October 30, 2016
It’s Not Just Trump
The most disturbing development in our country, one that has become increasingly manifest, is the disavowal on the part of powerful politicians and ordinary citizens of the basic compact of our society –– the understanding that, though our views may vary across a wide spectrum, noble and peaceful civil disobedience in extraordinary circumstances excepted, we all will observe and respect the Constitution and the rule of law.
That this bond holding our democracy together has been eroding became starkly evident when Republicans began asserting that they would do whatever they could to prevent the administration of President Obama from succeeding: that instead of seeking to achieve what would be best for our country, they would seek to achieve what would be best for themselves and their Party. In the service of this rank philosophy they tried to extort concessions from the opposition by withholding expenditures for the ordinary functioning of government, they blocked responsible judicial, diplomatic, and administrative appointments, they refused to bring important bills to vote, they abused filibustering privileges, and, on the State level, they gerrymandered Congressional districts and imposed voting restrictions targeting citizens likely to vote for opposition candidates.
These affronts to our democracy were more than bad enough, yet the trend toward undercutting the American compact intensified even more this year. The refusal of the Republican senators to hold hearings on the nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court is a blatant abnegation of Constitutional responsibilities. Every day it seems to become more normal –- we ignore it as if it were a natural condition of political life. In fact, every day it becomes less normal, more unacceptable, and more appalling.
Two prominent Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John McCain, have asserted that Republicans should block any Supreme Court appointment by Hillary Clinton. Trump, the Republicans's chosen candidate, has taken gross lawlessness and contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law to an even more extreme level, most recently (i) claiming that, if he loses the election it will be because it was rigged, (ii) encouraging his supporters to intimidate citizens likely to vote against him, and (iii) asserting that he would not acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome unless he wins. In an endless succession of appalling utterances and actions he has given the clearest possible signals of his contempt for truthfulness, decency, and the rule of law. If elected, it is certain that he will follow the example of his role model, Vladimir Putin, and try to impose on America Putin-style dictatorial rule. Who would stop him? We've seen not the slightest indication that it would be Ted Cruz and John McCain or the feckless Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
That Trump hasn’t been unequivocally repudiated by most Republican politicians is itself a marker that American Democracy is in steep decline. In 2010 the historian Tony Judt titled the last book he wrote, Ill Fares the Land. It’s a characterization that is painfully apt today.