When Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced that she was providing Republicans with the votes necessary to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, I imagine liberals felt something similar to the way that conservatives felt when the Democratic majority passed Obamacare.
After all, Obamacare was an unpopular piece of legislation — there were moments when it seemed in danger; conservatives rallied and placed their hopes on a handful of self-proclaimed centrist Democrats. In the end, it didn’t matter. All that mattered, conservatives were reminded, is that the party in power has the ability to impose its will on the rest of the nation, and the only way to change this is to win elections. The anger that followed fueled a Republican takeover of the House and, eventually, the Senate.
To conservatives, the confirmation of Kavanaugh is the culmination of a decadeslong quest to secure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court in the hopes of restoring a more faithful obedience to the Constitution. It is seen as a triumph over a nasty, coordinated attempt at character assassination, an all-too-familiar tactic deployed by the Left. Going back to Robert Bork, and on through Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada, Democrats have been vicious in efforts to block conservative judicial nominees, and this time, they failed.
It’s always important in politics, however, to consider how a major event is viewed by one’s opponents.
The liberal view of history is a tale of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pursuing an unprecedented campaign of obstruction as minority leader, regularly filibustering President Barack Obama’s nominees, thus forcing then-Majority Leader Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster to move certain candidates. Then, McConnell took things to a new level once Republicans took over the Senate by blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Adopting a “no hearings, no votes” strategy, McConnell kept a seat open for President Trump, who has now appointed two justices.
To liberals, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was another example of Republicans disregarding norms to advance their agenda, this time in the name of putting a lying partisan hack who more likely than not attempted to commit rape in the position of overturning hard-earned rights for workers, women, and minority groups. They, too, were disappointed when so-called centrist senators ultimately provided their party with the votes to make this happen.
The rage and anger that liberals feel right now will no doubt energize them in elections this November and beyond. True, conservatives are quite energized too, and it may take years before Democrats are back in full control of Washington, but given how political fortunes are always changing, it will inevitably happen someday. And when Democrats regain power, the collective liberal memory of the Kavanaugh fight is going to weigh very heavily on how they will behave.
[Also read: Top Dem: Trump, GOP must ‘pay a price for Kavanaugh’]
Just as conservatives have wanted Republicans to govern with the same ruthlessness that they attribute to the Left, liberals will demand that the Democratic Party go completely scorched-earth in order to achieve their agenda. Any reticence or talk of preserving “institutional norms” will be fiercely condemned by a ravenous base. There’s no reason to play nice with Republicans, liberals will argue to any wobbly Democrats.
In such an environment, ideas currently viewed as being outside the mainstream could become real possibilities — impeachment of sitting justices or the possibility of packing the court by expanding it to 11 or more. Similar efforts could be employed at the lower court level to undo the broader Trump-McConnell judicial legacy.
This anger will no doubt manifest itself in other ways — providing more force, for instance, to liberal arguments in favor of ending the legislative filibuster to achieve the broader liberal agenda — $15 minimum wage, guaranteed jobs, universal free college, socialized healthcare, carbon controls, broader immigration, higher tax rates, and so on.
Of course, whatever Democrats attempt while they are in power will inevitably trigger an equal and opposite reaction, fueling another round of conservative anger and Republican rule.
Once Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations became public, it was inevitable that the ramifications of an already-bitter Supreme Court fight would be felt for decades. The nature of the charges (recounted in heartfelt, emotional testimony, but involving an incident from 36 years ago that lacked contemporaneous corroboration), was never going to be conclusively proven or disproven, meaning it was always going to end with both sides feeling a grave sense of injustice. This feeling was always going to be more pronounced on the losing side.
Over the past several decades, partisan wars have unceasingly escalated, even when the nation has been led by presidents who ran vowing to be uniters. The federal government and its courts exert vast central power over states and individuals, even as stark regional differences have become more pronounced and entrenched. From this vantage point in history, it’s hard to see how this cycle stops, or to imagine where the nation ends up if it does not.