.

Browning views McConnell as the figure most likely to be judged by future historians as “the gravedigger” of American democracy.

Here’s Browning:

“If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could.

“As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.

“Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations. Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the “steal” of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch. The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings. …

“Whatever secret reservations McConnell and other traditional Republican leaders have about Trump’s character, governing style, and possible criminality, they openly rejoice in the payoff they have received from their alliance with him and his base: huge tax cuts for the wealthy, financial and environmental deregulation, the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments, and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care (though not yet the total abolition of Obamacare they hope for).

“Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump.”

Browning sees McConnell as, like Hindenburg, a self-interested enabler of anti-democratic forces.

What I’ve noticed about McConnell is that everything he has protested about Obama and deplored about the Democrats, he has done the same first and more ruthlessly.

There has been a lot of lamentation of late (including from me) about political polarization and tribalism. While Trump is a demagogue who profits from our polarization and who fans the flames of tribal hatreds, as he did in his remarks about Christine Blasey Ford in Mississippi this week, McConnell has been the kind of largely behind-the-scenes manipulator who has shaped the situation which made Trump possible.

In common parlance a “house of cards” is any structure or system that is so weakened it is likely to fail or fall. More than any other Mitch McConnell is the architect of this house of cards.




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