Any philosophical answer you seek can be found in the writings of Fredriech Nietzsche. Many accuse him of a deep Antisemitism, blatant misogyny, or just being a syphilitic madman based on his writings. His panache leads to multiple varied interpretations. I interpret him as a broker for crisis – the crisis of being human and all its comorbidities. His fascination with what it is to be alive, human, and how we are to maneuver in this world provide some philosophical answers for me.
I also find solace in his writings about how power becomes a transactional event that is often built upon anti-ethical exchanges. Nietzsche blamed an early event in Western Civilization for the way power came to be in its anti-ethical state: the rise of Socrates.
Nietzsche says the following: By birth, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebeian. We are told, and can see in sculptures of him, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation. (Twilight of the Idols 3)
The weight of this statement is that Socrates had no power within “just” his existence. Being born of the lower classes was traditionally enough to condemn any individual to that class for the entirety of their life. Coupled with his “imperfect” appearance he was doomed to linger as just another Grecian.
Nietzsche thought that this combination moved Socrates to respond in a way that gave him an entry way to becoming powerful: subversion. Socrates moved the goal posts for what was good and we reside in the territory – particularly in the academic and Democratic worlds – where logic and rationality are the exegesis for power. Outthink, out speak, and out-moralize all your opponents and you have “begot that Socratic idea that reason and virtue equal happiness” (Twilight of the Idols 5)
The previous paragraph can lead to a profound analysis, entire thesis and books have been written on the subject, but I am here for a more applicable purpose.
Mitch McConnell is ugly. He was born a sickly child (Polio) and is still a sickly man – he was honorably discharged from the Army Reserve due to optic neuritis. Yet, he is a man that has relished in the subversion of power. The sickly child who is now, for all intents and purposes the most powerful man in Washington. Looming over the Senate with his baritone voice and drooping face, he has provided a cynicism and Sophistry unmatched even by Paul Ryan (he deserves his own critiques as do most politicians).
This bending of the logic, and appealing to rationality to serve one’s own interest is not a new trick for politicians. Yet, for some reason Mitch does it so well.
Which brings us to the question: why does Mitch McConnell’s ugliness matter? It is in the same vein as Socrates. There is a shrewdness to Mitch that appears to mirror the Socratic approach. I have no doubt that behind closed doors, Mitch knows and declares what he is. This exchange between Socrates and a “foreigner” tells all:
This foreigner told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the worst vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: “You know me, sir!”- Twilight of the Idols 3
The awareness carried by Socrates is carried in almost all those subvert systems. This is not a man who would light up the room with his charisma; his charms are found only in his ability to use a false-footed argument to stop real political movement that doesn’t suit his desires. If it directly benefits his agenda, he can get it done with a shameless approach.
McConnell has advocated for unrestricted flow of “dark money” into politics his entire career. He has even helped lead two Supreme Court decisions that assist in his goals: McConnell v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Amounting corporate buy-in as a free speech issue is an absurdist argument that is pique Sophistry. We can deride McConnell’s own logic on this very point by enlisting this quote: “The Constitution of this country was not a rough draft. It was not a rough draft and we should not treat it as such.” This quote alone, when corporations and lobbyists didn’t exist at the time of the Constitution’s drafting, would provide a logical blow to his push for those fields. But, the joy of Sophistry is its fluidness. He will not be held accountable. How can he? He has assisted in destroying the idea of meaning and shame in America.
Once America bottoms out, Lord knows when that will happen, there will have to be a reckoning. I doubt the hemlock would be Mitch’s way out. He will likely perish rich, powerful, and persistently ugly. Our true mission will be to prevent any historical figures from generating reverie towards any of McConnell’s action. Once he is gone, we should condemn that era as one where we lost so much. The damage that McConnell’s ugliness wracked upon our system can only be “cured” if we sentence him. Parallels between Socrates and McConnell show again in Nietzsche: he forced Athens to sentence him. “Socrates is no physician,” he said softly to himself, “here death alone is the physician. Socrates himself has only been sick a long time.” Twilight of the Idols 12
Perhaps, unlike Greece, which fell deep into the decadent Night that Nietzsche accused Socrates of exemplifying not long after Socrates’ rise, we are past our Nightfall. The Dawn, hopefully, fast approaches.