America has a sick sense of humor. How else can we explain this motley crew of characters consciously chosen to represent us in Washington?
President Donald Trump
For the first time in his life, Donald Trump will be in charge of something without his name on it. Trump is exclusively and totally driven by his ego. As president, however, he will have the hopes and dreams of millions and millions of people impressed onto him. How he balances his own interests and those of an anxious nation will be central to his success as our next president.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
He can fundraise with the best of his predecessors but his eyes really light up when he’s discussing the finer points of welfare reform and the appropriate tax rate for passthrough corporations filing as individuals. In other words, he lives and breathes policy. A conservative intellectual, he can bring a credible voice to discussions on policy and a level of sincerity that is often lacking in more transactional affairs. Paul Ryan never expected to be in such a position and it’s often bewildering to consider how this “young gun” wound up as the leader of the Republicans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, especially as the greatest gains for the party have come from abandoning principled, policy-oriented politics.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
His sparring partner will be the familiar face of Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat with an unmistakable attraction to power. Loyalty is leadership to Nancy Pelosi. At 76, Pelosi’s stranglehold on the party of choice for most African-Americans, Hispanics, and millennials is just as bewildering but easily explained by the sheer amount of cold hard cash she’s helped raise for her colleagues. They had the pleasure of electing her the first woman to hold the Speaker’s gavel in 2006 but, beyond that, they owe her and she’ll be using that leverage to put the brakes on Donald Trump’s agenda that most frightens her true constituency, the donors.
The Senate: Mitch McConnell & Chuck Schumer
It’s impossible to understand politics today without considering the role of Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate. Nothing slipped out of the Senate without Harry Reid getting his fingerprints on it. He would block votes that might have embarrassed colleagues from red states and assign crucial roles to legislators and staff members that were viewed as most loyal to establishment Democrats and lobbyists. When asking if the Republicans are motivated more by principles or politics, one must ask if the Democrats’ pursuit of legislation such as the Affordable Care Act was a principled pursuit or a partisan effort. Who was Harry Reid to the Democrats? I would posit that he was not a career politician out of sincere convictions and longstanding values. He was a sneering, domineering partisan hack.
So we must ask: who are Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer?
McConnell has been in the Senate for 32 years and made a name for himself as a leader loyal to his colleagues. Relationships are McConnell’s tool of choice. He’ll turn a decades-long relationship with a colleague on either side of the aisle into his biggest asset. McConnell reportedly refused to to negotiate with President Obama but jumped at the chance to sit down with his old friend, Vice President Biden, and effusively praises him. McConnell will have to leverage his relationships with Republican colleagues and instill fear in the opposition currently holding valuable seats in states Trump won.
Chuck Schumer might make it easier for him. Schumer is a socialite politician, fitting for his New York donor base. He has never seen a camera that he didn’t want focused on him. A favorite of the D.C. press, he fancies himself a brilliant rhetorician and always finds time to slip in a biting remark. He does it to everyone at some point, though. Loyalty isn’t high on the Schumer scale. He’ll be right at home negotiating with Donald Trump while assuring his more progressive colleagues that he’s just waiting for the right moment to unsheathe a knife. That should concern his red state colleagues.
Loyalty to Schumer would certainly have some advantages but the uncertainty that it will be repaid in kind should signal better hope in reconciling their image with voters back home than standing with Senator Schumer in one of his political stunts. Whether Schumer will become Trump’s chief antagonist will ultimately depend on how much he can count on Democratic votes to sustain filibusters.
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