“Learned helplessness” is a term used by psychologists to describe a behavior where a human or animal feels such overwhelming hopelessness and powerlessness that it ceases attempts to resist the situations that cause it pain or discomfort.
An example is found in factory hog farms, where breeding sows confined in metal cages — so narrow that they cannot turn around — will initially bite the metal bars and thrash around, trying to escape. Finally, the animal gives up and enters a state of hopelessness and despair.
Republicans in Washington are attempting to use such psychological techniques on their constituents. Many concerned Kentuckians have simply given up trying to contact Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Washington D.C. office, because his office will not answer their phone calls.
A recorded message at (202) 224-2541 claims that they are experiencing “a high call volume” and then hangs up, without even providing an opportunity to leave a message.
While a high volume of calls might be understandable during the chaotic early days of President Donald Trump, the Senate majority leader could quickly fix the problem, if he wanted to, by installing more phone lines and hiring more interns.
Instead, McConnell apparently hopes to instill learned helplessness in his constituents.
McConnell’s Chief of Staff Robert Steurer falsely blames “liberal activists” for his own office’s telephone incompetence, but this problem has actually existed for many years, as any frequent caller to his D.C. office can attest.
Years ago, after many auto-hang-ups, I finally reached one of McConnell’s staffers who told me that they had only two people to answer phone calls. Two people — for over 4 million constituents. That’s worse service than even the sleaziest cable company.
McConnell’s recent comments are absurd. Referring to hearings for Trump’s cabinet nominees, he said, “it seems this gridlock and opposition has far less to do with the nominees actually before us than [with] the man who nominated him … enough is enough.”
This from the undisputed king of partisan Washington gridlock — the same senator who refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland for 10 full months, and who once vowed that his highest priority was to make Obama a one-term president.
Apparently McConnell thinks that all Kentuckians are so stupid that they do not remember his obstructionism during Obama’s eight years in office.
I believe McConnell has a deep contempt for average working people. He wants to take health care away from poor and sick people, he claimed that Americans spend more on yogurt than on political campaigns and he supported the invasion of Iraq, a country that never attacked us or harmed us in any way.
How does he get away with all this?
We are simply too polite and too complacent, and we are not holding him accountable.
Now is the time to break out of our metal cages. I have invited McConnell to hold a town hall in Lexington with people who would lose their health care when Obamacare is repealed “root and branch,” as he vowed.
There is absolutely no chance that he will ever appear in such a public forum. He is terrified of hecklers. He only speaks in public to business groups, GOP audiences and wealthy donors.
But McConnell does have a house in Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood. If he continues to hang up on us, then we should use our right of freedom of assembly at his home — as New Yorkers are currently doing at Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer’s home.
Dave Cooper of Lexington is a longtime community activist.