This week, I had a conversation with two other pastors about serious conflicts involving church politics. One of them said, “When there are children on a playground with a narcissistic bully acting out, if others give him any support, it destroys community and makes things worse for everyone.”
My thoughts immediately went to President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with the rest of the Senate Republicans. Let’s be clear: Every GOP Senator, including McConnell, knows that on Jan. 20, 2021, Joe Biden will be sworn in at the U.S. Capitol as the 46th president of the United States. When it comes to wild accusations of voter fraud, there’s no “there there.” All the proliferating lawsuits are legal spaghetti thrown up against the wall. Nothing sticks. It’s a desperate attempt to change the narrative — and it’s the most vicious assault on the sanctity of our democratic process in recent memory.
When Republicans talk about having the “right” to pursue legal challenges, they are technically correct and morally shameless. Put simply, they are indulging a narcissistic bully on the political playground, damaging trust and community for all. Any psychologist or pastor will tell you that just trying to give a vengeful narcissist more time to calm down, and “let things play out,” will only make matters worse. We’ve tried that for almost four years. And it has gotten worse. The same will happen after four more weeks, or four more days, or four more hours.
The civil, constructive, and restorative response to Donald Trump, or any playground bully, is to speak the truth, and then ignore him and walk away. To say simply, “You have lost the election,” and then turn bipartisan attention to the challenges facing the nation, and the new president.
Republican senators — with the exception so far of Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — are not acting like adults because they are afraid. They know that on Jan. 21, 2021, Donald Trump will still have 85 million Twitter followers, and he will continue acting out like he has in the past. But such fear only emboldens Trump, keeping others hiding under the merry-go-round.
Because of his power and prominence, McConnell is now the worst enabler of this travesty. Lately I’ve recalled my distant personal history with McConnell. When I served as Sen. Mark Hatfield’s (R-Ore.) legislative assistant, Mitch McConnell was the legislative assistant to Sen. Marlow Cook (R-Ky.). Cook supported Hatfield’s efforts to cut off funds for the Vietnam War, and Mitch was a colleague. A couple of years later, the Watergate crisis engulfed the country and President Richard Nixon.
On Aug. 7, 1974, three Republican members of Congress — Sen. Barry Goldwater, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes — walked into the Oval Office and told Nixon that the game was over. He resigned, and in Gerald Ford’s words, “our long national nightmare was over.” Mitch McConnell certainly remembers that day.
Similar courage, truth, and integrity is required of McConnell and his Republican colleagues today. I’ve had enough exposure to politics to understand the frequent necessity of compromise. But I’ve also witnessed those moments when profiles of courage are essential to the health of the body politic and the endurance of an embattled democracy. We are at one of those times now.
Joe Biden will become our next president. But the health of our democratic system, and the hope of any bipartisan service to the common good, now depends on Mitch McConnell and his GOP colleagues realizing that in the end, it is fruitless and harmful to indulge a narcissistic bully.