September 22, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The GOP’s one-sided war is over
Democratic partisanship isn't the problem. It's the solution.
US Senator Mitt Romney said this morning he’d consider voting for the president’s soon-to-be-announced US Supreme Court nominee. Precisely, he said he’d consider doing it this year. Some had hoped the moderate Republican from Utah would hold the line. After all, he voted to convict Donald Trump of one of two impeachment charges. With today’s news, those hopes are gone. The question, as I said Monday, wasn’t if the GOP would gain a 6-3 advantage on the high court. The real question was when: before Election Day or afterward, during the lame-duck session of the US Congress.
My guess is the lame duck. The president likely wants a loyal nominee installed before the presidential election in case the Supreme Court ends up deciding it. But Mitch McConnell likely prefers giving Republican voters, especially white evangelical Protestants and white conservative Catholics, more enticement to get out and vote for Trump. It doesn’t matter whether he thinks Trump will win. What matters is means, motive and opportunity. The lame duck gives democracy’s grave digger all three.
The choice ahead for the Democrats, with respect to the US Supreme Court, isn’t between partisanship and nonpartisanship. It’s between good and evil partisanship.
The other question was how the Democrats, especially white liberal voters, are going to react to defeat. That, however, is less important than whether there’s a reaction at all and how intense it will be. Historically, white liberals have had too much faith in the high court, and the reason for that, to put it plainly, was success. They still demarcate American political history into a series of landmark cases by which justice prevailed and the republic was redeemed. Black rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the rights to speech and assembly—these and more, in the white liberal imagination, were the winners while oppressors of the weak were the losers. The moral universe bends toward justice, Theodore Parker said. Absolutely. Except when it bends toward evil.
Liberal voters of all persuasions have also been historically quite conservative in that how political goals are achieved is as important as, or more important than, the goals themselves. Liberals, far more than authoritarian Republicans (for whom nothing is more important than winning), tend to value something other than winning. That might be historical, legal or institutional precedent, ramifications for future generations or basic concerns about morality, equity and the common good. Liberals typically will not take their own side in a fight, to paraphrase Robert Frost, unless circumstances force them to recognize an opponent who can no longer be tolerated. McConnell, though he is going to win in the near-term, may not understand, or care to understand, that the Republicans have been fighting a one-sided war that’s about to change radically.
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About to change radically—if white liberals, especially, understand the stakes. They used to believe partisanship was always bad. It should be avoided in the interest of preserving electoral gains, protecting liberal principles and defending the integrity of the democratic process. I hope they now understand, in light of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, that partisanship isn’t the problem. It’s the solution. Only with partisanship can the Democrats change a system currently giving the GOP the power to sabotage it. Only with partisanship can the Democrats liberate Americans under siege from a lethal virus, rescue the economy from collapse, restore public trust in the parties, institutions and the rule of law, and stop the highest court from bestowing legal rights and privileges to a white autocratic minority to the injury of a diverse egalitarian majority. The choice ahead for the Democrats, with respect to the Supreme Court, isn’t between partisanship and nonpartisanship. It’s between good and evil partisanship.
For the time being, I’m not as concerned about how Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and congressional Democrats will react to losing this Supreme Court confirmation as much as I am about their reacting in the most aggravated and dialectical terms possible. A president helped into office by a hostile foreign power is about to get a third chance at shaping American jurisprudence for two generations. The Democrats can quibble later about how. They must not quibble now about whether they should crush the Republicans in the name of God and country. Yes, there’s much to say about expanding the number of Supreme Court justices, expanding the number of lower courts, repealing lifetime appointments, or (my favorite) stripping justices of the power to decide which cases to hear. All of that is worth debating, but it’s not possible to debate any of that if white liberal voters, especially, do not recognize first that Republicans can no longer be trusted to act in good faith; and second, that the GOP’s power is proportional to white liberalism’s otherwise healthy reluctance to use power. They’ve been punching us in the face for years. The time has come to start punching back.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.