Republicans reestablish the patriarchy

The Thinker by Rodin

For Republicans, Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as the justice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court is like winning the Triple Crown. It’s the greatest news possible for them. This is because with Kennedy’s departure and Kavanaugh’s likely lifetime appointment, Republicans will finally formally control all three branches of government.

The Supreme Court though has always been the one that has mattered the most. It’s just that for decades it has teetered between liberal and conservative justices, with Justice Kennedy usually the one making the final say on controversial issues like gay marriage. Arguably Kennedy was our only truly impartial jurist. That should disappear if Kavanaugh dons those black robes, which means it will be rare at best to get rulings without a Republican take on the law.

Notice I did not say a conservative take on the law, because the so-called conservatives on the court have been anything but that lately, frequently breaking precedence with previous courts. Traditionally, conservatives have respected jurisprudence. Kavanaugh’s record as a judge shows little respect for precedence. He has argued that the president has no checks on his power other than impeachment and removal. This would be news to previous courts such as the one that required President Nixon to turn over tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor. A real conservative should deride any judge that thinks anyone is beyond the law, but that’s what Kavanaugh has argued about the president.

I hesitate to tell our Democratic senators to give up on opposing his nomination. He has at best a 1:10 chance of being rejected. I’d like Democrats to fight dirty because that’s how Republicans won this trifecta. They fought dirty for decades to push their power far beyond the consent of those they govern. This nomination though is vindication for them in a strategy that clearly worked. They out-hustled Democrats by using tactics that were minimally suspect and maximally appalling.

Political gerrymandering is not illegal since the Constitution delegates voting rules to the states, at least those laws not dictated by federal law. The Voting Rights Act was one tool that for decades made it harder but clearly not impossible to disenfranchise voters. All that changed in Shelby v. Holder (2013), which overturned the rule that certain states needed preclearance by the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. Five grumpy “conservative” justices (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito) thus cemented voter disenfranchisement as an acceptable political tactic. Within 24 hours of the decision, Alabama announced that it would require photo identification at the polls, a direct result of this decision. Alabama simply could not wait to disenfranchise minority voters.

So not only are we likely to have a true “conservative” court soon, but the patriarchy is fully in charge, which is what really makes them giddy. The five “conservative” justices are all men. These five men will likely rule within the next few years that women no longer have control over their own bodies, when they allow states to outlaw abortions. Twenty-two states have laws in place that will immediately outlaw abortions when it is legal to do so. This strangely includes Massachusetts where I live, which never got around to overturning its law.

You would hope that conservative justices would be pro-freedom, but if you look at their actual rulings, it’s pro-freedom mostly for people a lot like them: white, rich and male. It’s not for women; at least not after Roe v. Wade gets overturned. It’s clearly not for blacks and Hispanics, who must jump through increasingly onerous hoops to vote if they can vote at all. It may not be for gays and transgender Americans, whose recent expanded rights to marry and use bathrooms of their gender are at jeopardy again. Their gay marriage ruling may get overturned since Kennedy is no longer the swing vote.

It’s all pretty bleak unless you are one of these “conservatives” that adhere to two levels of justice: one for people like them and a harsher one for everyone else. For them, this is good and with five “conservatives” on the Supreme Court they lock down the power that matter most to them – the power to make people do what they want – for decades to come.

There are some things that Democrats can try. They can hope to stay united and peel off Republican senators Murkowski and Collins. This probably won’t work, which is why I gave it 1:10 odds. They could refuse to vote on the nomination although it’s unclear if this would change the outcome. They could try to shut down all Senate business until after the midterms when Democrats might control the chamber again. Or they could insist that President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, first get the vote he was denied in simple fairness.

Of course, it’s fighting dirty that Republicans do best. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to bring Garland’s nomination up for a vote was very dirty and unprecedented. It would be fitting if Democrats refused to move this nomination until this error is corrected. Republicans though have no conscience. This tactic never bothered them at all. With them, it’s always party before country.

Still, demographics do matter. Our country is coloring up and becoming more liberal and secular every year, in spite of Republican actions to stem this tide. Democrats and independents must crash the gate somehow and regain control despite the wholesale gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement unleashed by Republicans.

The far right Infowars talk show wacko Alex Jones famously predicted that Democrats would start a new civil war this July 4. Republicans would be wise to remember that the people have a right to revolution to overthrow unjust governments; it’s right there in the Declaration of Independence. Through dirty and undemocratic tactics, Republicans have created a fundamentally unjust government that have disenfranchised large blocks of citizens. These forces cannot be forever bottled up against the consent of the governed.

For moneyed Republicans, ignorance is strength

The Thinker by Rodin

I must credit George Orwell, who came up with the slogan “Ignorance is Strength” in his seminal and dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, Orwell was simply summarizing lessons he had witnessed in life. The novel was published in 1949, not too long after the Second World War, and doubtless summarized lessons he learned observing Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and others. They succeeded by keeping the population as ignorant and gullible as possible and shamelessly appealing to their patriotic reflexes. The result was that you not only can get millions to believe the ridiculous, but you could also whip them into a frenzy that can translate into enormous political power.

In the Second World War, intelligence and morality eventually won over ignorance and obsessive nationalism, but certainly at a tremendous cost in lives and treasure. It was not coincidence that the war was eventually won by the atomic bomb, a horrific weapon whose use was certainly immoral, but whose power at least persuaded the fanatical and hopelessly brainwashed Japanese to surrender in what looked like would be a much longer and bloodier war.

The 2010 election proved again that ignorance is strength. In this election, ignorance plus apathy made a potent concoction for regaining political power. For many, voting took second fiddle to more important things, like avoiding homelessness. Contrary to public myth, the Tea Party did not spring up spontaneously from the grassroots. Rather, its rise was organized and shepherded by well-moneyed Republicans, principally by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. He created an organization called FreedomWorks, which among other things organized protests against the Affordable Care Act at town halls across the country. Few at those town halls were offering insightful solutions on how to address the growing number of uninsured. Rather, the orchestrated message was that the ACA was somehow socialistic and thus evil and unconstitutional. Dick Armey proved to be a smart and prescient man, the result of which can be seen today in the U.S. House of Representatives where Republicans and Tea Partiers now wield power and make sure little governing actually happens.

As we approach the 2012 elections, Republican candidates seem to be busy trying to out crazy each other. With a few exceptions, logic, facts and scientific knowledge simply do not matter. Neither apparently does simple humanity. Possession of any of these makes you unelectable. At an earlier debate, attendees roared in appreciation when candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry expressed pride in the over two hundred executions he approved during his term as governor. At a debate in Tampa this week, attendees (presumably mostly Tea Partiers, as it was sponsored by a Florida tea party) cheered the notion that those who cannot afford health insurance should die. It was a scene out of a Charles Dickens novel. Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate, assured us that this is what freedom really means. Without exception, each candidate has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act. When asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer who should take care of those without health insurance, the conventional wisdom seemed to be to let the churches take care of them.

Now, if you have a logical brain like me you would start crunching some numbers in your head. The last estimate I saw was that each policyholder paid $800 a year to cover uninsured who show up at emergency rooms and hospitals. About 250 million Americans do have health insurance. If just one third of those were policyholders and each paid $800 to cover the uninsured just for emergencies, this would be over $66 billion a year that churches would have to spend just for their emergency care. Those Republicans who take the time to do the math know it’s impossible to expect our houses of worship to cough up that kind of money to address this problem. It really doesn’t matter because you see it’s the principle of the thing. This is a problem so large that only government can address it, but since it would involve redistribution of wealth, it’s somehow socialism, and thus is not allowed. It is better to let fifty million Americans die early and lead miserable lives than to violate a principle. The expression of this principle elicited yells of enthusiastic agreement from Tea Partiers in Tampa this week. And none of the candidates on the stage had the courage of conviction to say this is immoral and unchristian.

Naturally, just to make the whole thing even crazier, these are the same folk that agree that life is sacred and must be protected. Abortion is especially evil, but providing government money to make sure uninsured pregnant women can carry their babies to term is socialism, as is picking up any costs for their children’s health once born. Every unborn child has the right to be born into and lead a life of misery and poverty, starting from the moment of conception. How very Christ-like of them.

In fact, Republicans believe in no government handouts to poor people ever. (Big business subsidies, of course, are exempt.) Rep. Peter King (R-IA) is in a froth about the unemployed. They are on the dole and just being slackers, he asserts, as if they can snap their fingers and find employment somewhere. If you are unemployed, you must be lazy and shiftless. He’s hardly the only Republican to say this aloud, but perhaps is the most vocal. No one, at least no one poor or unincorporated, should get any government assistance ever. They must raise themselves up by their own bootstraps somehow, without a dime of government money, without access to nurturing teachers, nutritious food, affordable housing and a stable family environment. If you try hard enough, and clap enough, Tinkerbell is sure to come to help.

Never mind that their educations were heavily subsidized, unless their parents were wealthy enough to home school them or send them to a private school. Never mind that their relatively wealthy parents lived in high-income neighborhoods with good public schools and kept them clothed and fed. Never mind that their parents gave them access to many of the keys needed for success: like good colleges, tutors, cars, orthodontics, regular checkups and don’t forget those inheritances from Aunt Martha. Those things had nothing to do with their personal success. They just came with the skills reflexively.

The obvious effects of not giving the poor a helping hand are to increase the number of poor and keep them disenfranchised, which in reality is fine with them. The real long term effect is to turn the United States into a second class country, since we reached top tier status by creating and sustaining a middle class at some expense from the wealthy. All the “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” stuff is bullshit even they don’t believe in.  They just want cheap labor and to be in charge, and you can stay in charge if you keep them disenfranchised and poor. And many of them are also sadists. But just in case the poor and compassionate might want to vote for change, make it hard for them to vote.

Republican-dominated states across the country are busy doing just this: making absentee voting harder, toughening voting requirements by requiring government issued photo IDs to vote, and by requiring students to come home to vote. These tactics of course get supplemented with the usual voting day shenanigans: fewer voting booths in poor neighborhoods and robocalls to minority voters with threatening or misleading messages about voting. It doesn’t hurt to have a Republican lawyer on site and some white guys in a police car parked outside the polling place either. Some states are getting exceptionally creative. Pennsylvania Republicans want to have electoral votes allocated by the vote in each congressional district, effectively disenfranchising voters in densely populated areas, like Philadelphia. It’s like another Orwell novel, Animal Farm. Some animals (Republicans) are more equal than others.

Ignorance is strength, providing Republican leaders do not really buy their own bullshit. In their hearts they know they are a minority party and will likely be a larger minority party in the future, since demographics are against them. So keep the bulk of Republicans in a lather about issues that appeal to their basic fears and prejudices. This involves mostly a lot of hot air about abortion, God, guns and NASCAR. Keep their flock prejudiced and it will lead to a better America, well, at least for the well-capitalized Republicans with the money who insist on holding onto the bulk of our wealth. As for everyone else: let ’em eat (someone else’s) cake.