By Robert A. Vella
As the confirmation process for President Trump’s controversial supreme court nominee comes to a close (a final floor vote is planned for tomorrow), I have a few things to say today about the character of Brett Kavanaugh, the integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court, and more specifically about us as American citizens. So, take a deep breath first. This ride could be a little bumpy.
From the day Kavanaugh was nominated, long before the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and substance abuse were made public against him, I questioned the character of the man as it relates to the Supreme Court. It was obvious then from his judicial record that Kavanaugh was purely a partisan hack who would act on the nation’s highest court to staunchly support far-right causes and to protect Trump’s presidency from the Mueller investigation and other potential liability. I’ve also stated that because of the strategic incompetence of the Democratic Party, the splintering of its various factions, and the troubling civic disengagement of the political Left, the fate of his nomination would be up to Republicans who now hold power.
The integrity of the Supreme Court as a fair and impartial arbiter has been in decline since its infamous Bush v. Gore decision in December of 2000, but the confirmation of Kavanaugh will destroy whatever credibility it has remaining. I cannot overstate this concern. His confirmation will empower Trump to subjugate the rule of law under his arbitrary authority and to undermine America’s democratic process. The stakes couldn’t be any higher; and, if confirmed, Republicans will be primarily responsible.
Still, the responsibility will fall elsewhere as well. Women across the country are justifiably enraged over the Kavanaugh nomination and are mobilizing for the November midterms. But, where was their enthusiasm for voting in 2014 when Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and thereby seized control over judicial nominees (e.g. Merrick Garland)? How many suburban women voted for Trump in 2016? Did they not understand the consequences? Do they now not understand that Republicans will plow ahead no matter how mad they get or how much they protest? It is not a futile exercise to scream at the ship after it has already left you on the dock?
Finally, there’s the worsening degeneration of sophistication among the Left who speak in absolutes about the evilness of Trump supporters and about their own certainty for doomsday (i.e defeatism). They castigate Republican politicians as obedient non-human drones, make bold predictions without informing themselves of the subject matter beforehand, and conveniently ignore anything that contradicts the narrative they are pushing. Years ago, this attitude is what I perceived as typical of the Right.
Earlier this week, after Republican Senator Jeff Flake demanded a supplemental FBI investigation of Kavanaugh (which was performed properly, but was severely restricted by the FBI’s client – President Trump), I wrote the following editorial:
Kavanaugh nomination reveals not just cultural polarization but a clash of philosophies
Written 2018/10/02, edited 2018/10/03
What is quite obvious about President Trump’s highly controversial and contested nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court is the visceral cultural polarization in America today. It is neither surprising nor is it something new. Ever since the antiwar movement erupted in the late 1960s, and the politicization of Christian fundamentalism rose to prominence in the 1980s, the country has been steadily – and at times episodically – diverging into opposing camps which are nominally aligned with the nation’s two major political parties. The nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is staunchly supported by social conservatives, Trump supporters, and the GOP establishment while being vigorously opposed by women, liberals, progressives, and the Democratic Party.
What is surprising, however, is that this political battle has reignited a relatively new philosophical clash which does not conform to the above described cultural delineation (see also: Editorial: Lamenting the absurdity of the Anti-Anti-Trump Left). On one side, partisan sentiment dominates so completely that Democrats and Republicans perceive each other as obstinate and evil. On the other side, a more thoughtful approach attempts to understand and appreciate the subtle complexities and dynamics which are often determinative in resolving highly disputed issues such as the Kavanaugh nomination. Right now, retiring Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has thrust himself into the center of both the political battle over Kavanaugh and this clash of philosophies pitting Republicans versus Republicans and Democrats versus Democrats.
For the purposes of this discussion only, I’ll label the partisan philosophy as the Idealists and the more thoughtful philosophy as the Realists. After Flake announced in October 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year, his criticisms of Trump have brought these two opposing camps into clearer focus.
From: Flake’s fight with Trump: how rightwing pundits saw the latest Republican scrap – Jeff Flake’s broadside at the president prompted some sympathy from elements on the right – but the Trump sycophants were predictably outraged
Flake’s broadside brought a range of reactions across the political spectrum. The sharp divergence on the right displays a breach that, almost a year since Trump was elected, looks less likely than ever to be mended.
It may be too crude to simply characterize the two camps as vaguely principled conservatives on the one hand, and Trump waterboys on the other. It’s increasingly clear, though, that for the latter group, nothing Trump says or does, and no criticism of him, however well-founded, will change their minds.
From: Jeff Flake Hints at the T-Word – The retiring Arizona senator criticizes President Trump like no other Republican. On Thursday, he accused the commander in chief of “giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy.”
The Arizona senator’s outspoken turn against the president began in a moment of political freedom: Flake announced last October that he would not seek reelection this fall and did so with a broadside on the Senate floor against what he called “the daily sundering of our country.” He is the exception that proves the rule in Republican politics—a senator who escalated his fight against the president only after liberating himself from its inevitable electoral consequences.
Flake’s willingness to confront Trump rhetorically has heartened some Democrats but frustrated many others. They see a senator who takes comfort in speaking but refuses to act, too reluctant to use the source of power he’ll relinquish next year—his vote. Flake has threatened to hold up legislation and nominations in the past. But he has folded easily, first when he supported the Republican tax bill in December in exchange for an immigration commitment that never materialized, and more recently when he held up judicial nominations only to relent in exchange for a nonbinding vote on trade.
Consequently, Idealist Republicans and Democrats are both essentially asserting the same thing – that Kavanaugh’s nomination will be confirmed and that nothing can stop it. Realist Republicans and Democrats are also saying something similar with each other – that his confirmation is not inevitable and that the process must play out first. The contrast between these two philosophies comes down to one critical difference – whether or not politicians are capable of taking principled stands against the unethical actions of their political allies and associations.
There is no doubt that the worsening cultural polarization in America today makes such political bravery less likely. Flake himself admitted this on Sunday when he said in the 60 Minutes interview that his decision to demand a supplemental FBI investigation of Kavanaugh would not have been possible if he was still running for reelection. However, no matter how polarized the country becomes, there will always be some people who won’t bend to the pressure. Furthermore, this aspect of human nature undoubtedly was a factor in Flake’s decision not to seek reelection. With that burden relieved, he enabled himself to publicly oppose – rhetorically, at least – those actions by Trump which he saw as unethical.
There is also no doubt that other people with the independent conviction of Flake work within the U.S. government. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian meddling and collusion in the 2016 presidential election (which Trump vehemently opposes), immediately comes to mind. And, he is a Republican like Flake. It is these people upon whom the fate of America’s democracy and rule of law depends. But, no matter how resolutely such people persevere, there is no guarantee they will succeed.
The ultimate fate of Kavanaugh and Trump cannot be predicted. There are simply too many variables involved. These aren’t mathematical equations, they’re puzzles which cannot be fully seen until solved. Intuition, even if eventually proven correct, is never as credible as informed opinion; and, informed opinion is never as credible as objective analysis. The Idealists who insist they know what’s going to happen are only projecting their own preconceived notions which are born from emotion and not from reason.