Orrin Hatch is the senior US Senator from the State of Utah, who in 2015 became the President pro tempore of the Senate. This honor is conferred on the most senior senator of the majority party, and according to the Constitution the President pro tempore presides over the senate in place of the Vice-President who is also the President of the Senate, whenever they are absent. In practice they don’t actually preside at all, the office being more ceremonial which suits the incumbent who is a crusty 82 years old. However, should the President be incapacitated, the Vice-President indisposed, and Speaker Ryan unavailable due to being too high on the prospect of depriving poor people of health-care, the President pro tempore succeeds to the Presidency.
Old Orrin has served in the Senate since 1977, and and ran for President in 2000 with a platform that claimed his website was more accessible than George W Bush’s. As strong as this was, it wasn’t quite enough to convince the GOP who at the time were still convinced that Y2k would infect their computers and turn them gay. Orrin has been busy in the last 17 years though, ducking in and out of the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposing abortion, advocating 14 year old offenders to be treated as adults and punished harshly for petty crimes, and Chairing the Finance Committee.
He is seen as pro-business, anti-gay, pro-state death penalty, pro-stem cell research, pro-war on drugs, pro-prayer in schools, anti-environment, pro-Israel, anti-Iran, pro-NATO, and since Trump won the Republican nomination for President; pro-Trump.
I am writing about him because I think it is valuable to take a little time to take a closer look at some of the peripheral shadows in the US government. What they do affects us, and without the occasional closer look we run the danger of inhaling the junk statistics and rectal generalizations that people love to throw around in order to seem intelligent.
Hatch doesn’t seem to want to seem intelligent, hence his support for nonsense and stupidity, and because of his position this makes for a somewhat dangerous figure. Having said this it looks like Hatch is drooling in ceremony now, and no longer much of an active participant in Republican skulduggery. He was absent at the 2017 inauguration of President Trump because as the designated survivor (a member of the line of succession kept in a safe place in case the entire US government is collectively vaporized) he was safe in an undisclosed location.
It is odd to consider these senators close up, rather like examining an ichneumon wasp through a jam jar, its ovipositor pulsating against the glass. Curious because American politics is so inhuman, so impervious to the logic of the rest of the world. IN Britain, Australia and New Zealand, with quaint parliamentary systems that actually work, a u-turn is treated severely and rarely forgotten. But Republican senators like Orrin Hatch who through 2016 engaged in procedural gymnastics and contortion to prevent President Obama from carrying out his constitutional duty of filling vacancies in the Supreme Court, now call Democrats idiots in breach of Senate decorum for holding up Trump’s nomination.
What makes American politics different is not simply the bizarre constitutional system, or their fetishisation of liberty and freedom (I mean what are they, sex toys?), it is that there is no such thing as shame. You cannot cause Donald Trump to feel shame in himself, nor Paul Ryan, nor Bill and Hillary Clinton. The condition requires a standard upon which to hang, and that standard is long gone, if it ever existed at all.