The Rotten Core of Our Political System 

“Those picking up this book a few decades from now will have to confront the question of why a free people, in discarding their most promising leaders while elevating the likes of Kevin McCarthy, asked for their own destruction.”

In their new account of the 2020 election, two New York Times-reporters, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, reveal just how broken American democracy has become.

When reading ”This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future” you’ll see a page-by-page account of congressional Republicans’ desperate grasping for Donald Trump’s favor or the Biden administration’s struggle to pass its legislative agenda: You’re confronted with a world of almost unrelieved cowardice, cynicism, myopia, narcissism, and ineptitude, where the overriding motive is the pursuit of power for its own sake. It’s rare that a politician thinks about any cause higher than self-interest.

The Democrats’ characteristic form of cowardice is risk aversion. For the Republicans, it’s moral weakness. Two days after the election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assigned his deputy, John Cornyn, to tell the Delaware Democrat Chris Coons to pass a message to Biden, the president-elect in all but name: “McConnell would recognize Biden as the winner of the presidential election, just not quite yet.” On top of this, “Biden should not call McConnell too soon,” because the Republican would have to decline a conversation with his old Senate colleague. McConnell required nearly six more weeks to judge the time right. The purpose of all this theater was to ease Trump into oblivion without inciting the wrath of other Republicans and imperiling McConnell’s own position of power.

Biden comes across as a decent man in the wrong era and out of his depth, barely visible to the public, too trusting of both his colleagues’ good faith and his own powers of persuasion. Far from being a master dealmaker, he’s tactically indecisive and strategically trapped between two competing goals. Unlike most of this book’s characters, Biden has ambitions higher than simply power: He wants both to heal the nation and to “craft a presidency of grand and lasting impact,” but he can’t see, let alone resolve, the inherent contradiction between these objectives.

The failures of the book’s Democrats do not threaten the republic. The rotten core around which our democracy has begun to collapse is the Republican Party. It remains Trump’s party as long as he keeps his grip on its voters and can defy the medical odds against an old man who eats badly and never exercises.

Trump’s most fervent supporters in Congress, such as Representatives Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, don’t even exist in a category of responsibility and blame: Their behavior is the political equivalent of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Burns and Martin reserve their sharpest criticism for Republicans who know better—moral vacuities motivated by opportunism and power lust.

These include lesser-known members of Congress such as Jim Banks of Indiana and Elise Stefanik of New York; the erratic Senator Lindsey Graham, whose only constant seems to be an insatiable desire for attention; and McConnell himself, who flirted briefly with principle in his comments on Trump after January 6, before finding safety in a refusal to say much of anything.

But the embodiment of Trump’s Republican Party, and the object of the authors’ undisguised contempt, is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He is willing to betray any vestige of truth, courage, and self-respect to stay in Trump’s good graces and therefore remain the party’s top contender for speaker of the House.

At one point, Burns and Martin inform us that Trump took to calling McCarthy a “pussy,” and they add: “McCarthy responded not by defying the former president but by more or less setting out to prove him right.”

One of the biggest scoops—McCarthy’s brief, private criticism of Trump and his congressional fanatics immediately after January 6—endangered all of the work McCarthy had done afterward to secure the godfather’s blessing. When McCarthy declared the story a falsehood of the liberal media, the authors produced an audio recording to confirm its accuracy. But McCarthy and his party are so lost in a miasma of tribalism and lies that this humiliation didn’t matter. He retained the support of Trump, who might share Burns and Martin’s disdain for McCarthy but who knows a useful tool when he sees one.


Source: The Atlantic