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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

As Senate Republicans make a mockery of Trump cabinet confirmation hearings this week by ramming as many appointees through as quickly as possible to avoid scrutiny, Americans are going to discover there are many shades of darkness in GOP-led Washington.

Trump, needless to say, is not merely the headline grabber-in-chief, as evidenced by his 3:27am tweet Monday smearing Meryl Streep, who had the guts while receiving a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award Sunday to remind viewers that not all U.S. citizens agree with Trump’s boundless bullying.

Streep’s comments came only hours after the New York Times published a Sunday op-ed by Jonathan Raban, a Seattle author and early tea partier, who affirmed the very qualities most upsetting to Streep. “Mr. Trump has great gifts in the arts of vengeance and humiliation,” he wrote, which serve a “blunt pugnacity” marked by an “unholy tangle of lies, misapprehensions, disinformation and personal insults.”

Trump’s attention-grabbing qualities are already serving Washington’s other GOP power brokers by diverting attention from slightly less venal qualities that serve the Republican’s dismantle-the-federal-government agenda even before Trump is sworn in. Exhibit A in this sordid department is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is as comfortable lying with a poker face as Trump is attacking critics like Streep. The takeaway is, watch what they do, not what they say.

McConnell’s latest bout of high-stakes hypocritical lying came Sunday, when he told CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” he would not slow down or reschedule any of this week’s conformation hearings, after Democrats protested that nominees like billionaire Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education designate, had not submitted financial disclosure forms. McConnell has scheduled most of the hearings for Wednesday, the day Trump gives his first press conference since Election Day and the day after President Obama gives his farewell address. The hearings will get scant coverage on television, the medium that most helped elect Trump.

“All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at not only having lost the White House but having lost the Senate,” McConnell said, referring to Senate Democrats’ demands for probing the many conflicts of interest and private agendas of the most billionaire-filled cabinet in history. “I understand that, but we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that.”

When McConnell mocks “procedural complaints” and says “grow up,” he means the GOP must be free to quash anything that interferes with their power grab. This is the GOP’s Senate leader who single-handedly blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a moderate praised by Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT. McConnell is also responsible for blocking Obama’s appointment of 84 federal district court judges—one-eighth of the district court bench—including noncontroversial nominations. And he is the same Republican who in February 2009 wrote a letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, saying “prior to considering any time agreements on the floor on any [Cabinet] nominee, we expect the following standards will be met.” That included completing FBI background checks, all financial disclosures, Office of Government Ethics vetting, committee questionnaires and “courtesy visits with members.”

McConnell has long been one of the least principled Republican leaders. In the late 1990s, he opposed all forms of campaign finance reform when the McCain-Feingold bill was proposed, countering deregulation of donation limits and disclosure by donors was all that was needed. McConnell changed his tune on disclosure after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, because the biggest GOP donors wanted to throw all the mud they could but were too cowardly to publicly attach their names to the political attacks they funded.

In McConnell, Trump has the perfect henchman. If one takes a look at the press releases from the Senate Majority Leader’s office since the election, one finds not just kneejerk fealty to the president-elect’s nominees and relentless criticism of all things Obama but propagandistic rhetoric in which plain language loses its meaning when held against any objective standard based on facts. Take what McConnell said about Treasury Secretary designate Steven Mnuchin, whose past business experience includes running the mortgage lender IndyMac, which foreclosed on thousands of borrowers instead of refinancing so average Americans could keep their homes and equity.

“It is time to get serious about the problems families and businesses large and small across the nation face,” McConnell said. “Whether it is the urgent need for tax reform or wide-ranging regulatory relief, we will need someone like Steven working with both parties in Congress to make it happen. His private sector expertise will be valuable as we begin to tackle these challenges and reverse the last eight years of economic heartache.”

McConnell is the perfect partner and lying propagandist for Trump. He maintains a straight face, which never upstages the television coverage of Trump’s latest antics. As McConnell’s praise of Mnuchin reveals, the GOP’s agenda is simple—give corporate America more power to do what it wants, enrich the wealthy with more tax cuts, and keep insisting, with a straight face, that’s what’s best for the nation. As Americans will soon see, many shades of darkness inhabit Trump’s Washington.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues.

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