it is, essentially, a kind of shrine to the political career of Mr. McConnell, not unlike the exhibits on Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron you’d find at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
.. it memorializes a politician who shows no sign of leaving the stage any time soon.
.. What’s most unusual, though, is what it chooses to highlight. There are a few artifacts from Mr. McConnell’s youth — his baseball glove, his honorary fraternity paddle — but most of the exhibits are devoted to the elections Mr. McConnell won, starting with high school and on up through Jefferson County executive and the Senate.
.. When I visited the room while researching my 2014 biography on Mr. McConnell, I was struck by what was missing: exhibits on actual governing accomplishments from the Senate majority leader’s four decades in elected office.
That absence confirmed my thesis that Mr. McConnell, far more even than other politicians, was motivated by the game of politics — winning elections and rising in the leadership ranks, achieving power for power’s sake — more than by any lasting policy goals.
.. it is becoming increasingly clear that Mitch McConnell is creating a legacy for himself, and it’s a mighty grand one.
.. Mr. McConnell has created the world in which we are now living. Donald Trump dominates our universe — and now has the power to fill the second Supreme Court seat in two years. Mitch McConnell, who has promised a vote on whomever the president nominates “this fall,” is the figure who was quietly making it all possible
.. First, there was Mr. McConnell’s vigorous defense, going back to the early 1990s, of the role of big money in American politics
.. helping shape the conditions for his appeal.
.. he was well aware that he, as someone lacking in natural campaign talents, and the rest of the Republican Party, as more business-oriented than the Democrats, would need to maintain the flow of large contributions to be able to win elections. “I will always be well financed, and I’ll be well financed early,” he declared after winning his first race for county executive, in 1977.
.. culminated in the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling eliminating limits on corporate spending on elections, which Mr. McConnell followed up by blocking legislation to disclose the identity of large donors.
.. the spread of big money in politics had done so much to sour the public on government, creating a ripe target for the Tea Party and, later, for a billionaire populist running against “the swamp.”
.. laid the groundwork for the right-wing insurgency of 2009 and 2010
.. his decision to withhold Republican support for any major Democratic initiatives in the Obama years. This meant that Republicans had less influence on the final shape of legislation such as the Affordable Care Act than they would have had as fully willing negotiators... fueled the rise of the Tea Party, which was motivated substantially by the notion that Mr. Obama was “ramming things down our throats”.. his refusal to hold a confirmation hearing, let alone a vote on Merrick Garland, Mr. Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that the nomination was made a full 10 months before the end of Mr. Obama’s term. This refusal exploded norms and dismayed Beltway arbiters who had long accepted Mr. McConnell’s claim to be a guardian of Washington institutions. It also provided crucial motivation to Republicans who had grave qualms about Mr. Trump but were able to justify voting for him as “saving Scalia’s seat.”.. Mr. Obama had been prepared that September to go public with a C.I.A. assessment laying bare the extent of Russian intervention in the election. But he was largely dissuaded by a threat from Mr. McConnell... During a secret briefing for congressional leaders, The Post reported, Mr. McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.”.. Mr. McConnell’s doing away last year with the 60-vote requirement for Senate confirmation, to get Neil Gorsuch seated.. In the 1970s, when he ran for county executive in Louisville, he secured the pivotal endorsement of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. by pledging to back collective bargaining for public employees (a promise that went unfulfilled), and while in office he worked effectively behind the scenes to protect abortion rights locally... Mr. McConnell saw the rightward swing of the Reagan revolution and decided to hop on board for his own political preservation as a Southern Republican. These days, Mr. McConnell has made explicit, with taunting tweets among other things, that he views long-term conservative control of the Supreme Court as his crowning achievement... Holding a long-term majority on the court greatly aids his highest cause — Republican victories in future elections — as recent rulings on voting rights and gerrymandering demonstrated once again.Whether Mr. McConnell decides to add an exhibit in the Civic Education Gallery documenting his role in the rise of Donald Trump is another matter. The final historical judgment on that score will not rest with him, in any case.
Bannon’s grand ambitions should inspire the same soul-deadening déjà vu, the existential exhaustion, with which Bill Murray’s weatherman greeted every morning in Punxsutawney, Penn. They should bring to mind both Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence and his warning that if you stare deep into the abyss, it stares into you.
.. What Bannon is promising is what the Tea Party actually delivered, in a past recent enough to still feel like the present: a dramatic ideological shake-up, an end to D.C. business-as-usual, and the elevation of new leaders with a sweeping vision for a new G.O.P.
.. The ideological shake-up took the form of paper promises, not successful legislation. The end to D.C. business-as-usual just created a new normal of brinkmanship and gridlock. And when the Tea Party’s leaders — Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, above all — reached out to claim their party’s presidential nomination, they found themselves steamrolled by a candidate who scorned all their limited-government ideas and offered, well, Trumpism instead.
.. when it comes to governance, Trumpism turns to have two fatal weaknesses:
- the dearth of Trumpists among elected Republicans, and
- the total policy incapacity of Trump himself.
So having failed in his appointed role as Trump whisperer and White House brain, Bannon has decided to do the Tea Party insurgency thing all over again, except this time with his
- nationalist-populist cocktail instead of the
- last round’s notional libertarianism.
.. Maybe the Tea Party was a dead end, but some Trumpist primary candidates will finally produce a Republican Party capable of doing something with its power.
.. His professed nationalism, with its promise of infrastructure projects and antitrust actions and maybe even tax hikes on the rich, is potentially more popular than the Tea Party vision ..
.. But this imaginative exercise collapses when you look at Bannon’s own record and the candidates he’s recruiting... At the White House, Bannon did not manage to inject much heterodoxy into any part of the same old, same old Republican agenda. But he did encourage the president to pick racialized fights at every chance... his new grass-roots populism promises to be more of the same:
- a notional commitment to some nebulous new agenda,
- with white-identity politics and the
- fear of liberalism supplying the real cultural-political cement... Especially because the would-be senators he’s recruiting are a mix of cynics and fanatics who seem to share no coherent vision, just a common mix of ambition and resentment... if you believe figures like Roy Moore and Erik Prince are going to succeed where Trump is obviously failing, I have some affidavits attesting to Harvey Weinstein’s innocence to sell you... He and his allies are the latest group to recognize the void at the heart of the contemporary Republican Party, the vacuum that somebody, somehow needs to fill.
- .. The activists and enforcers of the Tea Party era tried with a libertarian style of populism.
- Paul Ryan tried with his warmed-over Jack Kempism.
- My friends the “reform conservatives” tried with blueprints for tax credits and wage subsidies.
.. now they, too, need to reckon with a reality that has confounded every kind of Republican reformer since Barack Obama was elected: Our politics are probably too polarized, our legislative branch too gridlocked, and the conservative movement too dysfunctional and self-destructive to build a new agenda from the backbenches of Congress up, or even from the House speaker or Senate majority leader’s office.
.. Our system isn’t really all that republican anymore; it’s imperial, and even an incompetent emperor like Trump is unlikely to restore the legislative branch to its former influence. So if you want to remake the Republican Party as something other than a shambolic repository for anti-liberalism, the only way it’s likely to happen is from the top down —
- with the election of an effective, policy-oriented conservative president (which Donald Trump is not),
- surrounded by people who understand the ways of power (which Bannon, for all his bluster, didn’t) and
- prepared to both negotiate with Democrats and bend his own party to his will.
.. I would not be wasting my time trying to elect a few cranks and gadflies who will make Mitch McConnell’s life more difficult.
Instead I would be looking for the thing that too many people deceived themselves into believing Trump might be, and that Bannonite populism for all its potential strength now lacks: a leader.
I find it hard to imagine a personality less suited by temperament and background to be the leader of the world’s foremost democracy.
On the other hand, as a political scientist, I am looking ahead to his presidency with great interest, since it will be a fascinating test of how strong American institutions are.
.. Americans believe deeply in the legitimacy of their constitutional system, in large measure because its checks and balances were designed to provide safeguards against tyranny and the excessive concentration of executive power. But that system in many ways has never been challenged by a leader who sets out to undermine its existing norms and rules. So we are embarked in a great natural experiment that will show whether the United States is a nation of laws or a nation of men... President Trump differs from almost every single one of his 43 predecessors in a variety of important ways. His business career has shown a single-minded determination to maximize his own self-interest and to get around inconvenient rules whenever they stood in his way, for example by forcing contractors to sue him in order to be paid...He could also have argued that the mainstream media, which thinks of itself as a fourth branch holding the president accountable, is under relentless attack from Trump and his followers as politicized purveyors of “fake news.” Acemoglu argues that the main source of resistance now is civil society, that is, mobilization of millions of ordinary citizens to protest Trump’s policies and excesses, like the marches that took place in Washington and cities around the country the day after the inauguration... I argue in my most recent book that the American political system in fact has too many checks and balances, and should be streamlined to permit more decisive government action... I still believe that my earlier position is correct, and that the rise of an American strongman is actually a response to the earlier paralysis of the political system... His strategy right now is clear: He wants to use his “movement” to intimidate anyone who gets in the way of his policy agenda. And he hopes to intimidate the mainstream media by discrediting them and undermining their ability to hold him accountable. He is trying to do this, however, using a core base that is no more than a quarter to a third of the American electorate... And Trump has not done a great job since Election Day in alleviating the skepticism of anyone outside of his core group of supporters, as his steadily sagging poll numbers indicate. Demonizing the media on the second day of your administration does not bode well for your ability to use it as a megaphone to get the word out and persuade those not already on your side... It is absurd that any one of 100 senators can veto any midlevel executive branch appointee they want. In some respects, unified government will alleviate some of our recent dysfunctions, which Trump’s opponents need to recognize... It is important to remember that one of the reasons for Trump’s rise is the accurate perception that the American political system was in many respects broken—captured by special interests and paralyzed by its inability to make or implement basic decisions. This, not a sudden affinity for Russia, is why the idea of a Putin-like strongman has suddenly gained appeal in America... However, the single most dangerous abuses of power are ones affecting the system’s future accountability. What the new generation of populist-nationalists like Putin, Chávez in Venezuela, Erdogan in Turkey, and Orbán in Hungary have done is to tilt the playing field to make sure they can never be removed from power in the future. That process has already been underway for some time in America, through Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts and the use of voter ID laws to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters.
There is an overwhelming sense of “stuckness” — and the fantasy that Trump plays to, and plays up, is that he can pull the sword from the stone and do deals. No one was more responsible for this “stuckness,” though, than today’s Republican Party.
.. I’m just finishing writing a new book, which is partly about the inflection point we hit around 2007. In 2007, Apple came out with the iPhone, beginning the smartphone/apps revolution; in late 2006 Facebook opened its doors to anyone, not just college and high school students, and took off like a rocket; Google came out with the Android operating system in 2007; Hadoop launched in 2007, helping create the storage/processing power for the big data revolution; Github, launched in 2007, scaling open-source software; Twitter was spun off as its own separate platform in 2007. Amazon came out with the Kindle in 2007. Airbnb started in 2007.
In short, on the eve of Obama’s presidency, something big happened:Everything started getting digitized and made mobile — work, commerce, billing, finance, education — reshaping the economy.
.. We got strong as a country through democracy and capitalism. We got rich as a country through trade. We got smart and powerful as a country through immigration. We got fair as a country through Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare. They all lead to vastly more winners than losers. This is no time to lose confidence in what got us here. If you’re running for president and are not for all these things, you’re wrong — and I hope you lose.
But if you’re for these things only as they now exist, you’re also wrong. Each one needs retooling.