October 14, 2018 --
Because of computer problems earlier this week, this Travtrivia is a bit different. At some readers request, let us begin with some doggerel. Searching for wit. Will follow that with a portion of a column by David Leonhardt which captures what condition are in Washington. Thereafter, there are two columns, one by Nicolas Kristof and one by Eugene Robinson which fill in our position in the world. If you like to see some video, I recommend the Rachel Maddow show from last Wednesday.
His views on sex abuse reveal Trump's lack of empathy
He cares only for the attacker and not the female attackee
Just as Trump withdraws from U.N. activity on climate change, in comes another hurricane to Florida. Ironic
Who is stepping up to speak
At the start of his campaign
The White House he should seek
Bernie Sanders is his name
David Leonhardt, NYT: Alarmed About the Midterms
It’s time for some alarm about the midterms.
The most recent polls have underscored the real possibility that Republicans will keep control of both the Senate and House. “On balance, it’s been a good 10 days of ... polling for the GOP in a lot of important battlegrounds,” Nate Cohn, The Times’s elections analyst, writes.
Democrats now appear highly unlikely to take back the Senate, which was always going to be hard for them, given the conservatism of the states holding Senate elections this year. And while Democrats are still favored to win the House, many races remain so close — with neither candidate yet polling above 50 percent — that they could break either way in the final weeks. It’s easy to see a scenario in which many Democratic-leaning voters fail to turn out, as often happens in the midterms, and many Republican-leaning voters remain loyal to the party.
I use the word “alarm” here for a reason. Imagine how President Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress would respond to a victory in the midterms (even if that victory depended in part on gerrymandering and voter suppression).
Trump would feel emboldened to continue his attacks on democratic values. He might order the Justice Department to go easy on his political allies. He might fire Robert Mueller and otherwise put a stop to the Russia investigation. Congressional Republicans might restart their efforts to take health insurance from millions of middle-class and poor people. The efforts to keep dark-skinned Americans from voting — like the current outrage in Georgia (which Michelle Goldberg covers today) — might become more intense. The federal government’s stance on climate change would likely become even more damaging.
The midterms are, as The New Yorker’s David Remnick has written, a “stress test of liberal democracy.”
Eugene Robinson, WaPo: Our planet is in crisis. We don’t have time for Trump’s foolishness.
Here is how to interpret the alarming new United Nations-sponsored report on global warming: We are living in a horror movie. The world needs statesmen to lead the way to safety. Instead we have President Trump, who essentially says, “Hey, let’s all head to the dark, creepy basement where the chain saws and razor-sharp axes are kept. What could go wrong?”
The answer is almost everything, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The impact of human-induced warming is worse than previously feared, the report released Monday says, and only drastic, coordinated action will keep the damage short of catastrophe.
To this point, climate change has been a slow-motion calamity whose impacts, month to month and year to year, have been hard to perceive. Unfortunately, according to the report, that is about to change.
The burning of fossil fuels on an industrial scale has raised global temperatures by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That may not sound like much, but look at the consequences we’re already seeing: Stronger, slower, wetter tropical storms. Unprecedented heat waves. Devastating floods. Dying coral reefs. A never-before-seen summer shipping lane across the Arctic Ocean.
Meanwhile, humankind continues to pump heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a tragically self-destructive rate. The IPCC calculates that a further temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius — almost inevitable, given our dependence on coal, oil and gas — would be challenging but manageable. An increase of about 2 degrees, however, would be disastrous.
What’s the difference? With a 1.5-degree rise, about 14 percent of the world’s population would be vulnerable to severe and deadly heat waves every five years; with a 2-degree rise, that figure jumps to 37 percent. With a 1.5-degree rise, an additional 350 million city dwellers worldwide will face water shortages; with a 2-degree rise, 411 million people will suffer such drought. With a 1.5-degree rise, coral reefs will experience “very frequent mass mortalities”; with a two-degree rise, coral reefs will “mostly disappear.”
Small differences can have huge impacts. Under the 1.5-degree scenario, up to 69 million people will be newly exposed to flooding. Under the 2-degree scenario — which the report estimates would boost sea-level rise by as much as 36 inches — the number rises to 80 million.
Please don’t dismiss all of this as just another boring compendium of carefully hedged facts and figures. I have followed the IPCC’s research since covering the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The new report strikes a different tone that combines weary fatalism with hair-on-fire alarm. In dry, just-the-facts language, it predicts declining fisheries, failing crops, more widespread risk from tropical diseases such as malaria, economic dislocation in the most-affected countries — and, by logical extension, greater political instability.
All of these impacts are bad with 1.5 more degrees of temperature rise. With 2 degrees they are much, much worse.
The obvious solution is to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. The IPCC says emissions need to decline by at least 40 percent by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050, if we are to hold warming to 1.5 degrees. Yet last year, according to the International Energy Agency, global emissions hit an all-time high.
Since 2016, representatives of 195 nations — including all the big emitters — signed on to the landmark Paris agreement calling for systematic emissions reductions beginning in 2020. But Trump, who has ignorantly called climate change a “hoax,” decided to withdraw the United States from the pact. Even worse, Trump is aggressively trying to increase reliance on coal, which contributes a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide emissions compared with other fossil fuels.
U.S. carbon emissions actually fell slightly in 2017, due to the expansion of the renewable energy sector. But Trump administration policies are designed to reverse that trend; and if they fail to do so, it will be because rest of the world is already moving toward clean energy — a huge economic shift that threatens to leave the United States behind.
When you read the IPCC report, you see that what the world really needs is visionary leadership. As the world’s greatest economic power and its second-largest carbon emitter, the United States is uniquely capable of shepherding a global transition to renewable energy. Instead, the Trump administration rejects the science of climate change and actively favors dirty energy sources over clean ones.
Humanity has no time for such foolishness. “I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the president of the globe,” Trump thundered at a recent rally. On what planet does he think this nation resides?
Nicholas Kristof, NYT: The ‘Greatest Hoax’ Strikes Florida
As Hurricane Michael rips through homes and communities, we send our sympathies to all those in its path, but let’s also review what some leading Florida residents have said about climate change.
“One of the most preposterous hoaxes in the history of the planet,” scoffed Rush Limbaugh of Palm Beach. Gov. Rick Scott’s administration went so far as to bar some agencies from even using the term “climate change,” according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (Scott denied this).
Myopic Floridians have plenty of company. President Trump dismissed climate change as a hoax “created by and for the Chinese.” Senator James Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma, “disproved” climate change by taking a snowball onto the Senate floor and noting that it was chilly outside; using similarly rigorous scientific methods, he wrote a book about climate change called “The Greatest Hoax.”
Alas, denying climate change doesn’t actually prevent it. North Carolina passed a law in 2012 prohibiting the use of climate science in certain state planning, yet that didn’t intimidate Hurricane Florence last month. And banning the words “climate change” isn’t helping Florida now.
Some folks will say this isn’t the moment for politics. But don’t we have a responsibility to mitigate the next disaster?
Consider that the three warmest years on record are the last three. And that the 10 years of greatest loss of sea ice are all in the last dozen years.
It’s true that we can’t definitively link the damage from any one hurricane (or drought or forest fire) to rising carbon emissions. But think of it as playing with loaded dice: A double six might have occurred anyway, but much less often.
“There is strong consensus among scientists who study hurricanes and climate that warming temperatures should make more intense hurricanes possible,” Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at M.I.T., told me. He said that the probability of Hurricane Florence-magnitude rains in North Carolina has roughly tripled since the middle of the 20th century.
Flooding actually causes more hurricane deaths than wind, and climate change amplifies flooding in two ways. First, it raises the base sea level, on top of which a tidal surge occurs. Second, warmer air holds more moisture — about 10 percent more so far — and that means more rain.
Prof. Michael E. Mann of Penn State told me that Hurricane Michael should be a wake-up call. “As should have Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Florence,” he added wryly. “In each of these storms we can see the impact of climate change: Warmer seas means more energy to intensify these storms, more wind damage, bigger storm surge and more coastal flooding.”
As recently as the early 2000s, there wasn’t much difference between the parties on climate policy, and Senator John McCain campaigned in 2008 as a leader in reducing carbon emissions. In 2009, Donald Trump joined other business executives in backing more action to address climate change.
Yet in the following years Al Gore helped make climate change a Democratic issue, and the Koch brothers helped make climate denial a litmus test of Republican authenticity. Tribalism took over, and climate skepticism became part of the Republican creed. So polls show that today climate denial is far greater in the United States, home to the greatest scientific research in the world, than in just about any other major country.
Trump says he will pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, and he had nothing substantive to say about a new United Nations report, which has been called a “deafening, piercing smoke alarm” of catastrophic consequences ahead from climate change.
Republicans are correct that all this is uncertain. But in every other context, we try to prevent threats that are uncertain, and it’s irrational for Trump to be obsessed with, say, Iran, when he seems indifferent to the prospect that we are collectively cooking our entire planet.
There are legitimate debates about the best way to reduce carbon emissions, and there is reason for skepticism that we will succeed. Carbon taxes would have to be very substantial to have a large impact, geoengineering is uncertain, and there will be painful trade-offs ahead.
We also should curb the dysfunctional National Flood Insurance Program, which encourages people to live in low-lying areas. One Mississippi home flooded 34 times in 32 years, resulting in payouts totaling almost 10 times what the home was worth.
But we’re not even having these debates.
I worry that television coverage in the coming days will be dominated by heroes on boats rescuing widows on rooftops. Yes, that human drama is riveting — but it doesn’t address the larger problem.
The way to tackle lung cancer wasn’t to celebrate heroic doctors treating patients in the cancer ward, while ignoring cigarette smoking, but rather to reduce cigarette use.
Climate change may be the most important issue we face, reshaping our children’s world. At some point, those calling “hoax” will fade away and we’ll reach a new consensus about the perils. But by then, it may be too late.
Paul Krugman, NYT: The Paranoid Style in G.O.P. Politics
Many people are worried, rightly, about what the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh means for America in the long term. He’s a naked partisan who clearly lied under oath about many aspects of his personal history; that’s as important as, and related to, the question of what he did to Christine Blasey Ford, a question that remains unresolved because the supposed investigation was such a transparent sham. Putting such a man on the Supreme Court has, at a stroke, destroyed the court’s moral authority for the foreseeable future.
But such long-term worries should be a secondary concern right now. The more immediate threat comes from what we saw on the Republican side during and after the hearing: not just contempt for the truth, but also a rush to demonize any and all criticism. In particular, the readiness with which senior Republicans embraced crazy conspiracy theories about the opposition to Kavanaugh is a deeply scary warning about what might happen to America, not in the long run, but just a few weeks from now.
About that conspiracy theorizing: It began in the first moments of Kavanaugh’s testimony, when he attributed his problems to “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” motivated by people seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” This was a completely false, hysterical accusation, and making it should in itself have disqualified Kavanaugh for the court.
But Donald Trump quickly made it much worse, attributing protests against Kavanaugh to George Soros and declaring, falsely (and with no evidence), that the protesters were being paid.
And here’s the thing: Major figures in the G.O.P. quickly backed Trump up. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate committee that heard Blasey and Kavanaugh, insisted that the protesters were indeed employed by Soros. Senator John Cornyn declared, “We will not be bullied by the screams of paid protesters.” No, the protesters aren’t being paid to protest, let alone by George Soros. But to be a good Republican, you now have to pretend they are.
What’s going on here? At one level, this isn’t new. Conspiracy theorizing has been a part of American politics from the beginning. Richard Hofstadter published his famous essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” back in 1964 and cited examples running back to the 18th century. Segregationists fighting civil rights routinely blamed “outside agitators” — especially northern Jews — for African-American protests.
But the significance of conspiracy theorizing depends on who does it.
When people on the political fringe blame shadowy forces — often, as it happens, sinister Jewish financiers — for their frustrations, you can write it off as delusional. When people who hold most of the levers of power do the same thing, their fantasizing isn’t a delusion, it’s a tool: a way to delegitimize opposition, to create excuses not just for disregarding but for punishing anyone who dares to criticize their actions.
That’s why conspiracy theories have been central to the ideology of so many authoritarian regimes, from Mussolini’s Italy to Erdogan’s Turkey. It’s why the governments of Hungary and Poland, former democracies that have become de facto one-party states, love to accuse outsiders in general and Soros in particular of stirring up opposition to their rule. Because, of course, there can’t be legitimate complaints about their actions and policies.
And now senior figures in the Republican Party, which controls all three branches of the federal government — if you had any questions about whether the Supreme Court was a partisan institution, they should be gone now — are sounding just like the white nationalists in Hungary and Poland. What does this mean?
The answer, I submit, is that the G.O.P. is an authoritarian regime in waiting.
Trump himself clearly has the same instincts as the foreign dictators he so openly admires. He demands that public officials be loyal to him personally, not to the American people. He threatens political opponents with retribution — two years after the last election, he’s still leading chants of “Lock her up.” He attacks the news media as enemies of the people.
Add in the investigations closing in on Trump’s many scandals, from tax cheating to self-dealing in office to possible collusion with Russia, all of which give him every incentive to shut down freedom of the press and independence of law enforcement. Does anyone doubt that Trump would like to go full authoritarian, given the chance?
And who’s going to stop him? The senators parroting conspiracy theories about Soros-paid protesters? The newly rigged Supreme Court? What we’ve learned in the past few weeks is that there is no gap between Trump and his party, nobody who will say stop in the name of American values.
But as I said, the G.O.P. is an authoritarian regime in waiting, not yet one in practice. What’s it waiting for?
Well, think of what Trump and his party might do if they retain both houses of Congress in the coming election. If you aren’t terrified of where we might be in the very near future, you aren’t paying attention.
Anne Applebaum, WaPo: It’s official: Americans are living under the rule of a minority
Now that the predictable result has been achieved, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the longer-term impact of the bizarre, emotional events of the past two weeks in Washington. Reasonable people can still disagree about what happened in a house in suburban Maryland in the summer of 1982; reasonable people can even disagree about whether now, more than three decades later, those events should matter. But reasonable people cannot disagree about the political orientation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. In his testimony, he revealed himself to be an extreme partisan, a Republican Party activist and a man at least willing to bend the truth in public.
He did not reveal himself to be a man dedicated to upholding a neutral idea of the rule of law. On this point, Kavanaugh’s opponents and supporters are in total agreement. Just after he was sworn in to the job he might hold for many decades, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted: “Congratulations Judge Kavanaugh! Instead of a 6-3 liberal Supreme Court under Hillary Clinton, we now have a 5-4 conservative Supreme Court under President @realDonaldTrump, cementing a tremendous legacy for the President and a better future for America.” Note the expression “under President @realDonaldTrump”: This was a partisan contest, and the winning side is crowing in triumph that one of the partisan faithful has been victorious.
But what now? Thanks to the quirks of our Constitution and the vagaries of our politics, the result is that all three branches of the U.S. government are dominated by minorities. In the White House, we have, for the second time in less than two decades, a president who did not win the popular vote. He was elected thanks to the electoral college, a system originally designed to block demagogues, but which no longer does. Electoral college delegates are not independent, as they once were; instead, they vote as their state party chairman decides. The effect is to skew the result.
For many years now the Senate, our senior legislative body, has been grotesquely out of line, too. The 40 million people who live in California get the same two votes in the Senate as the 740,000 people of Alaska. The 20 million people of New York state get the same two votes as the 755,000 of North Dakota. A system created in the 18th century, originally designed to protect smaller states against the larger ones, now has the opposite effect. The inhabitants of rural America have a far louder voice in Congress than the inhabitants of urban America, well out of proportion to their numbers. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices.
The minority-dominated Senate and the minority-elected president have now chosen Justice Kavanaugh. And, thanks to his appointment, our Supreme Court may well cease to reflect the views of the majority, too. One recent poll showed, for example, that a very large percentage of Americans do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. The majority of Americans prefer legal, though restricted abortion; they support affirmative action; they also prefer legal same-sex marriage. Of course, these are not the only (and maybe not even the most important) issues that the court will adjudicate in the next decade. But they are good proxies for “liberal” and “conservative” attitudes on social issues — and on all of them, the new “5-4” court seems likely to be well out of line.
There is an irony here: When they were writing it, the authors of our Constitution were worried about the tyranny of the majority, not the tyranny of a minority. But two centuries after the fact, they have achieved the opposite effect. If the coming midterm elections do not reverse at least one and preferably both of the houses of Congress, that minority will have two years to entrench its power further, through gerrymandering, voter registration laws, court appointments, even changes to electoral law. And then all bets are off as to whether minority rule can ever be reversed.
The experience of other countries in similar circumstances is not encouraging. Historically — think of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or, indeed, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria — a minority’s attempt to rule over the majority has led to terrible violence. I don’t predict anything like that in the United States, where the rules and traditions are different, but I don’t see how this ends well, either. Young Americans’ faith in democracy is now at an all-time low. As the decisions taken by the U.S. government become ever more distasteful to ever more of them, those percentages will only continue to grow.
Charles M. Blow, NYT: White Male Victimization Anxiety
During the swearing-in of Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Monday, Donald Trump took it upon himself to apologize to Kavanaugh and his family “on behalf of our nation” for the “terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.”
He repeated the tired lines that he and Republicans hope will stick, and steer the comatose base to electoral fervor: That accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh were part of a “campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception” and that “what happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.”
But to me, this was not just a president and party worried about an approaching “blue wave” and trying to take political advantage of a moment of victory. It was also an outright and increasing amplification of a reactionary white male victimization syndrome that has consumed modern American conservatism.
Vox has called it “the unleashing of white male backlash.”
The women accusing the white man of assault weren’t the victims; instead, the white man was the victim. In some people’s eyes, he was the victim of political correctness, #MeToo’s overreach, a check-your-white-male-privilege culture drunk on its own self-righteousness.
During Kavanaugh’s hearings, Lindsey Graham had the temerity to say, “I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should shut up.”
The evocation of his white maleness in his argument was an overt shot at the check-your-privilege crowd.
Kavanaugh’s belligerent defense and Trump’s dismissal of the accusers — he mocked one at a political rally and called the accusations a hoax — represent for many men a back-against-the-wall, no-more-space-to-retreat moment of fighting back, of pushing back, of standing proud in their patriarchy and proclaiming that it will not bend.
They’re saying, “Enough.” They will cede no more ground, they will share no more power, they will accommodate no more ascendancy and validation of the oppressed. That is what they are telling us, and they are speaking through Trump.
As MarketWatch pointed out in June:
“Men have a tendency to believe that decreasing bias against women is associated with increasing bias against men, said Clara Wilkins, a professor at Wesleyan University who studies the psychology behind reverse discrimination.”
The site went on:
“‘There’s this perception of a zero-sum relationship; men and women are in competition,’ she said. ‘So if things are better for women, things are worse than men.’ Other research indicates whites perceive a similar relationship to minority groups.”
Dana Milbank, WaPo: Trump’s utter amorality was exposed this weekend
President Trump seldom waits for the facts before rendering judgment. But when it comes to the disappearance of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly killed by Saudi Arabia in Turkey, Trump has been strangely reticent.
Vice President Pence reacted by denouncing “violence against journalists” and said, “The free world deserves answers,” while Republicans in Congress warned that relations with Saudi Arabia would be rethought. The State Department backed an investigation.
But there was no outraged statement from the president, no summoning of the Saudi ambassador for an explanation. It didn’t even rise to the level of a tweet.
In the Oval Office on Tuesday, as Trump accepted U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s resignation, reporters asked if he had spoken to the Saudis about it.
“No, I have not, but I will be at some point,” he said.
At some point? Please do, Mr. President, if it’s not too much trouble. The Saudi journalist, who had been living in Virginia, disappeared last week, and The Post reported Saturday that Turkish officials believe he was murdered in the Istanbul consulate of our supposed ally Saudi Arabia.
“I know nothing right now,” Trump added, as if the world’s most powerful man, with a vast intelligence apparatus on retainer, were just another passive consumer of Fox News. “I know what everybody else knows — nothing.”
If anything, Trump’s curiosity had diminished from Monday. Then, too, he said that “nobody knows anything about it,” but he at least pronounced himself “concerned” and said, “I don’t like hearing about it.” (He was more expansive in his answer to the next question, about Taylor Swift’s politics.)
Does Trump really know nothing? Or does he not want to know?
If what Turkish officials told their U.S. counterparts is true — that the body of Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic, was dismembered, removed from the consulate in boxes and flown out of the country in pieces — it would show that Trump is being played for a fool by a Saudi regime he has lavished with affection.
At the United Nations just a couple of weeks ago, he called King Salman “a great guy” and praised the kingdom’s “bold new reforms.” His administration previously cleared the Saudis to buy billions of dollars in U.S. military hardware. “We really have a great friendship, a great relationship,” Trump said in March. Contrasting that with what was “very, very strained during the Obama administration,” he said “the relationship, now, is probably as good as it’s really ever been, and I think will probably only get better.”
But Khashoggi’s disappearance puts on display the utter amorality of Trump’s foreign policy, a transactional policy befitting a real estate developer, not a superpower. If leaders court him, he likes them, no matter what else they do. If leaders criticize him, he discards them, even if they are allies.
The Saudi government bought its friendship with Trump, with military acquisitions, foreign investment, ceremonial extravagance during his 2017 visit and appeals to Trump’s personal interests. (The kingdom’s conspicuous spending at Trump hotels surely didn’t hurt.) Trump, his ego thus stroked, called the Saudis his friends.
Many bad actors have been so befriended.
Trump, at the United Nations, called Egypt’s dictator, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, his “great friend,” even though Sissi’s government had just arrested the sons of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the latest move in an expanded campaign of repression.
Also at the United Nations, Trump praised the “courage” of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and he later told supporters that he and Kim “fell in love.” Never mind that Kim has made few tangible steps toward denuclearization and reportedly launched a crackdown on “non-socialist” behaviors, including unapproved hairstyles.
Most prominently, Trump embraced the word of Russia’s Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence, and hesitated to join ally Britain when it accused Putin’s government of a chemical attack on British soil.
But the Khashoggi killing, if confirmed, would test the limits of Trump’s amorality. Human rights are not the cornerstone of his foreign policy, but do they even appear in the facade?
Trump has already looked the other way as Saudi Arabia effectively kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, provoked confrontation with Qatar and caused mass carnage in Yemen’s civil war. In August, after a Saudi-led missile strike killed dozens of schoolchildren, a U.S. official, asked by reporters about the American role in the strike, replied: “Well, what difference does that make?”
It’s now fair, likewise, to ask whether Trump’s practice of labeling journalists the enemy of the people emboldened the people who reportedly killed Khashoggi, and those responsible for renewed crackdowns on the press around the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports a 50 percent increase in murders of journalists this year, with three months still to go.
“What difference does that make?”
E.J. Dionne Jr., WaPo: We need to stay angry about Kavanaugh
The Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in tatters. Conservative forces in the country, led by the Republican Party, have completed a judicial coup, decades in the making.
Republicans rushed through Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to avoid the possible consequences of an election. They aborted a full investigation because they feared what it might find. They made themselves complicit in a presidential attack on Christine Blasey Ford, a brave woman who asked only that her case against Kavanaugh be taken seriously.
After all these outrages, there will be calls for a renewal of civility, as if the problem is that people said nasty things about one other. But the answer to this power grab cannot be passive acceptance in the name of being polite. The causes and consequences of what just happened must be acknowledged frankly.
The conservative struggle for the court began in the 1960s, but it hit its stride in the Bush v. Gore decision after the 2000 election. Five conservative justices violated the principles they claimed to uphold on states’ rights and the use of equal-protection doctrine to stop a recount of votes in Florida requested by Al Gore, the Democratic nominee. They thus made George W. Bush president.
The pro-Bush justices made abundantly clear that they were grasping at any arguments available to achieve a certain outcome by declaring, “our consideration is limited to the present circumstances.” Translation: Once Bush is in, please forget what we said here.
Bush then appointed two staunch conservatives to the court: John G. Roberts Jr. (one of Bush’s legal foot-soldiers in Florida) as chief justice as well as Samuel A. Alito Jr.
More recently, Senate Republicans kept the late Antonin Scalia’s seat open for more than a year, refusing Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee, either a hearing or a vote. Neil M. Gorsuch, a far more conservative jurist, took the seat instead.
Now comes Kavanaugh. In blocking Garland, Republicans said it was urgent to wait until after the 2016 election to let the voters speak. They rushed Kavanaugh through to get him onto the court before the voters could speak in 2018. When power is all that matters, consistency is for suckers.
In the process, the White House turned the FBI investigation of Ford’s claims and Kavanaugh’s (questionable) credibility into a whitewash. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel and Kavanaugh’s leading advocate, told Trump, as the New York Times put it, that a “wide-ranging inquiry ... would be potentially disastrous for Judge Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation.” You wonder what McGahn thought it would find.
There is also this: A generations-long conservative majority on the court has been cemented in place by a political minority. Kavanaugh was named by a president who won 46 percent of the popular vote and confirmed by senators representing 44 percent of the population. When you lack a majority, controlling the branch of government not subject to the voters is vital to working your will.
Democracy is all that opponents of the coup have left. In next month’s elections, the party responsible for this travesty must be punished. The idea that “both parties are equally to blame” is an unadulterated falsehood.
The undemocratic nature of representation in the Senate is unlikely to be remedied anytime soon, so progressives and Democrats need to organize far more effectively in the low-population red states. Critics of the judicial right need to remind voters that conservative judges regularly serve the interests of the wealthy and the powerful, not those of the heartland.
If Democrats take control of the House, they should hold hearings on the administration’s manipulation of the FBI investigation. These could also shed light on the extent to which Kavanaugh misled the Senate.
And there should now be no squeamishness about the urgency of enlarging the Supreme Court if Democrats have the power to do so after the 2020 elections. The current majority on the court was created through illegitimate means. Changing that majority would not constitute politicizing the court because conservatives have already done this without apology.
“Court-packing” makes people uncomfortable for good reason. Were it thrust upon the country suddenly by fiat, many Americans would be uneasy, as were even many Democrats in the 1930s with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s court-enlargement plan. That’s why we need a considered two-year debate over changing the number of justices — it was done seven times during the 19th century — as the only plausible response to the conservative court-packing project that reached fruition on Saturday.
Its foes need to stay angry. But even more, they need to vote, organize and think boldly. Democracy itself is at stake.