The current president of the United States is a gifted self-saboteur. He and all his minions have earned this title. President Donald Trump famously bragged during his first campaign that he could literally shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and wouldn’t lose votes. Instead, he’s figuratively shot himself, and his campaign, in the foot.
Trump didn’t merely host a superspreader event at the White House; he hosted it for the sole purpose of dancing on the grave of an American icon. Trump is trying to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, an anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, conservative zealot and Scalia acolyte.
It bears asking why the sitting president would make a move so blatantly hostile, and seemingly politically suicidal, less than a month before Election Day. Senate Republicans, while objectively not very serious people, are still probably smarter than the president — who a business professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania once called “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had,” and whose own former secretary of state called a “fucking moron.” Yet, those senators have tied their political fates to the proverbial Titanic. It bears asking: Why would the Republican Party stab themselves in the chest four weeks out from the Election?
They know they’re probably going to lose. They know the country resoundingly rejects them. They know the country blames them for 220,000 dead from COVID-19. They know the country believes they themselves are to blame for contracting COVID-19 themselves, after attending the highest-profile superspreader event of the pandemic. Normally, presidents and partisan majorities who knew the country despised them wouldn’t have made such a brazenly undemocratic move as to cement a Supreme Court majority against the direction the people are moving while people are already voting them out of office.
Normally. Now, these Republican senators are pushing forward with Judge Barrett’s nomination precisely because they know it’s their last chance to jam another right-of-the-country justice onto the Court. The Senate and the White House always play politics with nominations to our nation’s highest apolitical office, ever more during an election year. As was pointed out by Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho during Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings, there have been 29 instances of Supreme Court vacancies during an election year.
Sen. Crapo said that most nominees appointed by a president who belongs to the same party as the Senate majority are confirmed. He then noted, as was the case in 2016, that nine out of 10 nominees from presidents of parties opposite to the Senate majority have been rejected. He suggests that, as a result of these numbers, Senate Republicans followed precedent in 2016, and are again doing so now — therefore they’re justified and reasonable in their actions.
What Crapo failed to note is that such a partisan precedent is nothing to be proud of, and playing politics just because other people did it isn’t a legitimate excuse. Justices should be confirmed because they are qualified, not because they are political assets. Mike Crapo knows this and Amy Coney Barrett knows this. The American people know this. This is a moment that calls for Senators to place the political stability of the country before the whims of their donors and their most partisan supporters. That this is a precedent Republicans choose — not to mention are proud — to act on is a neglect of their duty as public servants to exercise restraint when the moment calls for it. It is also one of many incalculable reasons they are headed to an electoral shellacking unseen since Watergate.
Today, however, Republican senators don’t just dismiss democracy, but actively seek to undermine it. There’s nothing this party wants to do less than ask you to give them the jobs they believe they deserve just for getting out of bed in the morning. Many of them know those jobs are gone on Nov. 4, and they’re going to kick you and your democratic will on the way out.
They know the country is increasingly pro-choice. They know the Affordable Care Act is popular nationwide. That’s why Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly dodged questions about abortion in the lone vice-presidential debate. That’s why the president signed a legally-meaningless executive order to “protect” people with pre-existing conditions while his Justice Department simultaneously tries to invalidate the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court. And that’s why he’s trying to shove a Supreme Court nominee who is hostile to the values of the majority of the American people down our throats, even as the election is already underway.
Republicans know that once Nov. 4 hits, their values, as the law of the land, will be consigned to the ash heap of history. The American people don’t want what they’re offering. A president who rails against abortion, but receives embryonic-stem-cell-derived therapy. A Senate majority who believes the will of the people should be heard, unless the people disagree with them. So, they’re going to jam through a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, to ensure that they don’t need to win elections anymore in order to oppress women, people of color, people with pre-existing medical conditions and the LGBTQ+ community.
They won’t need to repeal “Obamacare” or place a nationwide ban on abortion. Their robed ideologues — their snakes in snakes’ clothing — Barrett, Thomas, Kavanaugh, Alito and Gorsuch, will be there long after Senators Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley have been relegated to historical irrelevance, ensuring that the bitter white man’s political interests long endure. If you fall outside the spectrum of those interests, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris said it best during the vice-presidential debate: They’re coming for you. And they’re coming now, because a month from now, they’re done for.
It’s worth asking how we got here. Republicans didn’t come up with this playbook out of nowhere. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has for years been known to value the courts above nearly all else. Now, Sen. McConnell is a hypocritical, craven, disingenuous crook. Truth, decency and empathy might as well not be words to this man. But he is not, as far as anyone can tell, dumb. He has access to every ounce of polling data the public does and then some.
He knows where public opinion has been heading and that it’s been heading there for a long time. He understands that the country’s move away from the right has been a gradual one, one that predates Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s large margin of victory in the popular vote eased any remaining doubts on that front. But when Republicans lost the 2017 gubernatorial race in North Carolina, the GOP-led legislature passed a series of bills meant to strip Democratic then-Gov.-elect Roy Cooper of much of his authority. That authority was not only, constitutionally, his, but Republicans only objected to the governor wielding it when their guy was about to no longer be the governor. The North Carolina Republicans have, largely, gotten away with that brazen, anti-democratic power grab. If you think that didn’t embolden McConnell and the national party to develop their own similar blueprint, you simply have not been paying attention. Again: McConnell is not dumb.
When Sen. McConnell took control of the Senate majority, he stonewalled President Obama’s federal judicial nominees, in hopes that the next president would be a Republican and would have the opportunity to fill the ensuing vacancies. He played the game brilliantly; he played it nearly to perfection. Donald Trump is on pace to appoint over a quarter of all of our country’s active federal judges. Liberals — all Democrats, really — played the game against Mitch McConnell, and as John Oliver put it so succinctly, we lost.
Republican judicial nominees, many of whom are purely political operatives with gavels, will most likely strike down much of the progressive legislative advancement the country might make at the federal level for a generation. Abortion, health care and same-sex marriage, all settled matters of law not intended to be addressed again, are back on the table, even if pandemic-induced karma stops the GOP from forcing Barrett on an unwilling country. And don’t be surprised if they do indeed find a way.
Trump and McConnell have left in place a judicial system that ensures their hateful bile of a political ideology will, to a yet-unknown extent, outlast them. But it’d be a hell of a lot worse if they got another term to defy the will of the country, so let’s not leave room for Trump to challenge the election and bury these monsters at the polls.
Jack Roshco can be reached at email@example.com.
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