If you happen to have a very stern father, or know someone else who does, wouldn’t Mitch McConnell telling you “no” about anything be housed in your collection of worst nightmares? Here’s this grizzled, remote, empathy-challenged man undermining your hopes for the future.
Why does McConnell have so much power? Hint: although his persona can be very intimidating, the real reason why he strikes fear in the hearts and minds of Americans is not because of who he is. It is because of the power that has been bestowed upon him as the current majority leader of the Senate, power granted through the rules adopted by all one-hundred members of the U.S. Senate.
Our founding fathers and those who followed them as legislators in the federal government threw caution to the wind when it came to distributing power in a democratic fashion in the U.S. Congress. Why is it that the Senate Majority Leader, one of one hundred, can singularly determine such essential to democracy decisions as:
- Which bills introduced by other Senators can be brought up for discussion, assigned to committees and voted upon.
- Who gets to serve on each committee within the Senate?
- Empower committee chairs to once again determine which bills will be considered, whether or not witnesses will be called, and if so, who will be included and who will be excluded.
- Determine when the advice and consent process of confirming presidential nominees for vital positions, including Justices of the Supreme Court, will be considered by the Judiciary Committee and the entire Senate (remember Merrick Garland).
Bernie Sanders talks about a revolution of the people, but it’s amazing how much would happen if there was a revolution of ninety-nine Senators other that Mitch McConnell to strip him and other leaders of the entire body and its assigned committees of their currently prescribed powers. There is less democracy in the Senate (and the House) than there is among the populaces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation, or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Individual senators have less power than their own children in a 5th grade class or their older children who are privates in the U.S. Army.
Hell, yes to this revolution. But for some reason, it’s not going to happen. Senators and Members of the House are powerless simply because they choose to be. It is almost as if the status quo has a special gravitational pull on them and they are locked into the current positions.
Among the forces that perpetuate the worst elements of our political process are money and mindless tradition. We know that the only real way to wash the insidious role of money in politics is to eliminate private donations and have a system of public financing. When it comes to mindless traditions like the system of seniority in the U.S. House and Senate, the non-empowered Members need to become the voice of the people and amplify their own personal voices in their chambers. It’s not just about the right to talk; it’s about determining the subjects that can be discussed, studied and voted upon.
As the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump begins, it behooves us to notice the loci of power in the process and to think about how things could be different if each individual senator was (a) not intimidated by “leaders,” and (b) was free to operate as the individual that he or she is.
It probably won’t happen this time, but if we as vigilant citizens enhance our awareness and express our concerns to our elected officials, in time, things can take a positive turn towards legislative democracy.
This post is among a series related to Arthur’s just published book, POLITICAL INTROVERTS: How Empathetic Voters Can Help Save American Politics. The content of this piece is related to the “Organization of Legislatures” section of the Chapter 8, Needed Structural Changes. It is simultaneously published in the Political Introverts blog.