Mitch McConnell and the Importance of Timing

Today, Mitch McConnell learned the importance of timing.

As shocking, horrific images of insurrection in the Capitol building fill the news, my thoughts keep turning to Mitch McConnell, and I wonder if he regrets his actions in the weeks following the election–actions, which, I believe, have contributed to the rioting that took place in Washington DC this afternoon. Oh, of course, the bulk of the blame for the destruction and violence can and should be laid at the feet of President Trump, but McConnell is not free from responsibility, either–and if he’s not, maybe none of us is.

Humans are pack animals, after all, and that means that we are very attuned to the opinions of others, and very sensitive to how others are viewing us. This means that mostly, we like to run in the middle of the pack. We don’t want to be the first one to come up with a novel idea or opinion, before we know how others are going to feel about it and whether they will approve. No one wants to be the early outlier who ends up standing alone, ridiculed for speaking out against the pack. [Kierkegaard’s insights about the “crowd” are as relevant today as ever.]

Nor, however, do we want to be the last one to hop on the bandwagon, the last one to endorse something so widely held and believed that by the time we add our voices to the choir, everyone else is bored of the piece and ready to move on. No one wants to be that kid who comes overdressed and late to the party just as the cool kids are leaving to go shut down a bar across town.

So, timing is important. Sure, what we say is important, but when we say it is equally as important. Sage advice given too late to be helpful is useless, and insights offered prematurely are irrelevant.

But here’s the rub: the right time to say or do the right thing is often the hard time, because the right time–and by that, I mean the time when our words or actions still can make a difference, when they are still meaningful and significant–is often the time when the right word is a challenging, uncomfortable word, and when the actions it prompts lead to criticism and rebuke, even from those we care about.

That’s why it’s always so much easier to wait, to keep silent, to slip back into the middle of the pack and cede any leadership we might offer to someone else: let someone else be the lightning rod, let someone else take the risk. There are consequences for this inaction, this silence, this cowardice [let’s just call it what it is], but we take comfort in the fact that usually those consequences won’t fall directly on us.

Any of this remind you of Mitch McConnell?

McConnell found out today, the hard way, how important timing is; and I can’t help but think that he is regretting those weeks of refusal to acknowledge the free and fair election of Joe Biden; those weeks of giving credence to the president’s false claims of election fraud; those weeks of encouraging others to wait and see–standing by quietly while frivolous lawsuits were filed and incendiary messages were tweeted. In those weeks, he lost his moment: he lost his opportunity to speak out firmly and powerfully to shut down those who would violate our Constitution and shake the foundations of our democracy. He should not have been surprised, then, that today when he spoke out, it was too late.

Now, today, the Republican Party is in tatters–and if you don’t believe me, turn on Fox News; that is exactly what they are broadcasting–and McConnell finds himself the late kid to the party that gets broken up before he has a chance to make the rounds. He’s lost his seat of power, he’s lost his voice, he’s lost his influence and credibility. Timing, Mitch, timing.

So, my friends, let’s learn from McConnell’s mistake as we acknowledge our tendency to do the same thing: wait, watch, stay silent, and keep out of the fray as we try to gauge which way the winds of popular opinion are blowing so we can simply go along. Sure, many things are better late than never, but sometimes, too late is just too late. One woman is dead, shot in the Capitol; anything McConnell–or any of us–says now is too late for her. Add her name to all the others who died waiting for someone to say something, to do something–and this year, let that someone be me, or you.

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