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Can Democrats trust McConnell?



In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced widespread criticism after returning from a Teheran summit meeting with Stalin and Churchill in which he accepted Stalin’s promise to reach a fair and equitable solution to the problem of Poland’s borders and freedom, but without any date-certain or guarantee.

After all, World War II had started over Poland. The Allies—America and Britain—could hardly be expected to walk away from that troubled country and leave it at the mercy of a growing, aggressive Communist Soviet Union. Yet, in retrospect, it’s clear that that is what they did, with the inevitable result: Poland disappeared behind the Iron Curtain for nearly fifty years, ruled by an autocratic dictatorship that marched to Moscow’s beat.

Roosevelt probably had to do as he did, in order to keep the Soviet Union in the war, instead of dropping out and negotiating a separate peace with Hitler, on the eve of Operation Overlord, the invasion of the Normandy beaches. Politics means making hard choices. Winston Churchill, who did not trust Stalin, hated what FDR had done, but, being the junior partner, he had to yield to Roosevelt’s wishes. Stalin was delighted with the results of the Teheran agreement. And Roosevelt? Historians still debate. Was he ill at Teheran, his brain arteries slowly hardening? Was he secretly pro-Russian? We may never fully understand, but his words speak for themselves. Responding to the criticism that he had sold Poland down the river, Roosevelt replied, “I know that you [the American people] agree with me that it is of the utmost importance that faith in these undertakings should not be left in any doubt.” By “faith,” FDR meant trust in Stalin’s word that he would respect Poland’s integrity and not absorb it into the Communist bloc.

But he did. Stalin hoodwinked Roosevelt: on this, most historians agree. FDR let himself get snookered by a negotiator, Stalin, who was even wilier than he. He took Stalin at his word; the problem was, Stalin had lied. And by the time the West realized the extent of Stalin’s perfidy, Poland—and the rest of Eastern Europe, “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” in Churchill’s words—had fallen behind the Iron Curtain.

Trust, in politics, is a fragile bird. Politicians on opposite sides must trust each other in order to form functioning governments, but wars begin because trust is broken. Now, today, we have another issue of trust, namely, McConnell’s promise to take up the Dreamer issue very soon. True, he didn’t exactly call it a “promise,” only an “intention.” But it was good enough for Chuck Schumer to advise Senate Democrats to vote to end the government shutdown, which they did, followed by the House passing the bill, followed by Trump’s signature. So the government is now funded, the Dreamers are still hanging fire, and we are left with the “intention” of the Republican Senate Majority Leader to take up a DACA bill shortly.

No wonder so many Democrats are so unhappy! We all know that McConnell can do nothing, or will do nothing, without the approval of his master, Trump. So, by trusting McConnell, Democrats are really being asked to trust Trump. Now, even Trump’s most ardent defenders would concede that he’s not the most truthful person in the world. By the Washington Post’s count (and there’s no reason not to believe it), Trump tells 5.5 lies a day, and is on track to lie 8,000 times by the end of his term (if he makes it that far).

There’s an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This is why the Democratic base is so annoyed with this deal. Trump is not what is known in diplomacy as “an honest broker.” He doesn’t even want to be: his vindictiveness and need to win preclude that. With the fiercely anti-immigrant Steven Miller and Gen. Kelly by his side, fueled by the racial animus of the Republican base, Trump has no reason whatsoever to do anything for the Dreamers, and every reason not to. Nobody knows what the eventual outcome will be, but if I were a Dreamer, I’d be worried.

So where do Democrats go from here? Hold McConnell’s feet to the fire. Hold, also, the feet of the Gang of Moderates—Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, Lindsay Graham and 14 other Senators—to the fire. They have implicitly placed their political collateral, their integrity, on McConnell keeping his word. Were he to fail to do so, on the orders of his master, there ought to be bloody hell in the Senate.

This is going to be tricky for Democrats going forward, because immigration isn’t a top priority for voters (even though 79% of us want Dreamers to stay in the U.S.). Trump will use his considerable media and propaganda skills to undermine support for the Dreamers, to distract voters, to push other volatile issues to the forefront. Even were the Senate to pass a bill of love for the Dreamers, Paul Ryan’s far more conservative House is guaranteed to offer pushback. That could be countered by a President Trump who sincerely wanted a good DACA deal. He says he does. But, again, his lies have eroded trust in him. Just as FDR trusted Stalin, who lied, Democrats are being asked to trust Republicans, whose track record for truth is in tatters.


  1. Alan Harris says:

    Yeah, Schumer’s playing the middle while the growing base of Democrats per usual stand on principle. But this, like everything else in our “disposable government spectacle” will be replaced within hours or days with some additional exercise in zero sum political chess, a spectacle with one act arriving on the immediate heels of the previous. Once respect for facts and truth was demolished, and the inherent weaknesses of the government were exploited for personal power, problems that surfaced, because we’ve dumbed down education and not dealt with or countered the anesthetic effects of the new data-ist age we’re in, the fact Facebook and others propagate false facts with uncritical platforms, the media’s role is burlesqued by Fox,etc, what’s a poor fella to do? This is the apotheosis of illusion over reality. A current My Turn editorial of mine is out today in the Recorder and I posted it but you may not have gotten it. Let me know. Hope you’re well. Jane and I are are usual selves. I’m working on a satirical novel and trying to have some fun while it lasts. hoopie

  2. Hi Alan, great to hear from you. I guess I take a different POV from you. You imply that both sides play the same game, so it’s “a pox on both their houses.” I disagree. I have seen truth coming from Democrats and lies coming from Republicans. This isn’t to say that Democrats are all perfect. But–as you and I know–nothing and no one is perfect. So I don’t see this as “illusion over reality,” I see it as a very important case to hold a president accountable for his crimes. Not petty crimes, like getting a blowjob from an intern, but major crimes, and ongoing crimes. The damage that Trump is doing to our nation is exactly shown in your perception that both sides disrespect “facts and truth.” That is what the Republican attack machine wants you to think. But it isn’t so. Please forward me your My Turn, I’d love to read it. Big love to you and to Jane!

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