October 27, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
231,000 dead Americans is a small price for the GOP to pay for 1 Supreme Court justice
This is the biggest story of the 2020 election.
I’m going to assume for a moment that Joe Biden wins the election in order to say something related to Amy Coney Barrett, the newest justice to sit on the US Supreme Court, giving the Republicans the 6-3 supermajority they have desired for decades.
I’m going to assume Biden wins in order to offer a prediction: that at some point in the future, we’ll look back to see what the biggest story of the 2020 election was. That story, I suggest, is the Republican Party, seizing a golden opportunity, trading short-term control of one branch of the federal government for long-term control of another. That story is of a Republican Party buying power with the bodies of dead Americans.
Legislation that could bring relief to millions sits ignored in the US Senate while 52 “constitutional conservatives” celebrated their dominion over the land over laughs.
The price came not only in the form of a sacrificial president who could not govern his way out of a brown paper bag. The price came in the form of blood and treasure. At the same time that the Republicans were high-fiving each other in the White House Rose Garden, more than 231,000 were dead from the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, as they profaned a solemn swearing-in, legislation that could have brought relief to millions sat in the US Senate. It was ignored. Meanwhile, 52 “constitutional conservatives” celebrated their dominion over the land over laughs and drinks.
The Senate Republicans, I hope it will be clear in the coming months, made a choice. They could help Donald Trump win reelection by passing a stimulus bill worth more than $2.2 trillion in order help Americans struggling in a time of the covid. Or they could sacrifice him to take control of the high court while at the same time redigging ideological trenches. Joe Biden, as they knew, would be asking for trillions. They were prepared to worry about the debt. Susan Demas, top editor of the Michigan Advance, said today: “Austerity during a pandemic is a death sentence for thousands.” Months from now, we might look back to see that Demas was understating things greatly.
Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!
Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, said in his latest that voting for Trump this year was for conservative voters like raising a middle finger to democratic liberalism, or as he put it, “the whip hand in American culture.” He was wrong. Conservatives don’t need to vote for Trump to do that. The middle finger was raised on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, when the Republican Party gave up all pretense to being committed to the republic, and put everything into domination by force of law.
Saying Lowry was wrong gives him too much credit, though. It’s been obvious for years that, in practice, “conservatism” never meant what people like Lowry said it meant. It has always been a middle finger to the slow, mixed up and complicated drift of modernity. “Conservatism” doesn’t stand for things. It stands against things, especially when those things threaten the old orders of power. When Republicans say that Barrett interprets “the Constitution as written,” they’re saying she makes space for things American democracy has rejected. They’re saying long-term control of minoritarian institution means a political minority can impose its political will on everyone else and, thanks to life-time appointments, never face consequences.
Liberals used to think of the Supreme Court as a friend. It was, after all, the court that decided Brown, Griswold, Roe, Obergefell, and other cases that stood against bigotry and discrimination and stood for democracy and freedom. That court, in the minds of liberals, stood on “the right side of history.” That court, liberals now understand, is gone. Professor Garrett Epps, for the Washington Monthly, wrote this about Barrett’s confirmation: “As this vile mummery played out, I mourned—not for the first time—the idea of a Court that was property of the nation, not of party; that sought justice, not ideological advantage; that earned a nation’s respect, not its gaping horror.
“We shall not look upon its like again.”
Which brings me back to my thought experiment. Most people don’t know what to do about the court, whether to expand it, rotate justices, limit their terms, or strip its power. What people should know, when it’s made clear, is the choice the Republicans made to arrive at this point. They didn’t choose the public, the common good, or even due process. They didn’t even choose, assuming Biden wins, to support their own president. They chose to smash and grab—smash all the rules and grab power, while hoping no one notices until months from now when it’s too late to do anything.