Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Tenuous contact with reason

The list of “deserves more attention, shouldn’t get lost, etc.” things is always too long any more. If I were to propose one more item, it would be the alarming reports of delayed ballot delivery in multiple swing states. Or at at any rate, reports which seem like they should be setting off alarms, though so far they seem not to be.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to maintain some distinction between what makes sense and what doesn’t, something which feels like it’s getting more needed and more difficult in the final stages of this quadrennial mass insanity we call a presidential election.

I don’t mean bullshit, in this case; that’s overwhelming as always, but selfish Republican senators like Susan Collins and John Cornyn e.g. are just lying and that’s terrible but also a constant.

On the other hand, I presume that Senator Chris Murphy meant well when he suggested that “because a statewide election in Texas is so expensive, the marginal value of every dollar donated is higher.” But I believe that is completely backward. Slightly less trivial, perhaps, Democrats as well as small-business advocates are now charging Republicans with doing harm by focusing on a Supreme Court appointment at the expense of relief legislation. That’s much the same argument that Republicans made in 2019—that Democrats were doing harm by focusing on impeachment instead of other “real” issues—and both instances seem dumb.

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Living atop a powder keg

“The weather was indeed fine, but thinking men and women were aware that Europe lived on a powder keg, and had for years.” James Stokesbury wrote this about summer 1914, in the opening paragraphs of A Short History of World War I, which I have read over and over.

I think about this lately, as well as a few words about the eve of another even larger convulsion: commenting about their respective countries in The Wind Rises, Castorp speaks very plainly to Jiro: “Japan is going to blow up. Germany will also blow up.”

For all that I go on about this theme, it feels like one thing to perceive such a course and quite another to process it and adapt one’s thinking accordingly. I may be making some progress. It seems more immediately real that America is living on a powder keg, which we should expect to blow up.

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Conceptual infrastructure failures

It’s possible for situation to be both terrible and ridiculous at once. This has indeed been the case almost constantly for America, for at least four years.

My awareness of this phenomenon, confronting us from almost every direction, has become overwhelming.

On one hand, things are absolutely abhorrent. Where to begin? The western U.S. is literally on fire, a pandemic has killed 200,000 Americans and climbing, and the president is an authoritarian raving monster who spends his time flying around the country for organized COVID-19 superspreader events, and encouraging Republicans’ frenzied effort to “get rid of the ballots” that might oblige them to cede power in any kind of functioning democracy; they’re clearly willing to destroy what remains of ours, and are preparing to install another radical partisan operative on the nation’s highest court.

Meanwhile everyone is screaming and e-mailing and deploying every cliché in the book—red alert, all hands on deck, etc.—and it feels equivalent to yelling “pull up, pull up!” when the plane’s engines have exploded and it’s in a tailspin trailing smoke and fire.

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The Political Crisis, January 2019 update

We’re about two years into the nightmare reality of Donald Trump’s presidency. An opposition party is about to take charge of the US House, breaking up the unified Republican control of Congress which has buttressed said nightmare reality. This seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the larger situation.

For better or for worse, though, I find that I have already written a lot of what I might say at this point. Overall I think my long-read assessment from late 2016 remains valid, particularly the emphasis on Trump as a symptom of the crisis more than its cause. My first thoughts on the midterms seem like they cover their significance fairly well: while they offer a measure of relief, it seems like mostly relief of symptoms. They don’t even solve the crisis—I think everyone anticipating that Trump is going away soon will be disappointed—let alone constitute solutions to the deeper long-term problems.

In terms of deeper solutions, the best evidence that I can see is the progress in overcoming gerrymandering. In the same year that Democrats miraculously won a House majority considered impossible under the 2011 maps, reformers made substantial progress toward a 2021 redistricting that is more fair rather than less. That’s meaningful, and positive.

Unfortunately this update also includes a number of cautions against optimism on that basis. As in the larger picture, it feels like progress to date has forestalled catastrophe in redistricting, but has not won the struggle. Detailing this could really be a separate post, so for the time being I will emphasize the serious threat of recent gains being reversed by the worsening situation in the federal judiciary.

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The US Supreme Court in the 21st Century

The phrase “Save SCOTUS” began appearing in my inbox and Twitter feed fairly regularly within a few days of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

I realize that it’s just a hashtag, probably grasped at in the same embarrassing, unplanned haste that has characterized most liberal response to a circumstance for which concerned parties should have had plans ready long before now.

Yet I believe that the phrase does, if only by accident, frame the related events much more aptly than most of its promoters have even considered.

We are in fact confronting the end of the US Supreme Court as it has existed for as long as I can recall. For those who wish that kind of institution to persist, the very last opportunity to save it is indeed quickly expiring.

Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court of the late 20th century is beyond saving, no matter who replaces Kennedy. Although that institution’s fundamental conservatism has resisted the changes around it for nearly two decades, a different Supreme Court is emerging in the 21st century, like it or not.

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