Weighing the Cost of Disunity

Supreme Court Justice-to-Be Is a Case in Point

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch, OH

With the prospect of another Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice this year, the birds are coming home to roost in earnest. There will probably be no better time for some reflections on the cost of Democratic/progressive disunity.

In the past, when Republicans took the White House, the pragmatists on the left faulted the idealists for not getting behind the front-runner, while idealists faulted pragmatists for not voting their conscience and for supporting a party hack. Pragmatists countered that the idealist candidate was not mainstream enough to win the general election. Idealists begged to differ.

In the past, idealists sometimes even insisted there was no real difference between the candidates of the two major parties. This time around, it’s self-evident that this argument has not one shred of credibility. This time around, both pragmatists and idealists were so depressed by the election’s outcome that the traditional posturing and finger-pointing was replaced by stunned commiseration. How, then, did we allow this to happen?

When I visited the Democratic headquarters in Santa Barbara during the 2016 general election, the people I met there didn’t want to talk about Hillary Clinton. They were all about the Salud Carbajal campaign. They refused a donation for the presidential campaign, telling me to donate on Hillary’s website. Their helpfulness did not extend to telling me URL of the website — not a problem for me, but how would they know that? Why would they assume it, unless they just didn’t care?

Think about that: they turned away a donation. If there’s a worse sign of organizational dysfunction, I don’t know what it is.

While I was there, I asked for a Hillary bumper sticker, but they had none. And they were far from apologetic about it. In case you wondered why Hillary bumper stickers were so rarely seen during the campaign, this might give you an inkling. But then, 99.9 percent of Democrats and progressives who read this didn’t have Hillary stickers on their cars. So you tell me: why not? Did you really not care? Do you still feel that way today? Do you truly think your malaise was justified by the fact that Santa Barbara, like most of California, was “safe” for Hillary?

Pundits are now predicting a rightward tilt of the Supreme Court. “Tilt” is far too gentle a word. The worst-case scenario will be a rightward plunge: Two centuries of liberal progress in the law of the land will be swept away by activist Supreme Court justices who hide behind their myth of constitutional “originalism.” They care less about the intent of the Constitution’s framers than they do about returning society itself to some ideal golden age: an age when no bounds were placed on the self-interest of the wealthy, on the lordly prerogatives of the “white” race, on the subjugation of women, or on the alienation of gender-nonconforming persons from the rights of citizenship.

Republicans have shown they will rally behind a leader whose person embodies the antithesis of many of their most cherished values, as long as this will bring them to power. I would never advocate such cynicism to my fellow progressives; but if we can’t learn from the self-inflicted disaster of the 2016 presidential campaign and knit up our alliance into a working whole, then we must resign ourselves to a very grim future.


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