COMMENTARY

Are Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema abusers or victims? Both at once

The two "centrists" are trapped in an abusive relationship with Republicans. But it's the rest of us who suffer

By Chauncey DeVega

Published November 5, 2021 6:00AM (EDT)

Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

As United States senators from West Virginia and Arizona, respectively, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are supposed to represent the interests of approximately nine million people.

But because of their self-appointed positions in the Senate as "centrists" — which is to say, "Vichy Democrats" who largely follow the lead of Republican fascists and corporate oligarchs — Manchin and Sinema have become the fulcrum upon which the Democratic Party's tenuous majority, and its political fortunes, pivots.

In practice, they are using their disproportionate power in an antiquated legislative body to hold hundreds of millions of Americans as political hostages.

Consider this: The policies included in Joe Biden and the Democratic Party's Build Back Better plan are remarkably popular — certainly among Democrats, but also among Republicans. Economists and other experts have shown that the Build Back Better plan is an investment in America's prosperity that would pay for itself, and more, in the decades ahead

In a state with disproportionately high rates of poverty, such as West Virginia, the Build Back Better plan could have a dramatic and positive impact. Joe Manchin has apparently concluded that his self-interest in the form of millions in direct profits from the coal industry is more important than the collective needs — and, literally, the lives — of the people of West Virginia.

Likewise, Kyrsten Sinema appears to have concluded that campaign donations and other potential incentives from pharmaceutical companies are more important than supporting the Build Back Better plan, which would make a significant difference in the lives of people in Arizona and across the United States.

RELATED: House progressives push against Manchin

Power corrupts; for those people whose moral character is already weak and wavering, the temptations of power can be too difficult to resist. Ultimately, as the axiom suggests, those who seek out power are often the people least equipped to wield it responsibly.

In an article recently featured at Salon, Thom Hartmann describes Sinema's and Manchin's behavior (and that of others of the same kind) as an example of the legal theft and corruption made possible by the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision:

Sinema quickly joined other Democrats who'd followed the Citizens United path to the flashing neon lights of big money, joining the so-called Problem Solvers caucus that owes its existence in part to the Wall Street-funded front group No Labels.

Quietly and without fanfare, she began voting with Republicans and the corporate- and billionaire-owned Democrats, supporting efforts to deregulate big banks, "reform" Social Security and Medicare, and make it harder for government to protect regular investors — or even buyers of used cars to avoid being ripped off.

Sinema voted with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 77 percent of the time in her first term [as a House member]; in return, political networks run by right-wing billionaires and the Chamber showered her with support. In her first re-election race, in 2014, she was one of only five Democrats endorsed by the notoriously right-wing Chamber.

She'd proved herself as a "made woman," just like the old mafiosi ... [of] the 1960s, willing to do whatever it takes, compromise whatever principles she espoused, to get into and stay in the good graces of the large and well-funded right-wing syndicates unleashed by Citizens United. 

So it should surprise precisely nobody that Sinema is parroting the Chamber's and the billionaire network's line that President Biden's Build Back Better plan is too generous in helping and protecting average Americans and too punitive in taxing the morbidly rich. After all, once you're in, you leave at your own considerable peril, even when 70 percent of your state's voters want the bill to pass.

In a statement released Monday, Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri discussed Manchin's brinksmanship and political hostage-taking, which is causing grievous harm to some of America's most vulnerable communities:

Joe Manchin does not get to dictate the future of our country. I do not trust his assessment of what our communities need the most. I trust the parents in my district who can't get to their shift without childcare. I trust the scientists who have shown us what our future will look like if we fail to meaningfully address the climate crisis. I trust the patients and doctors crying out for comprehensive health coverage for every person in America….

We cannot spend the next year saying, "The House did its part, and now it's the Senate's turn." We need the Senate to actually get this done.

Joe Manchin's opposition to the Build Back Better Act is anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman, and anti-immigrant. When we talk about transformative change, we are talking about a bill that will benefit Black, brown, and Indigenous communities.

We cannot leave anyone behind. Sen. Manchin must support the Build Back Better Act.


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Manchin and Sinema, along with the Republican Party, are subjecting the American people to financial abuse. That is not a metaphor but a clinical term. The National Network to End Domestic Violence defines it this way: 

Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. … In some cases, financial abuse is present throughout the relationship and in other cases financial abuse becomes present when the survivor is attempting to leave or has left the relationship. Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes the victim's ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive partner.

Financial abuse occurs in almost all domestic violence cases. A financial abuser's attributes include (among other things) manipulative and controlling behavior tied to money; claims to be entitled to the money and financial resources of others; expecting others to pay their bills; threats to deny money to others without warning; a double standard regarding how they spend money, compared to other people; and the use of intimidating, threatening and other abusive behavior to control money.

Sadists need masochists. For the true sadist, it does not matter if the masochists are consenting partners. For decades the Republican Party has demonstrated that it enjoys inflicting pain and suffering on the American people. The rise of Trumpism and the American neofascist movement has given permission for ever more extreme sadism. As Noam Chomsky recently put it in an interview with Jacobin, the Republican Party is effectively a "gang of radical sadists."

The "moderate" Democrats so devoted to "bipartisanship" have shown themselves to be self-flagellating masochists, partners in an unhealthy relationship where they are repeatedly abused and made to suffer. For whatever personal or political reasons, they keep returning to the Republican sadists with the expectation that things will change, which of course they do not.

The American people are caught between the sadists and masochists, the Republicans and the "centrist" Democrats. Whatever masochistic pleasure Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin may derive from orchestrating this perverse scene, it is the American people who continue to suffer most. 

More on the dynamic duo of "moderates" determined to undermine Joe Biden's agenda:


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Build Back Better Commentary Corruption Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Republicans