In Paradise Lost, Satan (a.k.a. Lucifer) is the leader of the forces Milton describes as ‘rebel angels.’ Satan is the most glorious of angels, but he can’t stand the idea of serving God. He chafes at the idea of obedience. He actually persuades many other angels, who look up to him, to wage war against God, famously declaring ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.’ God puts up with Satan as long as he can but, finally angered, he quells the rebel angels by turning every last one of them into snakes. Unfortunately, Satan, a sibilant snake, still has the gift of speech. And, though much reduced in his status, cosmically speaking, he still has the capacity to make trouble for earthlings, which he does when he successfully tempts Eve to eat of the apple, destroying the good thing Adam and she have had going in the Garden of Eden.
Milton’s fable of the fall of Lucifer aptly encapsulates the dynamic playing out in the Senate. The Senators, though immensely powerful, resent the President’s authority—in fact, they resent the President personally. They simply loathe the President, and this loathing has eventually driven them to forget their duties, and their proper place in the scheme of things. Discontent, they disdain the glories of their rightful position and their great capacity, as Senators, to effect what contributes to the betterment of our country.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, in particular, has warred against the Senate’s limited role in the selection of Supreme Court nominees. He has militantly declared he will not do his duty, nor does he want other Republican Senators to do theirs. He seeks to prevent the President from placing Merrick Garland on the high court, claiming that the next President will better represent ‘the people’s will.’ More recently, McConnell has disgraced himself by subjugating his own judgment on the matter to the judgment of two lobbying groups. He falsely claims that history gives his acts legitimacy. These are the marks of a man no longer content with dimensions of his own authority.
In truth, both the President and the Senate, as constituted, represent the people’s will. The Senators are each delegated to express the will of their states, just as much as the President represents the people’s will nationally. In straining to control all that happens in our political cosmology, the Senate’s ‘rebel angels’ are undermining their own prestige and the Senate’s once-illustrious reputation and authority.
Collectively, the Senate’s exercise of ‘advise and consent’ might confirm Judge Garland as a fit selection for the Supreme Court. But wouldn’t that be a triumphant outcome, given that we live in a fallen world? We are, as much as in Milton’s time or in Lucifer’s, ‘sufficient to stand and free to fall.’
1992 photograph of Senator Mitch McConnell by Laura Patterson,
from this source.