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Chaos Galore

Photograph Source: yashmori – CC BY 2.0

The pre-October surprise death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg worsened the divisive political nightmare of a nation struggling to cope with successive disasters while under minority rule by a president who can’t govern.

Her body wasn’t even cold before heartless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that his followers will vote on her replacement, violating a self-imposed 2016 rule that prohibited confirming a court nominee before a presidential election. He set the stage for an all-out battle between his Republicans and Democrats.

Of course, there’s a caveat. The rule applies only when the Senate and White House are controlled by different political parties. That was the case in 2016. Convenient loophole.

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the election of United States Supreme Court Justices,” Trump tweeted shortly after Ginsburg died. He wrote that Republicans should move on his nomination “without delay.”

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said in a statement, the epitome of hypocrisy.

Another conservative on the court would give the right-wing a 6-3 majority that could last for a generation or more, endangering Roe v. Wade, advances made in civil and LGBTQ rights and ensuring a closer embracing of corporations at the expense of regulations that hold them to account to the public. The political and cultural division of the country would become even more stark than it is now. Trump’s corrupt presidency already is closing in on autocracy and echoes fascism.

The loss of a liberal and the potential for the ascension of another conservative to the Supreme Court is a complication that occurs against a backdrop of a severely divided electorate; the battle for the court could help solidify voters’ choices in the coming election.

Much depends on the kind of country Americans want to live in:  continuance of the present regime that likely will damage to health care options for the elderly, the poor and the disabled and reduce Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs. Or do they want a Biden-led government that promises to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, expansion of Obamacare, free community colleges and security for what are known as entitlements.

These are hard, dark times brought on by an unforgiving president and an unbending Republican Senate that has refused to be more generous in relieving the damaging effects of the pandemic with more help for the millions of unemployed Americans.

To illustrate just how dark, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago said a poll this summer showed that only 14 percent of people described themselves as “very happy,” down from a previous low of 29 percent after the 2008 financial crisis, according to the columnist Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. This is far from a good sign and certainly can be attributed to the way this country has been managed for nearly four years.

“Donald Trump has been the worst president this country has ever had,” Steve Schmidt, a Republican who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said on MSNBC and Facebook. “. . . When you listen to the president, these are the musings of an imbecile. An idiot. His comportment. His actions. We’ve never seen a level of incompetence, a level of ineptitude so staggering on a daily basis by anybody in the history of the country whose ever been charged with substantial responsibilities . . .”

“It’s just astonishing that this man is president of the United States . . . And he’s brought death, suffering and economic collapse on truly an epic scale.”

Trump is no president. He is a would-be tinpot dictator masquerading as a leader who has absolutely no idea how to govern a country – he couldn’t qualify as dog catcher in Peoria – and is totally out of touch when responsible decisions need to be made during one of the worst cascading events in our peacetime history.

The biggest question that arises in the replacement for Ginsburg is whether McConnell’s 53-vote majority will be sufficient to confirm a third Supreme Court justice at a time when Trump is losing in national polls against Joe Biden. Two Republican women senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said they would not vote for a nominee so close to an election. We’ll see, particularly when it comes to wishy-washy Collins.

Democrats were swift to react to the threat of a Senate vote to replace Ginsburg, a stalwart liberal on the court for 27 years who pressed for women’s rights, earning her popularity that made her a virtual rock star.

“. . . There is no doubt – let me be clear – that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden said. There’s no guarantee of that.

Yet McConnell made it absolutely clear in March 2016 that he had no intention of honoring President Barack Obama’s choice for Supreme Court justice, Merrick Garland, with a Senate hearing to replace conservative Antonin Scalia.

The Kentucky Republican said in his home state in August 2016, “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.’” What a guy.

Obama, urging McConnell to do the honorable thing and stick to his precedent, said in a statement Friday night, “A basic principle of law – and of everyday fairness – is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous at the moment.” Fat chance.

The Democrats need to get as tough as McConnell.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair:

“Hover through fog and filthy air.”

– Macbeth, Act I, Scene 1

Richard C. Gross, a career journalist at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.

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