By Alan Resnick
"It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both"
I’m feeling a little sheepish about admitting this, but Donald Trump said something this week that I actually agreed with. Well, I’m in agreement with a little of what he said. It took until three days after his February 13 acquittal, but Trump finally, as everyone knew he would, blasted Mitch McConnell for the Senate Minority Leader’s accusatory comments about Trump’s role in and responsibility for the January 6 insurrection.
Trump issued a lengthy statement through his Save America PAC, in which he declared McConnell an unfit leader of the Republican Party. Then he got warmed up. After four paragraphs (which were so coherent and grammatically correct as to call into question if he actually penned the statement), Trump predictably went for the personal attack: “Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again.”
Is Mitch McConnell dour, sullen, and unsmiling? Absolutely. And, if I were Trump, I would have thrown in contemptible, reptilian, shameless, duplicitous, unscrupulous, and hypocritical. But a hack? Far from it. In fact, the Democrats could use someone Machiavellian like Mitch on their team right now, someone who understands and is comfortable with the exercise of power and who is not ashamed or apologetic about winning.
This is a man who in spring, 2016, blocked Barack Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy because it was an election year and: “the American people should have a say in the court's direction.” But just four years later, in October, McConnell rammed through the confirmation of Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, only a few days before the election and less than six weeks after Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death. With a straight face, he proclaimed, “It is a president's constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice.” Mitch McConnell is many things, but he is not a hack.
McConnell’s mastery was again on display during Trump’s most recent impeachment trial. He voted for acquittal on February 13 on the grounds that the trial was unconstitutional because Trump was no longer in office and therefore a private citizen. Yet the Senate had already decided by a 56-44 margin days earlier that the trial was constitutional. Richer still, McConnell was the person who had refused to allow the case to be heard by the Senate in January while Trump was still in office. And Mitch then had the chutzpah to take to the floor of the Senate moments after the impeachment trial had ended, to give a blistering speech in which he labeled Trump “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of January 6..
Mitch McConnell is, simply put, someone I love to hate. When he speaks, I experience two opposing feelings, loathing and admiration. How can a man make a 180-degree change in position without any sense of shame? How can he say the things he does without a smirk on his face? I keep wishing that the camera would cut to his hands when he is talking, so I could see whether or not his fingers are crossed as he contradicts the position he took earlier.
Mitch McConnell is the Bill Laimbeer of politics. Bill Laimbeer played center for the Detroit Pistons basketball team back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when they were referred to as the “Bad Boys.” The team won back-to-back championships, but is more remembered for its physical style of play than for its excellent defense or its beautiful passing and screening ability.
And Laimbeer was the most reviled and vilified of the bad boys. He was actually a very good basketball player; he had a soft outside jump shot and was an above-average rebounder. But his greatest gift was his ability to get under the skin of opposing players and fans. He both cultivated and reveled in it. Laimbeer was the type of guy who would grab the back of the jersey of the guy he was defending and pull him down, so that it would look like the other player fell on top of him. He would elbow players in the back when the referees weren’t looking in the hopes of getting the player to retaliate when the ref was watching. He’d slide under opponents as they were landing after jumping, so that they would fall to the ground. And he would constantly whine to the refs about calls he disagreed with and have a sneer or smirk on his face whenever the camera cut to him. He even once fouled out of a playoff game and bowed to the opposing crowd as he returned to the bench while the boos rained down on him.
Players on the opposing team hated Bill Laimbeer. Fans of the opposing team despised him. But, boy oh boy, did opposing players and fans wish that he was on their team. That’s how I feel about Mitch McConnell.
McConnell clearly lives by the philosophy “nice guys finish last,” a quote generally ascribed to Leo Durocher, a baseball manager who led two different teams to the World Series back in the 1940’s and ‘50s. Durocher made the remark, or something similar, back in 1946 when he was managing the Brooklyn Dodgers. Durocher was referring to his crosstown rivals, the New York Giants, when he said: "Take a look at them. They're all nice guys, but they'll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last." Durocher is also famous for standing toe-to-toe with umpires while arguing and for ordering his pitchers to hit opposing batters. Fans of his teams loved him, while fans of the teams his club was playing detested him – until he became their manager.
I’ve had a couple of significant negative experiences involving nice guys finishing last. When I worked in corporate human resources for a large medical and hospital supply company, we had a wonderful vice president of our department. He was brilliant, strategic, creative, and compassionate. And whenever it was determined that a corporate headcount reduction was needed, he took the lead in designing the process and in determining the number of positions each corporate group had to eliminate.
And when the time came to cut heads, Human Resources took the lead. Our vice president made sure that we were the first department to make the painful reductions, as we needed to “walk the talk.” But then a funny thing invariably happened when it came time for the other corporate departments to make their staff reductions – the vice presidents of Finance, Legal, Public Affairs, and Regulatory Compliance would argue that the number of employees to be eliminated was excessive and impractical for their organizations, and they would offer a compromise of something like 50% of the target number. And the senior management team would accept their rationale and compromise figure. So we took the direct hit for our corporate staff while the others suffered a mere flesh wound.
Likewise, I interviewed a number of attorneys once I decided to get divorced. Perhaps I was more comfortable with a lawyer who reflected my own nonconfrontational style or perhaps there were other psychological factors at play, but I selected an attorney who looked at the process as collaborative rather than adversarial. My attorney and I hoped that a more cooperative and conciliatory approach would result in both a quicker and less painful settlement for both parties. It was my attorney who suggested we meet at the office of my wife’s attorney. And my attorney was always the first to propose a compromise position on any given issue.
My attorney could not have been more wrong. All her gestures of collaboration and cooperation were read and responded to as signs of weakness. I developed a true hatred but grudging respect for my wife’s attorney. She was mean, aggressive, sarcastic, and condescending, and she dragged the process out for over two years, but she fought relentlessly for my ex. In retrospect, I wish I would have hired someone just like her.
Leo Durocher’s quote is particularly apropos now that Joe Biden is President. The general consensus is that he is a genuinely nice guy, and a creature of the Senate who believes in reaching across the aisle for bipartisan support. That is certainly an admirable goal. But what’s even more admirable is getting things done. Biden is in the process of negotiating a $1.9 trillion stimulus relief plan. He prefers this to be a bipartisan effort, although that looks unlikely at this point. Biden can, as a last resort, slam the plan through via something known as reconciliation, which is designed to expedite passage of certain budgetary legislation in the Senate.
And I think he should do this. While Biden may not have support for his plan among Republican senators, he does have bipartisan support for the plan among the American public, with almost two-thirds of those surveyed approving it. Those are his customers, and that level of bipartisanship is good enough for me.
Biden has the golden opportunity of having majority control of both the House and the Senate, albeit with razor-thin margins. He has only two years to leverage that opportunity before the next midterm election. So the strategy is clear: get things done while it is possible, even if it means stepping on some toes, bruising some egos, or being called a hypocrite. Better to be remembered as the president who delivered the stimulus relief plan and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, rather than the President who magnanimously tried to deliver them.
In other words, be like Mitch, or find someone else who will.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.