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The Naked Exercise of Power

September 28, 2018


The Union of Concerned Scientists for decades has maintained a “doomsday clock” to show how close the world is to nuclear annihilation. We now need a similar clock to illustrate how close our country now is to slipping definitively into despotism. If we had such a clock, my guess would be that we’re about 11 p.m. With today’s hearing on Brett Kavanaugh we slid a few minutes closer to midnight.

There were so many things wrong with the Republicans’ handling of the only accuser of Kavanaugh allowed to speak to the Judiciary Committee, but the bottom line is that letting Dr. Ford give her testimony was merely a charade to disguise a pre-cooked conclusion: a rushed party-line vote to confirm a blatantly partisan (and potentially criminal) judge to the Supreme Court, tossing out all normal procedures. Mitch McConnell had announced the result before the hearing ever convened, and Kavanaugh’s never-credible mask of judicial propriety and impartiality fell off for all to see during his rant before the committee. And it sure looks like the man has a little drinking problem as well as issues with impulse control.

This was Part Two of a Republican take-over of the Supreme Court, following McConnell’s infamous refusal to allow Obama nominee Merritt Garland to have so much as a hearing. It is also the culmination of a decades-long organized effort to gain perhaps permanent control over the entire federal judiciary. The notion of the Supreme Court as a check on partisan excess and executive over-reach is effectively a quaint historical memory if, as appears almost certain, Kavanaugh is confirmed.

Making the Supreme Court the tool of a single party is more dangerous to democracy than getting control of the Congress or the White House precisely because there is no real electoral remedy. Once the SCOTUS becomes as partisan as the other branches of government, it can permanently alter the political playing field to insure continued minority rule by Republicans. Just imagine, for example, how the Roberts court with Kavanaugh on the bench will rule on gerrymandering or corporate money in elections, let alone issues such as abortion, “religious freedom”, or gay rights.

Americans in general don’t know much about history, but anyone familiar with the French or Russian revolutions will recognize what is happening to American democracy, which has managed to function–however imperfectly–because virtually all political factions ascribed to an unwritten set of customs, norms, and practices that made the written Constitution work more or less as intended. All of that has now been thrown out the window.

The Republican Party has become our version of the Jacobins or Bolsheviks, perfectly willing to subvert democratic rules and norms in pursuit of raw power. And they have their demagogue in Donald Trump, who has made them perfectly subservient to his will. Senators like Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio and, yes, Ted Cruz who once proclaimed Trump to be a “con man” and unfit for office, now eagerly lick his balls. We are in the midst of a slow-motion coup-d’état.

November 6 may well be our last chance to keep this from happening.




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