So now it is official: The same Republican senators who in 2016 refused to consider Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court because, with eight months to go, it was supposedly too close to the presidential election, have now confirmed Amy Coney Barrett with just eight days left before the election.
This is so unprincipled, so inconsistent and so cynical that it defies the imagination. It is the flip-flop of the century, undertaken by the Republicans for one reason: Barrett’s confirmation ensures a conservative majority on the high court for the foreseeable future.
But here is one good thing that could come of this shameful episode. With millions of people still casting their votes before Nov. 3, perhaps the Barrett confirmation will open Americans’ eyes, once and for all, and show them who they’re dealing with. Perhaps it will persuade them to reject the radical and hypocritical Senate Republicans at the polls.
Barrett’s confirmation, after all, is only one of many irresponsible moves by the Senate majority, led by the craven Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who long ago threw his lot in with President Trump. In recent years, he and his caucus have grown not just more extreme in their ideology but more unscrupulous in their tactics.
Not only did they refuse a hearing to Garland (giving that seat instead to Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch), but not long after, McConnell and his colleagues rammed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination through without a comprehensive investigation of the sexual assault allegations against him.
The Senate majority also slow-walked the confirmation of lower court judges during the final years of the Obama administration — and then sped them up when Trump came into office.
The Senate majority ignored evidence, disregarded facts and refused to hear additional witnesses before acquitting Trump in a half-baked impeachment trial in February, thereby giving the imprimatur of the upper house to the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors.
Senate Republicans have refused to stand up to Trump as he politicized every part of the government from the post office to the census to the Justice Department, and even as he turned the conduct of American foreign policy to his own political ends.
And they did virtually nothing to stop further Russian interference in American elections.
Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has identified some of the factors that have driven congressional Republicans to the right over the years and encouraged their take-no-prisoners approach to politics. He cites the no-tax pledge promulgated by conservative activist Grover Norquist and the anti-Washington animus fostered by Newt Gingrich. There was the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater to win white votes in the Southern states.
And there’s been the slow but steady disappearance of liberal and moderate Republicans.
In 2012, Ornstein, along with Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution, called the Republican Party “ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.” Today, Ornstein says the problem is worse. “Now it’s not a party but a cult.”
The GOP today is the anti-immigration party, the party of racial division and the party of Trump. It has squandered any reputation it may once have had for principled fiscal conservatism, presiding over costly and irresponsible tax cuts designed to win votes. It largely rejects bipartisanship, as we saw clearly during the Obama administration.
Democracy only works when rules and norms are in place. It only works when the parties compromise through a process of discussion, deliberation and voting.
Unquestionably, both political parties have made bad decisions over the years; both are susceptible to the tugs of partisanship. Democrats and Republicans alike have engaged in tit-for-tat tactics that make compromise more difficult.
For me, though, the turning point was the mistreatment of Merrick Garland. The Republicans flatly blocked an elected president from exercising his constitutional duty to name a new justice.
That was shocking enough. But now, with the Barrett confirmation, they’ve brazenly reversed their own logic, proclaiming their hypocrisy for the world to see.
That kind of disingenuous politics needs to be rejected.
Over time, the U.S. needs to rebuild a system that allows men and women of different parties, ideas and ideologies to work together in good faith to solve the serious problems facing the country.