A Sad Step Backward

  Today the United States Senate, a deliberative body consisting of 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, approved the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme court. Kavanaugh was approved despite the fact that only 39% of Americans in a Gallup poll supported his confirmation. He was approved despite strong evidence that his temperament and political biases make him unsuitable for such an important lifetime appointment. He was approved despite several credible accusations of sexual assault against him. 

The bare majority of senate votes (50/48) which put him over the top obscures the injustice of this process and the undemocratic nature of our government today. 

Americans frequently claim to value democracy. They overwhelmingly support the idea that our government should reflect the beliefs and values of it’s citizens. We are far from that ideal today.

Brett Kavanaugh, when he is sworn in, will become the fourth justice on the U.S. Supreme Court to be nominated by a president who lost the popular vote. These four justices, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and now, Brett Kavanaugh, are all extremely conservative and do not, by any means, represent the beliefs of an American electorate who gave Al Gore 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000 nor the electorate who gave Hillary Clinton 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016. Indeed, Gorsuch’s seat was effectively stolen from a president who did win a majority of the popular vote (9.6 million vote margin in 2008 and 5 million vote margin in 2012). This unseemly and undemocratic action by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a disgrace. He prevented consideration of President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, for an entire year. 

It is high time that we Americans examined our “democracy” to see if it is, in fact, democratic. Kavanaugh was appointed by a minority president and confirmed by a “minority Senate.” What do I mean by that? Consider the following:

The current U.S. Senate has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (or independents who caucus with the Democrats). That must mean that Republicans won more votes in the election, right? Sadly, no. In the 2016 Senate elections across the country, Republicans won 40.4 million votes. Democrats won 51.5 million! So, if the U.S. Senate reflected, at all, the will of the American people, there would be 56 Democrats in the Senate and Obama’s Supreme Court Justice, Merrick Garland would be completing his second year on the court. If democracy mattered, President Hillary Clinton’s first nominee would be winning confirmation today by a comfortable margin.

The Senate itself, which confirmed Kavanaugh today, is ridiculously undemocratic. Let me explain. The state of Wyoming has 574,000 residents and 2 U.S. Senators. The state of California has 37,253,956 and, you guessed it, 2 U.S. Senators. That means that each California Senator represents 18.6 million people while each Wyoming Senator represents 287 thousand people. Is a Wyoming resident 64 times more important than a California resident? Is this fair? Is it right that a state with a population smaller than Milwaukee, Wisconsin can provide the votes necessary to put a firebrand conservative on the court against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans? 

Unsatisfied with their unfair advantage in Senate seats and, thus electoral votes, the Republicans have pursued every avenue available to them at the state level to disenfranchise minority voters and thus skew the results further. Their voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting are all thinly veiled attempts to repress Democratic turnout in elections by targeting traditional Democratic constituencies.

All these things have consequences. They make our society less fair. They delegitimize our democracy and the critical institutions of our government. They empower demagogues like Donald Trump. Our archaic electoral college system has now elevated a man to power who has little respect for our democracy or its institutions. He is, as concisely as I can put it, a bad man. He is a profane narcissist. He does not respect women. He does not believe in freedom of the press. He is a bully who empowers bullies. He beats up on the weak instead of protecting them. He enriches himself and his family at the expense of our nation.

He is a tax-cheating, draft-dodging, faux patriot who uses patriotism as a cudgel to beat down his political opponents yet is, somehow, idolized by flag-waving morons who couldn’t name one of their U.S. Senators, let alone a Supreme Court Justice.

He is a three-time philandering, porn star shtupping, prostitute paying, pussy grabbing ridiculer of sex-crime victims. He has somehow hoodwinked the fundamentalist, evangelical Christians in this country. These are the Christians who devoutly study the Bible yet recognize no contradiction between the cruel, violent, hateful, arbitrary God of Leviticus and the loving, kind, protector of the poor and downtrodden upon whose name their religion is built. These so-called “Christians” wouldn’t invite this immoral man over to their house for dinner yet voted for him to be the leader of the free world. They chose him to be America’s example of propriety because they hoped he would punish unwed teenage mothers and homosexuals. 

And… he is a spoiled and coddled New York billionaire who rode in a limousine to school, poops in gold toilets, and built his largely inherited “empire” on strategic bankruptcies which screwed his creditors, contractors, and low-wage employees. Still he somehow manages to get the vote of poor, downtrodden West Virginia coal miners who, if they showed up at Trump Tower, would be quickly and unceremoniously escorted off the property. 

This is where we stand today in our democracy, in our America. And now the “minority” Republicans, who lack any kind of shame or decorum or sense of fairness have elevated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court for the rest of his life – and he is 53. 

Does it matter, any of this, to the average American? It does! It really does! It matters in real and concrete ways to real people. 

I am reminded today of the Supreme court case Obergefell vs. Hodges. You may not know the case by name. It is better known as the Same-Sex Marriage ruling. It is the ruling which finally offered dignity and respect and the promise of America to gay and lesbian Americans. It was a wonderful and essential bend in what Martin Luther King Jr. called “The arc of the moral universe.”

And Obergfell was decided 5-4 with the conservatives on the wrong side of history and the deciding vote cast by Anthony Kennedy whose humane and logical ruling changed life in this country for a persecuted minority. Today, the “minority” Republicans in the Senate replaced the moderate and sensible Kennedy with another firebrand conservative appointed by a minority president. Obergefell would never have happened today. Homosexuals would still be denied their fundamental civil rights if that case came before the court tomorrow morning. 

It matters! 

In honor of this sad, infamous day I will here re-run the blogpost I made on the day Obergefell was decided, June 26, 2015. The title of this piece was A Step Forward. I hope it will give you pause when you go into the voting booth in a few weeks. I hope it makes you think about our democracy and our America and what Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys have done to it.

 

 

A STEP FORWARD

     Four years ago, when it became legal in Illinois, I had the honor of participating in the ceremony of civil union between my great friend and his long-time partner. My wife, our kids, and a small group of their friends and family assembled at the courthouse on a nice day in July.  It was a lovely day, and it was a lovely and dignified event. As they offered their vows, their little boy stood with them. They exchanged rings and said the words that we all know by heart and we signed papers signifying our witness to the event. 

     And then we went home and they went home and began the commonplace work and extraordinary joy of married life together. They have built a wonderful life in the intervening years, making a home, raising two bright and outgoing boys, advancing their careers, struggling through some serious medical issues, and doing all of those things which my wife and I have done and which all married couples who stay together must do. 

     And I remember thinking as we drove home from the courthouse that day that I could not understand how anyone could object to the thing we had all just been a part of.  I, who want to think the best of people and their motivations, decided that anyone who objected to this ceremony simply did not understand it. Any kind and thoughtful and, yes, Christian, person could not oppose this wonderful thing except through ignorance. 

     We all fear the unknown. We all are apprehensive about things which seem foreign to us. But I am here to tell you, as someone who has seen and participated in this joyful event, that gay marriage is not scary. It is not weird or foreign or disrespectful. It is the most normal thing in the world to want to build a life with the person you love. 

     This is a fundamentally good thing. It is good for families and it is good for children and it is good for our society. It is fair and right to afford the same opportunity for joy (or misery, as a divorced friend reminds me) to gay couples that the rest of us take for granted. And it is, I think, another step in the long march of civilization. It demonstrates that we continue to create a kind and humane society in the United States where dignity is respected and diversity is honored. 

     To all who are afraid of gay marriage I tell you that the earth will not fall out of its orbit because of this. The economy will not crash and our republic will not be brought to its knees. What will happen is that there will be more happiness in the world and more dignity and more understanding.  And, wonderfully, there will be one more group of our friends and neighbors who can happily move from the category “them” into the category “us.” To me, that is what the United States is supposed to be. 

by: Dustin Joy

Getting Frosty in Hell: I back a Trump Decision…sort of

You might want to sit down for this. I’ll just come right out and say it. I have decided to endorse a decision Donald Trump made. I can hardly believe it myself. I can assure you it is not because I agree with Trump’s odious world view or wish to associate myself with some of the hateful xenophobes who voted for him. Indeed, when I consider Trump I am most nearly in agreement with the assessment of the author Philip Roth who has said:

“Trump is ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art. He is incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance. He is destitute of all decency. He wields a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

I object to many things Donald Trump has said and done. I need not belabor my disgust with regard to his treatment of women, his demonization of immigrants, or his enabling of racists. His transparent effort to destroy critical government agencies which promote education, protect our environment, and insure worker safety are just plain despicable.

But what really sticks in my craw is this; Trump appeals to people’s ignorance. He denigrates experience. He undermines science. He has suggested, over and over again, in subjects as varied and complex as climate, medicine, foreign policy, and trade, that his judgement trumps the experts.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’ll let Trump speak for himself:

 

“I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.”

“I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.”

“Nobody knows politicians better than Donald Trump.”

“Nobody knows more about debt. I’m like the king.”

“Nobody knows banking better than I do”

“I understand money better than anybody. I understand it far better than Hillary.”

“I think nobody knows the system better than I do.”

“I know more about contributions than anybody.”

“Nobody knows more about trade than me.”

“Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

“I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me.”

“There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.”

“I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I’m the one who can truly fix them,”

“If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, they have no future! I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.”

 

The last absurdity is the cherry on top, of course, but altogether these quotes accurately represent a dangerous man. I have always been uneasy around people who are absolutely sure of themselves and their own judgement. They are dangerous whether they be religious zealots who are certain that God hates the same people they do (what a coincidence) or the “free market” apostles who want to outlaw the fire department because it is “Socialism!”

Well, I believe in experts. I believe in eggheads and poindexters and squares. I believe in people who read books and do research and carry out experiments. I place my trust in people who dedicate their lives to the acquisition of knowledge and mastery of skills.

When I need a surgeon to cut open my brain and remove the tumor I want a serious intellect on the job, not some good old boy who spends his evenings parked in front of a television with a brewsky in his hand. When my plane leaves the ground and soars seven miles into the air I want an expert at the controls. I want a pilot who understands Bernoulli’s Principle, not the guy who stayed at the Holiday Inn Express last night. And when my government has to make a decision about the efficacy of vaccinating kids for polio I want a PhD scientist on the case who has dedicated her life to studying infectious disease and not some Hollywood actress or reality TV star.

I believe global warming is real. Why do I believe this? Is it because I have carried out extensive experiments incorporating ice core analysis, satellite observations, expeditions to the south pole, and excruciatingly detailed number crunching? No. I have not done these things. But, you know what, there are people who have. They are called scientists. They work at top universities and government agencies. They have decided it. The evidence is in. All major scientific bodies in the United States whose work pertains to climate science have concluded that global warming exists and that human activities are a cause. These include NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Science, the American meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

These are experts. These are scientists and policy wonks who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of truth no matter where it leads. If you really believe that Donald Trump knows more than they do about our climate you need to crinkle some tinfoil onto your antenna, buddy, because you are getting some serious static. (Sorry, for those of you born after 1990 an antenna is a small array of aluminum rods wired to a television or radio in order to … okay, for those of you born after 1995 a radio is a …..oh, to hell with it.)

The organizations who deny this evidence, for the most part, are business entities who stand to lose money if action is taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That is called a conflict of interest and, under President Trump, these folks are the foxes who guard the henhouse. The new Secretary of Energy is Texas governor Rick Perry, an oil industry backer from an oil-rich state. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt from Oklahoma is, you guessed it, an oil industry backer from an oil-rich state. Trump’s Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson who was CEO of ExxonMobil for ten years. It is easy to discern a pattern here.

As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” It would be one thing if Trump’s conflict of interest burdened cabinet came out and gave speeches saying global warming was a hoax. Everyone can express such uninformed opinions in a free society. What is absolutely unacceptable is what they have done, instead. They have put an end to climate research by gutting research budgets. This is not seeking truth. This is a child sticking his fingers in his ears to avoid hearing the truth. That’s tolerable for an individual. That is horrible for a democracy.

So, given all that, what Trump decision am I willing to ratify and support? Here it is. Drum role please:

I think the U.S. Senate should confirm the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. I think the Democrats in the Senate should vote to approve him despite the Republicans disingenuous refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote.

I have three reasons for this. First, I think the Democrats should live up to their Constitutional responsibilities in a way that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans would not. It is a bummer to lose in politics. It stinks to have your bitter political rival win a round and get to steer things the way he wants. It would be satisfying to plant our feet on the ground, cross our arms, and, without regard to principle, simply oppose every action Trump takes, just like the Republicans have done for the last eight years.

Mitch McConnell said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” You will notice he did not say “to serve the American people or to uphold the Constitution.” As the absolute type specimen of the self-serving, opportunistic politician McConnell abandoned even Republican ideas whenever they were adopted by the President. The Obamacare insurance mandate famously condemned now by Republicans as some kind of Communist plot was, actually, (whisper) a Republican idea. As I said in my last Trump essay Republicans used to be the party of shouldering your responsibility and eating your vegetables; not so much anymore.

The second reason I can and do support the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is the same one which prevents me from supporting Pruitt, Perry, DeVos, and, indeed Trump himself. Gorsuch is an expert. He is an egghead. He is a thoughtful, intelligent, and serious man who I just don’t agree with very much. He is not a political hack now, even if he might have flirted with that category in his youth.

I have read extensively about Judge Gorsuch, have studied some of his rulings, and watched much of his confirmation hearing. As a Liberal I am, of course, concerned about Gorsuch’s family history. His mother, Ronald Reagan’s EPA Director, was indeed an ideologue and a political hack devoted to destroying the agency she was tasked to lead. I could never have supported her confirmation.

I am also troubled by Gorsuch’s record in George W. Bush’s Justice Department. His role in justifying the use of torture and encouraging Bush’s questionable “signing statements” gives me pause. Gorsuch has replied that he was just doing his job. That, of course, is the well rehearsed line of the scoundrel, but it is also, to some degree, defensible. To succeed in Washington, at least to the level where you might be on someone’s short list to be a Supreme Court Justice, you must have established some political relationships and have found some backers. It appears that Gorsuch did this by working a mid-level job on Bush’s team.

Also, I say naively, people can change. People can mature. People can rise to the challenge of new professional responsibilities. I believe judge Gorsuch may have done so. For ten years he has been a Federal Judge and, by all accounts, he has been a fair one. Is he a conservative? I’m pretty sure he is. Does he advocate strict constructionism? Probably. Do I wish we could have Merrick Garland, instead? Sure I do. But, that brings me to the last of my three reasons.

We have very little choice. Due to the (Let’s be generous here and call it poor judgement) of a few thousand people in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania we have President Trump. Due to the poor judgement of a few thousand people in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania we have a Republican U.S. Senate. Replacing Scalia with Gorsuch, in my opinion is a small move in the right direction (possibly a very small one). There is not a great deal we can do to stop it since the Republicans hold all the cards.

A bigger catastrophe, from a Liberal point of view, would be the retirement of Justice Ginsburg under these circumstances. Political capital and the good will of the American people are real things, like it or not. If we fight Gorsuch to the bloody end and lose anyway we may not have anything left to fight Trump should worse come to worst.

So, based on my analysis, can we oppose Pruitt and Perry and DeVos and still support Gorsuch’s confirmation? I think we can. They are ideologues who claim to know more than the experts. We may not agree with Gorsuch about everything, but he is a serious expert on the law who takes the law seriously. That may be all we can hope for and all we need. Many of the “Conservative” Justices appointed to the court by Republicans, if they are serious men and women who respect the law, have a funny way of finding the middle ground when liberated by their lifetime appointments. I am thinking of Justice Blackmun, Justice Souter, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Kennedy. I have no way to be sure, but I think Gorsuch might have that potential.

 

by: Dustin Joy