January 21, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Democrats’ Best Move Is Highlighting Mitch McConnell’s Corruption of a Fair Trial

Prepare to lose the trial now, but win the Senate later.

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Someone needs to invent an expression to describe the experience of being surprised by the surprise of others. Maybe the Germans have a long word for what I’m feeling. To me, it seems pretty clear Mitch McConnell does not care about the Constitution. He does not care about the rule of law. He does not care about the common good or commitments to a democratic covenant. These are nice things to pay lip-service to. These are impediments to get around. The point of politics is power. Power is all.

That the Senate majority leader is doing everything possible to create procedural conditions with which to expedite Donald Trump’s acquittal should not be surprising. It should be expected, especially by serious and sober intellectuals engaging in public affairs. And yet, on this opening day of the Senate’s impeachment trial, these same people seem to be downright shocked—shocked!—to witness McConnell’s cold-blooded and cynical moves to protect the most criminal president of our lifetimes.

Even as I expect the worst from a fascist Republican Party, I don’t feel hopeless.

But, even as I expect the worst from a fascist Republican Party, I don’t feel hopeless. The same people expressing shock also claim democracy is doomed if the president is exonerated for cheating. He will surely cheat again! Yes, indeed, that’s what lying, thieving, philandering sadists do. But that doesn’t mean the end of our democracy. That’s merely more of the same. As Jerry Nadler put it, Trump “welcomed” foreign interference in 2016 and he “demanded” it for 2020. Undermining the will of the people is treasonous, but that’s nothing compared to Vladimir Putin’s approval.

We could be entering a period of authoritarian democracy, similar to what’s happening in nations like Russia, Turkey, Hungary and the Philippines. We could see a return of a variation of apartheid, in which popular democracy isn’t popular but instead enjoyed legally by whites only. But those extremes would require deep structural change—like amending the US Constitution and abandoning federalism. A reelected Donald Trump would be a disaster with years of painful consequences, but the republic will live on.

Anyway, cheating doesn’t mean winning for the president—or for the Senate Republicans. So far the Democrats are focusing on why Trump should be removed. But I’d expect them to quickly shift focus to the corrupt process of the Senate trial. The more the Democrats highlight its fundamental unfairness—no new witnesses, no new evidence, presentations jammed into 12-hour slots lasting well into early morning hours—the more they draw attention to McConnell, especially members of his conference seeking reelection. The more the Democrats highlight corruption, the more ammunition Democratic challengers have in knocking off GOP incumbents.

Focusing on the Republican Party’s corruption does something else. It creates a true oppositional binary. As long as the Democrats focus on why the president is guilty, the Washington press corps will report proceedings as a fight between equally powerful and equally legitimate political parties. However, accusing McConnell of unfairness forces him to explain why he’s fair, which, of course, he can’t do. He’s already on his heels defending an indefensible president. The Democrats could tip him right over.

Liberals should accept that institutions won’t save the republic. Only politics will.

This, I think, is the Democrats best move. They should be otherwise prepared to lose the trial over Trump. They should not be, as some pundits have urged, demanding Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts rule in their favor, forcing the Republicans to call witnesses, etc. The Democrats can say Roberts could choose not to play by McConnell’s corrupt rules. That would highlight Roberts’ corruption. (The high court, as Samuel Moyn said, is not and will not be a friend to equality and justice.) But liberals shouldn’t want him to interfere in constitutional combat. Liberals should accept that democratic institutions won’t save the republic. Only politics will.

This is probably what most shocks serious and sober intellectuals engaging in public affairs—that even the United States Constitution itself can’t stop a criminal president abetted by a major political party with help of a global right-wing media apparatus. If the Constitution and all the institutions built up around it can’t stop Trump, surely our democracy is doomed. That, however, is putting too much faith in institutions and not enough faith in people, especially people willing to fight for a more equitable America.

Uncritical faith in democratic institutions, even the United States Constitution itself, actually gives a fascist Republican Party an advantage it deeply desires. Fascist hate institutions getting in their way. They love institutions serving them. Corrupt institutions accelerate the trend toward authoritarian democracy. Preserving them enables that trend. Asking John Roberts to interfere is to legitimize an institution—the US Senate—bent on undermining the power of the people to set things right.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. RUArmyNavyMominTX on July 30, 2021 at 8:03 am

    McConnell’s going to find himself in a “be careful what you pray for” situation as it’s abundantly clear that more evidence will bubble to the murky surface. “What is a Pyrrhic Victory for $500” Alex?

  2. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 8:03 am

    I’m actually glad that McConnell is doing this. Between him and Billy Boy Barr, the venality of the GOP’s corruption and lust for power is clear for everyone to see. At some point soon, even the denial of what’s happening by both the mainstream media and faint hearted intellectuals will be overcome.

    The real issue as far as I am concerned is whether the Democrats in Congress and across this nation have the guts to fight the good fight in the political arena. This means taking every election seriously and blasting the Republicans rhetorically and politically at every opportunity. As John Stoehr points out, far too many liberals have become complacent and relied on the courts to protect our basic freedoms and civil liberties when it was always our responsibility to maintain them. Too many people also keep ranting that our situation is the worst that the country has ever faced and are basically giving up. Given the upheavals of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement and what our ancestors fought for, our job now seems easy by comparison.

    It’s clear to me that John has the fire and perspective to powerfully analyze our circumstances and remind of us who we are and what we must do. I just hope there are enough us to seize the moment and do what we can to preserve our nation.

  3. Burgs on July 30, 2021 at 8:03 am

    I think the Republicans need to understand that our side will fight back in any way necessary, and that we’re not scared of them. I know my viewpoint won’t be popular, but the Republicans and the right-wing need to know that we will never surrender America to them, even if that means anything up to and including an armed revolt.

    If too many of us act too afraid to truly defend our country and democracy in the way our forefathers would’ve wanted, we are just emboldening the violent factions on the right, and making it much more likely that they will try to force our hand. If they think we won’t fight back like junkyard dogs, the idea of imposing their will through treachery and violence becomes MUCH MORE ATTRACTIVE to them. You don’t pick fights you’re not sure you can win, but you will pick fights with a weak adversary.

    I think we need to get more real about what is going on here, and see that this is a move towards fascism and dictatorship. We need to be broadcast our willingness to meet the Republicans on any battlefield that they choose, no matter what. Just letting them know we’re ready makes that battle/confrontation much less likely.

    If Trump cheats to win another election, we have to either revolt or secede, otherwise we’re instantly in a right-wing dictatorship. I’m not advocating for violence, but I think everyone needs to be prepared to do whatever it takes to save our democracy and freedom, no matter how extreme. The fascists need to completely understand that we’ll fight them tooth and nail, and that alone will make them much less likely to try us.

    Just my humble opinion.

    • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 8:03 am

      Yes, this is the mindset and spirit we need. You need not consider your opinion humble but bold and righteous instead. RWers are emboldened because many of them believe we are weak and won’t fight. That’s why they spit out the word “snowflake” as an insult and epithet.

      Their courage is conditioned on perceiving us as fearful but the reality is that they usually only attack when they feel completely safe. It’s no accident that “heroic” right-wing terrorists attack extremely soft targets like houses of worship or at a distance like shooting up public spaces or via mailbombs. If more of us are willing to fight and OPEN about our willingness to fight to the bitter end to preserve the Republic, they won’t be so casual about thinking we’ll back down. I can tell you from direct experience that people who use intimidation and fear to dominate others become very defensive and uncertain when confronted by someone who demonstrates the ability and focus to take them on.

      I’m glad to know that you and others here understand that we’re in a fight and what kind of fight we’re in. We’re standing up for our lives, our country, our principles, and for the very soul of our nation. I’m ready to fight the good fight and know you are too.

      • Burgs on July 30, 2021 at 8:03 am

        Sadly, if I wrote this same comment on the Washington Post’s comment boards, it’s immediately met with utter fear and rejection. A whole lot of Democrats seem very afraid they’re actually going to have to DO SOMETHING to stop Trump. I want to be prepared for anything mentally, and I’m going to consider all possibilities, at least those that I can foresee, and be ready for them. I’m wouldn’t put anything past the modern right-wing.

        • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 8:03 am

          I have two comments:
          a) Your instincts are right – you shouldn’t put anything past the right-wing. It’s not modern but the same old fashioned one dressed up in new clothes. They’re STILL trying to undo the New Deal and Great Society as well as turn back the clock on the rights of women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. These people are reactionaries of the highest order. Let’s remember they were openly willing to make common cause with Hitler until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

          b) I’ve witnessed the same distress and fear by liberals and Democrats all over the comment sections of various news organizations. My reaction is simply “So What?”. Every great social and political conflict concerning basic freedoms vs. authoritarian regimes has always had its share of people who want to avert their eyes, wish things would calm down, get back to life as before and just hope not to get hurt or troubled. Folks like this have the delusion that pretending it would all go away don’t realize that they’ll get eaten alive by the same authoritarian forces they are hoping to ignore. People like you and I just need to accept this frustrating reality and fight on their behalf even if they don’t realize it or appreciate what we’re doing.

          I don’t worry about what others will or won’t do for their own benefit. I’m going to do what’s necessary because it’s the right thing to do. That realization is why John Stoehr started this newsletter, and it’s why I’m on this forum. I suspect the same is true for you. Realize that you’re not alone and there are plenty of people who are behind you. Just remember – it’s not required that everyone stand up and fight, just enough of us with the courage and commitment to lay everything on the line. This won’t be easy and won’t lead to clear and simple victories but we’re fighting for our country and for the future. The times and conditions demand that we do no less.

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