Must-Win or Must-Crush?
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 8, 2018
I understand losing: Either you have the votes, or, as we just saw with the confirmation of Judge, now Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, you don’t.
What I don’t understand is why the victors need to grind their opponents into the moral ground. There seems to be no acknowledgement, for example, that but for one or two Senate votes, this confirmation might have been turned down, and today’s exultance would be something quite different.
The confirmation vote should have taught all of us some humility, some pride in persuasion, some consideration of fact-finding. It did the opposite.
In the hours and day after the vote to confirm, President Trump felt the need to stomp on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AL, who voted her conscience rather than her party dictates, call the opposition a “mob,” a term picked up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and repeat endlessly that the process had abridged Kavanaugh’s innocence, which It did not. That mob were protesters, the very personification of democracy, not a herd of paid actors, as Republicans suggested.
In fairness, protests continue towards those who voted for Kavanaugh as well, including many scattered reports of pretty raw stuff, all of which is reprehensible.
If you root for the Red Sox, you know how to lose. But there is no reason to ridicule the opposing players the next day.
From all the coverage of the confirmation and its dramatic moments, I understand several things better now:
· We have eliminated any substantial institutional “checks and balances” in our governing system. In its place, we have bullying by a majority party that controls the White House, Congress and now the courts. Individuals may still stand up with dissent, but the way is cleared — and cheered, apparently — by a Trump White House that is running rampantly through a conservative, pro-corporate, anti-consumer agenda at odds with real life and that will punish anyone who disagrees. Over time, the conservatives have made the most centrist thinkers into “Leftists” with no sense of values, patriotism or common sense.
· While all acknowledge that we have a deeply divided country, there is no desire to heal it. Instead, we are spreading the reliance on slogans, race-baiting, scapegoating in public speeches, in shutting down voting rights, in enforcing inhumane laws and rules about immigration, education, health care and social policies. The true picture emerging has little to do with this judge. This White House, this Republican majority — a slight one at that, just as the elections were — wants to claim landslide status for itself and dictate policies on health, social policies and international relations, all without question or concern from Democrats, media, women, tall people, short people or anyone.
· We are not content even with isolation and our own moral destruction. Instead, we are exporting our new-found love of extreme nationalism to other nations rather than working more cooperatively in the world. Our America First policy is quickly making China and Russia more significant and ruining traditional international relationships. The idea that Trump declares himself in love with the North Korean leader is mind-boggling especially since there is no tangible progress to date on nuclear disarmament.
· The steady elimination of Science, of diversity, of responsibility to hear women and of the independence of institutions like the FBI bode poorly for our society and for truth-telling in general. The press is labeled the enemy of the people, and any hope that a Special Counsel actually will land a substantial punch on White House misbehavior seems more remote each day. With a major thumb on the FBI, Trump may keep large portions of any Special Counsel report secret or kept under wraps; a Republican Senate, even if there is a change to a Democratic House, will assure no impeachment proceedings will advance; and the Supreme Court is now poised to allow for infinite expansion of presidential power.
· In the Court itself this week, Justice Kavanaugh faces a problem of persuading his peers that he will maintain a judicial demeanor, re-caging the partisan animal that he let loose during the hearings. Since he will be in a majority, perhaps that is more easily done; after all, he has succeeded at the Court of Appeals. But already word is out that there are complaints about him filed with the appeals court that are being forwarded to Chief Justice John Roberts, and there will be plenty of questions ahead about which cases may require Kavanaugh’s recusal. Again, what is at stake here is protection of the institution as well as Kavanaugh as “victim.” Roberts must act in some ways now to assure that the court is not a runaway rubber stamp for anything partisan that the White House forces to the Court’s attention.
Yes, the November elections are more important than ever. And yes, there can be a reckoning of sorts if the House rejects the Republican message. Frankly, I wonder what happens if the country does not. We have the complete makings in place for a tyrannical, authoritarian government, all with the willing participation of officials who want assured reelection more than they want some kind of communal good.
The irony of all this is that the country is doing well economically and even by other measurements. We can and should be celebrating certain advancements, even if we continue to argue about how fast, how wide, how deep the improvements. But what is coming across is that even winning is not enough. There needs to be some kind of cultural domination at the same time, even if it means twisting the meaning of words and concepts.
The Republican message that Kavanaugh was held guilty unless he proved his innocence is wrong. The real message was that Leftist/Resister/Obstructionists Democrats had dared to ask questions after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had stepped forward. It all should have been handled behind closed doors, insisted McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley so as not to embarrass the judge. “Civility” to these folks is silence while they go about their business of remaking the judiciary, not truth-telling, not examination of character, not extending empathy for those abused by bad male behavior.
We got it. You had the votes and you won. But Republicans should remember that even in celebration, it is humane to recognize that there are those who are not feasting on the results — the tax cuts helped corporations and general economic numbers, for example, but hurt many property owners in the Northeast and elsewhere and has not boosted wages. There’s no need to keep driving home that you-are-the-only-way message with brutal language, threats and political rallies where you mock victims. If the win is real, it should be obvious.
It would all be much more palatable if the president would own up to his own moral failings and lies. Instead, our must-win society is looking increasingly like a 1930s ascension of a bullying dictator: Repeat the big lie often until it passes as reality.