Six years ago exactly, Democratic political activist Simon Rosenberg published an article in Letras Libres* analyzing the possibility of a victory for the Republican Party, then headed by Mitt Romney, in the presidential election in which Barack Obama was seeking a second term. For Rosenberg, who is an unusually perceptive guy, Romney’s potential triumph would have been dangerous because it would have opened the gates of power to a party that, according to Rosenberg, had gradually abandoned the fundamental principles of political civility and become some sort of reactionary monster with a total lack of interest in finding common ground with the Democrats, let alone in granting concessions.
I remember that the essay struck me as eloquent but excessive. In spite of everything, Romney did not seem the sort of radical figure that Rosenberg was worried about. In some ways he was the opposite: an ex-governor of a liberal state like Massachusetts who had supported moderate stances on various issues. In the end, however, Rosenberg’s essay turned out to be prophetic. Five years on, Romney’s party has become Donald Trump’s party and the Republicans have undergone a process of radicalization to the point of endangering the institutional stability of the United States.
The most recent example of this is the nomination of conservative judge, Brett Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court, where he is to occupy the seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy. The whole process has been unworthy of both the court itself and basic political decorum.
The problems did not begin with Kavanaugh. The Republicans began to turn their backs on the traditional process for replacing justices when they took the unjustifiable and absolutely anti-democratic decision to refuse to grant Judge Merrick Garland even the right to be heard after Obama chose him to replace the conservative Anthony Scalia, who died in February 2016, nearly a year before Obama left office. Despite the fact that Obama had every right to nominate Scalia’s successor, the Republicans evaded the responsibility of recognizing Garland’s candidacy on the absurd basis that it would be better to wait for the November election of the new president to prevent any misunderstandings. Garland never received the basic courtesy of a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Following Trump’s victory, this same committee wasted no time in extending a warm welcome to Neil Gorsuch, the conservative that the new Republican president had nominated to take Scalia’s place.
Following the sudden retirement of the moderate Kennedy, Trump and the Republicans were up to their old tricks again. This time, Trump nominated Kavanaugh, a judge who is even more conservative than Gorsuch. Given the proximity of this November’s elections – curiously, the Republicans were not scandalized by the fact that a president from their party nominated a replacement for the Supreme Court during an election year – the Republican senators and the White House acted quickly from the outset by trying to speed up the confirmation process. Unfortunately for Kavanaugh, he quickly became the center of a whopping scandal: At least three women − the first of whom is a renowned academic named Christine Blasey Ford − accused him of having sexually assaulted them during Kavanaugh’s late adolescent years. In the past, such serious allegations would have jeopardized the confirmation of the judge in question, or at least delayed it.
Not now and not with the current brand of the Republican Party.
Kavanaugh appeared at a hearing to respond to the accusations of Dr. Blasey Ford and behaved like the person he really is: a thoroughly partisan man disguised as a nonpartisan judge. Before the whole country, he accused the Democrats of conspiring against him. As he did this, he shouted and cried, like an adolescent throwing a tantrum. And this was not the worst of it. Several Republican senators, including veteran Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, also raised their voices, accusing the Democrats of conspiracy. “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” Graham said, apparently forgetting about the time he and others like him refused to even give Garland, Obama’s nominee, a hearing.
At the last minute, and in view of the clear indignation over the flaws in the nomination process, the White House agreed to a brief FBI investigation into the allegations made by Blasey Ford and at least one of the other women who are pointing the finger at Kavanaugh. I believe it will all be in vain. Unless something unexpected occurs, the Republicans will almost certainly proceed with the confirmation of their judge, despite the suspicion of sexual abuse and, perhaps worse still, the unmistakable partisanship he displayed while responding to his accuser.** For the Republicans, this party of reactionaries, the only thing that matters is having decades-long control of the Supreme Court, a development that will allow them, for example, to reverse federal legislation on abortion in the United States and achieve other similar conservative aspirations.
Little do they care if this costs them the legislative elections in November, or if Kavanaugh’s arrival costs them Trump’s re-election. Ultimately, control of the Supreme Court is a more worthwhile feat than any other. With respect to the culture war, it is a victory that would span decades. It remains to be seen how the electorate will react in the years to come, especially female voters, who have witnessed a man branded by allegations of sexual abuse (Trump) nominate another man accused of sexual abuse (Kavanaugh) with the specific intention of sabotaging the rights that women achieved with blood, sweat and tears decades earlier. If this does not bring about an earth-shattering eruption of political participation, nothing will.
*Translator’s note: Letras Libres is a Spanish-language monthly literary magazine published in Mexico and Spain.
**Editor’s note: Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 6, 2018, by a vote of 50-48.