October 15, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
For GOP, the highest taboo is no longer
Treason is what you do when democracy gets in the way.
There’s something we would all agree on if we were honest with ourselves. The confirmation of Appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s third life-time appointment to the United States Supreme Court, is itself an act of betrayal. The Republicans played by one set of rules to block Barack Obama’s final nominee. They rewrote the rules for Donald Trump. With Barrett, the Republicans will have a third branch of government with which to veto the people’s will. They will have enshrined autocratic rule over a system of republican government premised on democratic rule. You might cheer. You might say huzzah! You must concede, however. This is treason.
Treason, though subliminal throughout Senate confirmation hearings, was apparent once you saw the indicators. Chief among them was the nominee herself. Barrett made news this week in ways no past nominee made news. She refused to commit to moral, legal and constitutional positions every past nominee committed to or was presumed to be committed to—it went without saying in a free republic. Not Amy Coney Barrett, though. Can the president pardon himself? She wouldn’t say. Can the president delay national elections? She wouldn’t say. Is voter intimidation illegal? She wouldn’t say. (Fact check: Yes, it is.) Would she recuse herself if the president threw the election to the Supreme Court? She wouldn’t say. Is Medicare constitutional? She wouldn’t say.
Barrett raised doubts about her commitment to a democratic political order. And she made negotiable something that should be the highest taboo: betrayal of the country.
These were the softest of softball questions. In the context of the American tradition, in which powers are separated, and individuals protected from government power by way of guaranteed civil liberties, these were like asking if the sky were blue. But this nominee, knowing her chief obstacle to the court isn’t the Senate Democrats, who are outnumbered, but a president with an id of onion skin, dodged super-easy questions every predecessor would have answered freely. In the process, she achieved two things. She raised doubts about her own commitment to a democratic political order. And she made negotiable something that should be the highest taboo: betrayal of the country.
Barrett isn’t alone. She operates within a GOP apparatus that is itself bent toward treason. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that Senate Republicans are now preparing to sabotage the next administration. Should he defeat Trump, Joe Biden has said he will ask the US Congress for trillions to combat the pandemic and revive an economy on the brink of collapse. A GOP strategist said the Republicans are “carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.”
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Put another way, the Republicans are hoping they can do to Biden what they did to Barack Obama. When they took the House in 2010, they doubled down on austerity, claiming the country was too broke to counteract the fallout from the 2007-2008 financial and housing panic. The Republicans, in other words, hurt the economy in order to hurt Obama. It didn’t work. He was reelected in 2012. But Obama was one of the lucky ones. Millions of Americans, including Republican voters aplenty, felt more economic pain than they might have had the GOP acted out of love for the whole country. Treason is what you do when democracy itself is an obstacle to winning.
While treason may yield short term gains, it can’t long term. Your sins will find you out. Rudy Giuliani supplied the New York Post this week with a hard drive containing apparently forged documents. The tabloid claimed they proved Joe Biden as vice president protected his son from prosecution by Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. The report repeated a widely debunked claim Biden pushed the prosecutor out. Fact is, Biden was pushing the prosecutor to investigate the gas firm his son worked for, as part of a global anti-corruption effort. Meanwhile, the documents, according to the Times, might be traced back to the same Russians who hacked the DNC in 2016. If so, the president’s personal attorney and, therefore, the president himself, might be involved in yet another international criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people.
Yet this time, it didn’t work. The New York Post’s report was widely panned, and even Facebook and Twitter, understanding the national security stakes, restricted its circulation. Meanwhile, early voting is shattering records, suggesting a landslide victory for Biden, even as the GOP Senate hurries up to confirm Amy Coney Barrett before it’s too late. Nothing can be done for it. She will be confirmed. The court will be a 6-3 Republican supermajority. That’s what’s possible when treason is optional.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.