So You Want Mitch McConnell to Die
The savage folly of the Violent Political Fantasy
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suffered another health episode a few weeks ago—his second of the month. This time, he froze in front of the press for over 30 seconds, staring silently into the distance after being asked about his 2026 campaign plans. The incident mirrored another from July. His colleagues can reassure us all they want, but it’s hard not to watch both clips and wonder if the 81-year-old McConnell, one of a handful of the most powerful people in the world, is fit to complete the three remaining years of his term.
There’s no real empirical data on this, and I’m sure as hell not scraping through the recesses of Twitter (X—fuck off) where I’m sure I’d find hundreds (thousands?) of obvious examples, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a not-insignificant percentage of the liberal/progressive/left-leaning indigo blob wants Mitch McConnell to die. Like, tomorrow.
There’s shades in this barely-underground McConnell discourse of what you’d hear sometimes during the Trump presidency (Part I): subtle and not-so-subtle hints that things would be a lot better if he’d just drop dead already. This discourse peaked in the fall of 2020, when Trump was hospitalized with COVID, but even throughout the first three years of his term I’d hear, not infrequently, something like this from a so-called progressive: how much easier would things be if someone just shot the guy?
The sentiment encapsulated by desires like this might be grouped into what I’ll call the new and heartwarming genre of the Violent Political Fantasy.
As the name implies, Violent Political Fantasies might be fantastical—as in, none of the people grumbling around the dinner table are actually planning on aiding an assassination attempt—but they’re genuine. I know because I ask, every time I catch a whiff of it. No no, I’m told. I understand exactly what I’m saying. I’m not gonna do it, but I really hope someone kills him.1
Personally, I don’t want Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump to die tomorrow because I don’t particularly want to see anyone die tomorrow. Call me a sap, but, as a general rule, wishing death upon others is not something I think we should be in the business of doing. It’s animalistic, cruel, inhumane, and it defies basically every principle I hold dearly. Tens of millions of people have died, just in the last century, over, essentially, the cause of living in a world where we don’t have to do politics by killing each other. We’ve seen enough of it, and we know where it leads.2
But say you don’t care about or disagree on the ethics—you understand the unsavory overtones of your declaration of violence and are willing to go ahead and do the unseemly business of backing a death anyway in the spirit of pure political practicality. Let’s talk about that practicality.
The optimism of the Violent Political Fantasy rests on two premises:
1. Individual leaders are greater than the sum of the environmental forces propelling them, and therefore the natural consequence of a leader dying is his or her associated movement collapsing.
2. A preferable replacement will emerge in of the wake of the death amidst the context emerging from said death.
With respect to the stirring oratorical prowess of McConnell, number one is most applicable in the case of someone like Trump, a more charismatic figure with a fanatically devoted following. The original political genius—I said political genius, as in, capturing electoral success—Trump stumbled upon was not suddenly conjuring a quarter of the country to worship him out of thin air. It was his recognition that the animosity and resentment coursing throughout a significant body of the American public because of longstanding, foundational forces could be harnessed and mobilized by his funky political style.
That’s because Trump, like all of history’s so-called Great Men, is as at least as much the product as he is the creator of his social context. I’d advise the cheeky Trump assassination advocate to run through the following thought experiment: say the ex-President somehow vanished on his own volition—not antagonistically via assassination or some sort of coup—and decided to disappear from public life tomorrow, forever. Would his supporters, upon hearing the news, abandon their devotion in kind?
The answer, of course, is no! The “Trump movement” is clearly about much more than Donald Trump. The fantasy of an offing is merely an out, a mechanism to avoid staring into and working through the uncomfortable, complicated depths which in fact explain the Trump phenomenon. Killing the man does not kill the movement.
As for number two, the nature of any unexpected, high-profile political death means the “context” to emerge in the aftermath of one would almost necessarily be fraught for whichever successor(s) happened to be waiting in the wings. Given the likely instability of such an environment, the very issue of a replacement is complicated by multiple variables: power transition procedures, constitutional strength, the basic competence and readiness of the successor themself. Even assuming the total efficacy of both a smooth transition of power and the downed leader’s replacement, the scrambled fallout which inevitably follows any high-profile death is hardly the right environment within which a high-functioning, productive government can operate successfully.3
This is even truer within foreign states featuring less hierarchical, more ambiguous chains of command under autocratic leaders; in these countries, the threat of chaos amidst the unstable context of a fallen ruler is far more acute, making the prospect of a leader’s sudden death more troubling.
Take every American’s foreign Violent Political Fantasy victim de jour: Vladimir Putin. The euphoria accompanying dark, lusty visions of an undercover Ukrainian agent sneaking into the Kremlin with a pistol or, as we witnessed in June, the real-life hype surrounding the brief possibility of a Yevgeny Prigozhin-led Wagner Group takeover in Moscow, might be tempered by a brief consideration (say, ten seconds of critical thought) of the immediate consequences which would inevitably follow any violent Putin ouster.
If Putin were to go down, a peace sign-waving, international coalition of NGOs won’t be the ones swooping into a frenzied Russian power vacuum to gently introduce Moscow to liberal democracy; another gangster like Prigozhin will, ushering in a whole new slate of unpredictable and potentially apocalyptic consequences.4 The words “smooth and peaceful transition” don’t exactly come to mind considering the chaos which would unfold in the event of unexpected leadership changes in countries governing roughly a combined half of the global population.
The best-case modern example I can think of out of the (truly grim) “successful assassinated leader successor” bucket is Lyndon Johnson, who actually harnessed national indignity over John F. Kennedy’s killing (and general American violence, particularly that inflicted upon Black protestors in Bull Connor’s Jim Crow south) to push through a host of civil rights and social welfare legislation.
But this outcome was by no means the result of any intentional effort—the legislatively “successful” sudden transition between two similar-enough political thinkers happened to emerge out of the chaos of a truly horrific event in American history (and the broader tumult of the 1960s). Pointing to the preposterously unrepeatable LBJ example is an awfully shaky brand of politics to rest on, and it’s, of course, far from the idealized Violent Political Fantasy, whereby proponents clearly want their choice, the political opposite of the current option, to fill any gap.
As for McConnell, bloodthirsty desire would perhaps be quenched with the knowledge that Senate Democrats, the ones who, you know, the Majority leader has spent his entire adult life seeking to destroy, can’t stop talking, on and off the record, about how much they want the guy to stick around. That sentiment isn’t just gentlemanly courtesy; it’s an indictment against the danger of sudden instability amidst essential government business (and a conspicuous lack of faith in McConnell’s successor, likely one of the hotshot John Thune/Cornyn/Barrasso trio).
Look, Mitch McConnell’s politics stink. For what it’s worth, the guy also seems like something of an asshole (though how good does he look holding a rifle?). Anyone interested in moving forward with a truly progressive American agenda should be fighting creatively, with every ounce of political strength, against his decrepit vision of our future. That’s a far cry, though, from wishing him dead, and it’s the only way to overcome his shrewdly stubborn political effectiveness. Wishing for his death is more than just indecent; it represents a naïve and uncritical underestimation of both the wider forces responsible for political movements and the chaotic danger inherent in implementing sudden, ad-hoc succession plans.
So the next time a Violent Political Fantasy, however whimsical, of a rogue sniper, disgruntled Secret Service member, or ricin-encased envelope crosses your mind, do us all a favor: let the thought pass. Consider, instead, what actual role you might have to play in shaping a more just future, and try to remember that the only thing more dangerous than a demagogue is a martyr.
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The image of the highbrow MSNBC Democrat muttering a death wish towards Trump under his or her breath in front of the TV (or “just throwing it out there” at a Friday night dinner party) about sums up the political teeth of that group.
I’d challenge anyone to watch last month’s video of Vladimir Putin’s friend-turned-foe Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane spiraling to the ground, engulfed in smoke, and to tell me that that world, regardless of the passengers onboard, is the one you want to live in.
It’s also rarely the case domestically that a better alternative is waiting in the wings because of the hierarchical, two-party structure of American government. In the executive and legislative branches, a Republican replaces a Republican, and a Democrat replaces a Democrat, basically every time, and the ideological differences between intra-party predecessor and successor are usually marginal (I deny your motion to file an objection on the basis of any past Mike Pence or future Vivek Ramaswamy superiority claims).
The one American exception to this is in the judicial branch. On the life-appointed U.S. Supreme Court; the potential wide and consequential ideological gap between departed and incoming Justices makes strange, Violent Political Fantasy-curious discourse inevitable in discussions of aging Justices.
This is also why I find western optimism following the emergence of each “positive” news story featuring successful Ukrainian military defenses or advances so depressing. There’s the gruesome reality of what each battle actually means on the ground, and then there’s the fact that it’s really difficult to imagine, amidst all the outward-facing Ukrainian hope and pride, what the best-case outcome for the Ukrainian people would be at the conclusion of war. Maintaining prewar borders and…dealing with a different aggressive autocrat to the east with a finger on the nuclear button?