July 31, 2018
My computer crashed early this month. I now have a new one, and someday I may learn how to use it. It has (ugh) Windows 10, and other innovations. It s amazing that every “improved” software requires not only learning new methods but unlearning the useful old ones. Continuity is not a priority.
In contemporary politics, however, continuity definitely is present. The events of the past few weeks, however stunning, have fit the existing pattern: the rush to turn the country into a backward, isolated autocracy. Let’s begin with that former bulwark against corruption, the Supreme Court.
Justice Kennedy announced his retirement. He has been celebrated as a swing Justice, the implication being that replacement by a conservative would be a disastrous change. As to some issues, the change indeed may be for the worse, but in general it would be business as usual.
Kennedy’s status as a disinterested jurist disappeared in 2000 with his vote, the crucial fifth, to award the presidency to George W. Bush. Bush had lost the popular vote, so ensuring that the electoral count was made fairly was critical, and that hinged on the Florida recount. The Court halted it, giving Florida’s electoral votes, and the Presidency, to Bush. Kennedy’s retirement prior to this year’s election, handing the replacement to Trump and the Republican Senate, confirms his political orientation. Trump’s nominee to replace Kennedy, Brett Kavanaugh, represented Bush in the Florida case, bringing matters full circle.
Kennedy authored one of the worst opinions since, well, Bush v. Gore, in Citizens United v. FEC. By any standard — legal reasoning, use of precedent, common-sense logic or real-world implications — the opinion is a travesty of jurisprudence. It is, in short, a surrender to corporations and to the power of money in politics. Another attack on free, democratic elections came in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. The majority opinion, in that case written by Roberts, joined by Kennedy, again is one which cannot withstand scrutiny. He joined the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller which gave Constitutional sanction to a distorted and dangerous view of “gun rights.”
And so on. Kennedy’s replacement might well follow a similar pattern.
President Trump went to Helsinki to meet Putin, for reasons known only to them; certainly there was no likely advantage to the country Trump allegedly represents. In a post-meeting joint press conference, he confirmed, underlined, made embarrassingly clear his regard for and subservience to the Russian dictator. That, combined with his attacks on NATO, the EU and the G7, make clear that he cannot be trusted with our interests or those of our allies.
Back home, reading a script, he attempted to explain away one of his pro-Putin, Russia-didn’t-interfere remarks. It deservedly fell flat, and did nothing to silence criticism. Revealing again his thin skin, Trump then acted in typically childish fashion by threatening to remove security clearance from his critics. Putin has invited Trump to another meeting, which no doubt would be another disaster.
The President and the leader of Iran engaged in a battle of words, Trump’s of course being on Twitter (in all caps, showing that he really, really means it), the principal effect of which was to demonstrate that neither of them should be in charge of policy.
Many immigrant children and parents remain apart, and some never may be united. Yes, there is continuity.