This was originally published in my daily newsletter, Cup of Coffee. Due to popular demand, I’m making it public.
The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Republicans’ plan to rush through a new justice just before the election has led to a lot of talk and a lot of consternation, but the way I see things, the situation is pretty simple.
It goes like this:
For the past decade or so, Republicans have exercised maximal power whenever possible. They have not acted on any principle other than the imperative to exercise said power to attain their desired ends, no matter how much they’ve tried to dress is up as something other than that.
In light of that, Republicans cannot be shamed or persuaded by appeals to “hypocrisy” or “precedent” or “political norms” or “tradition” or “inconsistency” or the like. To the extent one attempts to do so — to the extent they seek out old clips of them in which they contradict their current position or parse their current statements for inconsistencies — they are wasting their time. Republicans can say they took measure X for reason Y in one year, do the exact opposite four hours, four weeks, four months or four years later, and lie about it openly. It does not faze them in the slightest and to the extent you attempt to call them out on it, you are merely amusing them.
They want to hear you bring up “The Merrick Garland Precedent” because they get off on you thinking that that actually mattered and that they weren’t just making shit up in 2016 to prevent Obama from choosing a Supreme Court Justice. They think it’s adorable when you bring that up, actually, and think you’re stupid for believing them in the first place. They think you’re even stupider for thinking that you can cite their lies from 2016 and believe that it will have any impact on what they do now.
At present, Republicans possess the presidency and the Senate and they possess no principles or scruples that might cause them to hesitate to exercise the power they therefore have. Trump will nominate someone for the Supreme Court. That person — who will almost certainly be unqualified for the position by historical standards— will be affirmed and will become the newest Supreme Court justice. They will also likely be on the young side, so they will be on the court for decades upon decades.
The sooner people who are not Republicans get comfortable with that fact the better, because that is reality. That is what is going to happen no matter how many tweets you send out into the void, no matter how many memes you share, and no matter how much money you donate to the person who is going to get soundly defeated by Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate race.
There is, however, an election in a little over a month, and Democrats have a good chance to take the presidency and the Senate and they are extremely likely to maintain control of the House. If that happens, they will then have the power. And if they get it, they have a choice to make.
The choice is between (a) exercising that power like they always have and like Republicans did until about a decade or so ago, with reference to historical political norms, some semblance of principle, and with at least some nod to the idea that bipartisanship is a good thing when it can be attained; or (b) exercising it like Republicans do now: with a laser-focus on attaining their goals by using all the power at their disposal no matter what the other side thinks or says about it.
No matter which tack Democrats take, they should understand that Republicans and their media surrogates will portray them as power-mad tyrants regardless, so no consideration should be given to how they will look if they choose option (b).
They should also know that if they take option (a), they will get next to nothing accomplished and, once Republicans swing back into power as they inevitably will, we will back to where we are now: with conservative Republicans dominating the judicial system for the next half a century at least and Republican presidents getting elected by a minority of voters and then proceeding to govern in a way that serves only a tiny fraction of the population while increasingly immiserating the vast majority of the country.
That is the reality of the situation. You may not like that because you want politics and governance to be about something more high-minded than might making right and the mere exercise of raw power. Frankly, I do too, but I’ve long since abandoned the notion that that’s remotely possible in our current system. You should abandon that notion too, because it’s simply not applicable to present reality.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us in a situation where, if the Democrats win the presidency, the Senate, and keep the House, they must do absolutely everything they can, as quickly as they can, to tip the scales back in their direction and in the direction of actual governance for the well-being of the nation as a whole. To wit:
- They should end the filibuster;
- They should pack the Supreme Court with two or three more justices at least;
- They should admit The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states, at least if Puerto Rico wants to be a state (D.C. does);
- While they likely cannot amend the Constitution easily, they should do whatever possible to reform the electoral system in such a way that it reflects the will of American voters as opposed to empty real estate the way the Electoral College does.
They should, in short, move this country back into a position in which its people decide the course it takes and away from one in which an unrepresentative minority does. No argument that is rooted in those ideas being “reasonable” or “fair” or “unprecedented” is worth your time or mine. This isn’t about reasonableness, fairness, or tradition. It’s about power. Republicans made it that way. As such, that’s the only rule which governs the game now.
Democrats can choose to play by the game’s only rule — the rule of power, pursuant to which they win the presidency, win the Senate, and salt the fucking Earth — or they can make up a bunch of rules for themselves that don’t actually apply, make their lives much harder, and render their desired goals impossible to attain.
It’s a pretty simple choice in my view. I would not bet any serious amount of money on them making the right one, however.