Over at The Week, I offer a caution against liberals who are ready to delegitimize the Supreme Court now that a conservative majority is firmly entrenched.
Another problem with the delegitimization agenda: It mostly works if you are in control of one of the other two branches of government. At this moment, undermining the authority of the Supreme Court means empowering a White House and Congress that are both held by Republicans. Maybe that changes after next month’s midterms, maybe it doesn’t. A conservative court may be just a minor obstacle to President Trump’s plans, but it can still be an obstacle. Liberals surely don’t want to be part of inadvertently making life easier for Trump, do they?
The column appears the day after I tweeted this, and found my timeline packed with angry liberals accusing me of surrendering to conservatives.
I was trying to caution against short-term “fixes” to our political situation that don’t solve anything over the long-term, but a lot of folks saw it otherwise. (Including, it seems, a lot of folks who think FDR succeeded in his own court-packing scheme. He didn’t.)
But in thinking through all of this I realized that in the Trump Era there are two kinds of “resistance”:
• There are those who think Trump is the culmination of our systems failing us, that our institutions were built to protect white male power and they have finally given us him, and through him, Brett Kavanaugh. If this is your point of view, your solution to Trumpism might be something like “burn it all down.”
• There are those who think Trump has shredded and attacked institutions that have protected rights and kept the peace for more than 200 years. If this is your point of view, then what you want to do is work to preserve and restore those institutions in what is hopefully a forthcoming, glorious post-Trump era.
I think … both sides are right. Or, at least, both have an important point to consider.
Yes, the system we live in was designed and built for a relatively small group of people, and today’s reactionaries are using that system for its original intended purpose. The institutions have evolved over the years, but extracting them entirely from those original purposes is a difficult, maybe impossible job.
On the other hand…
Those institutions have evolved. Fast enough, far enough? No. There’s much, much more work to be done, certainly, if we can get through the current Bad Times. But the Supreme Court that has made it possible for guns to proliferate in America also struck some of the earliest and most effective blows for racial and gay equality in this country.
Today is Columbus Day, also known as Indigenous Peoples Day. We are heirs to flawed origins. We are also heirs to people who took those flawed origins and worked mightily and sacrificed much over decades and centuries to make a more perfect union. Their work today is threatened as it hasn’t been for a long time.
Me, I think the myth of the Phoenix is just a myth. Fire usually destroys more than it creates. The Law of Unintended Consequences is a thing. The world is full of examples of bad regimes being torn own and replaced with something worse. Revolution is a tricky thing that doesn’t always go where you expect. Caution might be useful.
Stepping back: We’ve arrived at this moment on the Supreme Court because conservatives have been planning for it and working for it, even through setbacks, for more than 40 years — and they’ve done it in full view. Liberals, for whatever reason, didn’t do the same work on the other side. So while we should work as hard as we can to protect rights in the short-term, we should also be aiming to build our own long-term effort to compete with conservatives. Today didn’t happen last week; it’s been happening since 1980, at least. Our best solutions to that challenge will involve a similar commitment.
Where does that leave me? A resistance viewpoint that I think is somewhat radical in outlook – sympathetic to critiques made by minorities and feminists – while being somewhat conservative (in the sense of cautious, not in the sense of being right-wing) in my viewpoint on the best solutions and practices going forward.
There’s danger in becoming MLK’s famously ineffective “white moderate” from that stance, I realize. I don’t have all the answers. I’m wrong sometimes. So I’ll try to keep listening to people who have lived most intensely with injustice, and try to work for justice as best I can — and hope my best actually works for the good.