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Politics creates economic illusion in Houdini’s hometown

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Politics creates economic illusion in Houdini’s hometown

APPLETON, Wis. — Nothing can shake Scott Rice’s faith that President Donald Trump will save the U.S. economy — not seeing businesses close or friends furloughed, not even his own hellish bout with the novel coronavirus.

Rice reveres the president the way Wisconsin loves the Green Bay Packers. He has painted “T-R-U-M-P” on his lawn, spelled it out with Christmas lights on his roof and painted it on his steel-toed shoes.

He was also a virus skeptic, believing it was a hoax meant to hurt Trump and the economy. But then the disease seeped into the paper mill where he works, and he was stricken, suddenly losing his appetite, even for his favourite Taco Bell. He lay in bed, feverish, drenched in sweat. Two air-conditioner units didn’t cool him. His body seemed at war with itself.

After 16 days at home, Rice told his co-workers that the disease was scary and real. But Trump held onto his vote for one reason: The stock market was climbing.

“The 401(k)s, just the economy,” Rice said. “He got jobs going. Just accumulated a lot of jobs, being a businessman.”

Rice’s belief represents the foundation of Trump’s hopes — that Americans believe the economy is strong enough to deliver him a second term.

But in Appleton, a predominately white city of 75,000 people along the Fox River, the health of the economy isn’t judged on jobs numbers, personal bank accounts or union contracts. Instead, it’s viewed through partisan lenses — filtered through the facts voters want to see and hear, and those they don’t.

By almost any measure, Trump’s promises of an economic revival in places like Appleton have gone unfulfilled. The area has lost about 8,000 jobs since he was elected.

Even before the pandemic, Wisconsin’s economy was fragile, as job losses began in August 2019 and a recovery in hiring had just begun when the virus struck. The state that is vital for Trump’s victory had more jobs a decade ago when the country was still ailing from the Great Recession than it did in July.

While supporters like Rice are immovable, others have had enough. President Barack Obama won here in 2012, but voters flipped to Trump four years later, and Trump cannot afford much erosion in a state that he won by only 22,000 votes out of more than 2.8 million.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden holds a slight lead over Trump in the latest Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin voters. Trump’s disapproval rating has risen to 54% from 49% at the start the year. But 52% of Wisconsin voters applaud Trump on the economy, while 56% dislike his handling of the pandemic that pulled the nation into recession.

Even Rice concedes that the economy is not just an argument for Trump — it’s also an argument against him. His 20-year-old daughter, Cassidy, tells him so. She is studying public health at George Washington University and will cast her first presidential vote for Biden.

“The fact that there was a pandemic and the fact that it had those consequences on the economy should be an eye opener, like, hey, maybe we’re not doing this correctly,” she said.

___

Trump won the presidency by wringing tens of thousands of votes out of small towns and medium-size cities across Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

He did it in places like Appleton. The city of stone and brick hugs the Fox River, its currents powering the smoke-stacked paper mills that built fortunes. Steamboats and trains brought the trappings of Victorian-era comfort. The nation’s second co-educational college, Lawrence University, occupies 84 acres at the edge of downtown. The end of World War II brought a suburban buildout, and teenagers increasingly left dairy farms for union jobs at mills and foundries.

But as the need for paper waned two decades ago, the city began a slow evolution. Now condos, cafes, offices and a jogging trail line the riverbank.

The trail ends downtown at Houdini Plaza, a monument to the city’s most famous offspring, illusionist Harry Houdini. His words are inscribed on the monument where his childhood home once stood: “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.”

There may be no better explanation of American politics in this confounding moment.

Trump voters listen to his cheerleading for the economy and believe the businessman president has worked his magic. Many write off the pandemic as a speed bump for accelerating prosperity. Biden’s backers see an illusion — an economy that was recovering under Obama, but now, with the pandemic, is trying to crawl back to health, with no real plan from Trump.

The two realities are clear in national surveys. In August, 80% of Democrats call economic conditions “poor,” while 63% of Republicans describe them as “good” in a survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

In Appleton, perhaps the only shared view is a deep anxiety about the future. Restaurants and bars worry about customers vanishing once cooler temperatures return. The high costs of childcare and health insurance make it hard to attract workers, despite the downturn.

People cannot even agree on the terms of the economic debate to come up with a solution.

“What we’ve done with politics is gotten into a tribal war that looks only at elections when we should be looking at policies and results,” said John Burke, CEO and chairman of Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycles, one of the state’s most prominent business leaders.

How enduring the divide will be is one of the central tests of the presidential election. Will emotional ties to Trump override assessments of his job performance?

___

After 2016, local Democrats wasted no time mourning. Lee Snodgrass became chair of the local party and began a blitz of door-knocking to build up volunteers and voters, a task that led her into areas that were firmly for Trump.

As a candidate now for the state legislature, she has tried to bridge the partisan divide, but often finds few Republican takers.

“It’s like watching a car accident in slow motion,” said Snodgrass. “The behaviour and choices that people make in this pandemic reflect fundamental differences between the Democratic Party of today and the Republican Party of today.”

Wearing a T-shirt that said “VOTE,” Snodgrass walked through a neighbourhood that leans for Trump. She recited facts about the economy and the pandemic — several millions jobs lost, a rising body count — and Republicans would defend Trump.

She would then try to steer the conversation to common ground, like the need to reduce health care costs, and end by summarizing their conversation by saying, “Here are the things that we agree on.”

These Republican voters found Trump’s demeanour crude. But the unemployment rate was a strong 3.5% before the pandemic. Trump had updated and replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement. They give Trump credit, although he inherited a healthy 4.7% unemployment rate and the trade deficit with Mexico on goods had jumped to $101 billion last year — higher than in any year under Obama.

“There are things that he said he would do,” said Candice Meyer, a retired legal assistant. “And he has done that. He’s done it with a big mouth and a show-off, 13-year-old personality, and he can’t keep his mouth shut. And he’s rude. But he has come through with a lot of his platform.”

The pandemic and recession showed just how ingrained politics was in what people saw, heard and believed. Their partisan loyalties became their realities about how to address the coronavirus and help the economy.

“What really surprised me is how quickly things got polarized,” said Jonathan Rothwell, the principal economist at Gallup. “The pandemic got instantly framed as a piece of good or bad news for the president, much like the jobs report.”

How people feel about the economy increasingly mirrors their politics. AP-NORC found that only 34% of Republicans believed the economy was in good shape in April 2016 when a Democrat was in the White House, a number that swiftly shot upward after Trump’s election to reach 89% this January before the pandemic.

___

At the Midwest Paper Group, where Scott Rice works, there is a story of recovery, but one where credit lay with the union and the Outagamie County executive, not with Trump. Between 2001 and 2016, Wisconsin’s paper industry lost 15,000 jobs. Midwest Paper Group sunk into receivership in 2017 as demand flagged in for crisp white paper.

More than 600 workers were handed pink slips in anticipation of the mill being shuttered, in an area where nearly one in five jobs are still in factories.

“Most were resigned to fate,” said Tom Nelson, the county executive. “The paper industry was deemed old and outdated, uncompetitive because of imports, unfair trade deals, electronic substitution.”

A Democrat with tortoise-shell glasses, Nelson won his first election in Appleton in 2005 and still has a boyish appearance at the age of 44, with curly hair that has grown long during the pandemic. By his estimate, the county would have lost a catastrophic 2,000 jobs as collateral damage if the mill closed.

Nelson, the workers and their union representation lobbied the bankruptcy court and struck a deal. “If it were not for the fact that the mill was unionized, it would be a trash heap,” Nelson said.

Instead, the mill added new machines to make materials for cardboard, capitalizing on the growing number of people shopping online at Amazon. For 12 hours a day, Rice mans the control room in a red face mask that says “USA.”

___

There are other winners in the local economy — the Menard’s home improvement store, grocers, fast-food chains. Bike stores are sold out of Treks, which were built in the factory 87 miles away in Waterloo.

Trek’s three U.S. warehouses were emptied by August because of all the buying, yet Burke, its CEO, was agonizing about the fate of the broader economy.

Burke, 58, pedals 110 miles on his standard Saturday ride, long enough for the nation’s problems to turn over in his mind. After his own college graduation, Burke took a day to get his wisdom teeth pulled and started the next at Trek. He’s remained there for the past 37 years.

He decided to write a book in 2016 and updated it this year, “Presidential Playbook 2020: 16 Nonpartisan Solutions to Save America.”

As Burke sees it, Trump has governed with a dangerous set of blind spots that threaten long-term growth.

There were the hurricanes and wildfires unleashed by climate change. Federal debt has surged. Not enough money is being invested in education and children. And Trump initially downplayed the virus and offered the prospect of unsafe remedies like injecting disinfectant to kill coronavirus.

Appleton is testimony to the lack of simple solutions to the pandemic.

Nearly 40% of the city’s leisure and hospitality jobs have been lost. Restaurants have been closed, hotels vacant. The banquet hall attached to the Longcheng Marketplace that serves the area’s population of 5,000 Hmong immigrants has sat empty since March.

The downtown had been evolving as young parents moved back to Wisconsin from Minneapolis and Chicago. Restaurants and boutiques popped up along College Avenue, catering to the professors and students at Lawrence University. The oil services firm U.S. Ventures announced it would build a new headquarters on a city bluff — 500 office workers who could be regulars at Mondo! wine bar.

Then the pandemic struck.

The status of the U.S. Ventures headquarters is now uncertain, but it certainly won’t open as announced in 2022. Mondo! is getting by with retail sales and outdoor seating, until the weather changes.

Since 2017, David Oliver used Instagram to steadily draw people to Appleton’s first skyscraper (1932) and a bar designed to be as airy and light as an afternoon rosé.

Oliver, 59, would rather keep his politics corked. But he said American businesses desperately need another round of aid. Because the virus has lingered, so have the revenue shortfalls and Oliver blames the president.

“They’re supposed to be pro-business,” Oliver said. “But so much of the Republican Party has reverted to this magical thinking that Trump has that the economy is fine and the virus is going away. They are delusional.”

Oliver worries about a dark time in which future generations feel it’s too risky to start a small business in their hometown. He can’t support the president.

“This event will impact generations of Americans — just like the Great Depression,” Oliver said. “It’s going to make it much harder to try and take the chance. Because, what happens if there is another pandemic?”

___

Other businesses are struggling to find workers. Trisha Kostelny, who runs Fischer-Ulman Construction, could only get five people to apply to lay concrete, even though the job paid $29 an hour with health, dental and a matching 401(k). She only found two of the applicants qualified.

“We’re so short of applicants I’ve wondered if I needed to go out there and do the work myself,” she said.

More than 9,600 people in the Appleton area are still without work.

The Trump administration argues the problem is that the government has been too generous with laid-off workers as officials said that the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefit kept most people from seeking jobs, so their expiration in August should cause a rush of applicants and hiring.

But to Kostelny, the problem is that workers need even more help from the government. Her only way to get more applications is to focus on minorities and women, employees who will likely need to pay for childcare. As of now, she can only afford to cover two-thirds of her 25 employees’ health insurance costs.

If she boosted wages and benefits on her own, she would put her business at risk. She now favours an increase in the minimum wage and some form of universal health care.

Kostelny plans to vote Democratic, as she did in 2016. But her customers and company span the entire political spectrum and she believes the economy is being hurt by the hyper partisanship.

“The more we are divisive — in no way is that good for business,” she said. “That can’t be good for business.”

Matt Albert, chair of the local Republicans, also sees the economic polarization. Businesses were initially less excited about declaring their enthusiasm for Trump and possibly offending Democrats, but those worries faded after the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police shot a Black man seven times.

“They had been concerned about losing customers for putting signs up,” Albert said. “But they now feel like if Trump doesn’t get in, they won’t have a business. … The riots will shut them down. The regulations will shut them down.”

Still, Republicans here say that Trump propelled the country to new heights with tax and regulatory cuts, only to be brought low by the force majeure of a virus, and that most voters will hold him blameless.

Republicans’ knock on Joe Biden is that he would raise taxes that could suffocate growth (nearly $4 trillion over 10 years that would largely come from the wealthy).

While Republicans remain confident Trump will carry the county again, some concede the race could be tighter. If he loses cities like Appleton, it could spell trouble for the president.

“I think it will be closer because he’s losing some of the positive momentum that I think he created,” said State Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, who is not seeking reelection. “The pandemic has knocked him off his message.”

Several lawmakers and voters asserted that Biden would become the pawn of socialists and Marxists — a jarring claim in a community whose most notorious native son is Sen. Joe McCarthy, who falsely claimed that the U.S. government was full of communists and whose chief counsel would later become the personal lawyer for a young New York City real estate scion who is now president.

“The COVID has put so much pessimism into the economy — that’s the big killer,” said Marvin Murphy, the 80-year-old owner of Fox Cities magazine. He estimates he has spoken with every business within 70 miles of Appleton over the years.

Only the wealthiest companies with access to cheap capital are likely to survive, Murphy said. He nicknamed the disease the “McVirus,” he said, because McDonalds could not have engineered a “better way to kill off small, independent restaurants.”

A libertarian who said he votes Republican unhappily because “there is nothing else,” Murphy sipped a fresh cup of coffee in his backyard overlooking the Wolf River and lamented that so many people only process the world based on what they see and hear on TV.

“Reality is not the most important thing,” Murphy said. “The perceived reality is what’s important.”

___

AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/

Josh Boak, The Associated Press

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5 ways the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will transform U.S. politics – CBC.ca

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It’s almost impossible to overstate the transformative effect on American politics ignited by the death of this one woman, at this one moment.

The far-ranging potential consequences from the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice and liberal legal icon, will start immediately, beginning in the election campaign that determines whether Donald Trump gets a second presidential term.

And they could last for decades in the staggering array of issues to be litigated before the court — some of whose consequences reach far beyond America’s borders and could have global repercussions.

Here are five changes prompted by her death.

It pours fuel on an overheating election

It’s been distressingly common to hear this election described as a do-or-die moment for American democracy.

It was the theme of Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention. Meanwhile, figures inside the Trump administration, and close to the president, and on talk radio, have evoked scenarios of post-election violence. 

There are booksessays and newspaper articles in which political scientists sound alarm bells about the durability of the American republic.

Which is to say this election was already heated enough, with a president insisting he’s being cheated, legal fights over mail-in voting, deaths at protests and armed demonstrations.

The stakes have now risen.

Concern about her health has gripped progressive America for years. Here, in a photo seen earlier this month, it was part of a public-service announcement in Washington. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

“I’m genuinely worried,” Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Joseph Ellis said in an interview Saturday. 

“The fate of the republic [has not been] genuinely at stake [since the Civil War].… I think we’re in a moment analogous to that now.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that America will face its most difficult months in a generation, and asked for prayers for the country. 

It means conservative court dominance, potentially for decades

The court recently had a 5-4 conservative tilt. It’s now 5-3, and will be 6-3 if Trump gets his nominee confirmed.

The Supreme Court has gained power throughout American history, starting in the 19th century, in its interpretive role over U.S. law. 

Now, as bitter partisanship makes it harder to pass bills in Congress than a few decades ago, parties frequently rely on courts to resolve political disputes.

One big case before the new, Ginsburg-less court involves a challenge to the law known as Obamacare — hearings are scheduled for Nov. 10 on the Affordable [Health] Care Act. 

Former president Barack Obama, seen here in 2010 celebrating the adoption of his signature health reform. The Affordable Care Act is about to be challenged in hearings before the court. It, and numerous other Democratic initiatives, face a more uncertain future. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Obama’s signature law, which extended health coverage to millions, appears in grave danger: the law survived one earlier challenge by a single vote.

Other cases this fall will touch on workplace benefits, and on the right of publicly funded religious institutions to exclude same-sex couples

This court could even decide the presidential election. 

In 2000, the high court ended a Florida recount and made George W. Bush president; the numerous fights this year over mail-in ballots could be far, far messier.

Longer-term battles are inevitable over abortion, and over myriad presidential executive actions. Take climate-change regulations and immigration rules.

Obama signed a flurry of such climate and immigration executive orders; future ones would inevitably be challenged in a more hostile court.

“It would be the strongest conservative majority we’ve seen,” former U.S. federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno told CBC News.

“[Now you have chief justice] John Roberts potentially sometimes voting with the minority. [But with a change now] you’d have a potentially secure block of conservative votes. 

“That would impact so many things in this country.”

Other big changes could be economic. In his book, Supreme Inequality, author Adam Cohen argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has, for most of American history, favoured the wealthy and powerful, with a rare exception being the 1960s court led by Earl Warren. 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. 3:00

He said the court has recently been a major driver of American inequality — stripping away union powers, allowing corporate money into politics and undermining the integration and funding of schools in minority areas.

Page 1 of his book carries an anecdote about Bader Ginsburg: she wrote the dissent for the losing side in a case involving a Black man subjected to racist abuse at work.

It upends the election focus

The court fight threatens to overshadow the presidential election issue Democrats hoped to focus on: the pandemic, which has killed around 200,000 Americans. 

It will play out, day after day, as voters cast ballots. Voting has already started. Ballots are being mailed out, and in-person polling stations are open in some states.

The Supreme Court has been a winning issue for Trump before. In 2016, more than a quarter of Trump voters told pollsters it was the reason they voted for him.

Trump cemented his alliance with social conservatives by vowing to name only conservatives to the court, and he took the unusual step of releasing a list of candidates in advance.

He’s done it again: Trump released his new list of picks just over a week ago. He’s promised to announce his choice, likely a woman, within days.

Intriguingly, when asked Saturday about one candidate, Barbara Lagoa, Trump praised her and mentioned, unprompted, that she was “Hispanic” and “from Florida” — a critical voting group in a critical swing state. 

Floral tributes surround a poster with an image of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Saturday. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

There’s no guarantee this issue will help him. The intense upcoming debate on abortion is no slam-dunk for conservatives.

Some polling suggests a strong majority of Americans want to preserve, at least in part, the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade.

It’s one of the first points mentioned in a fundraising letter to supporters from Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris.

Both parties quickly began fundraising off the subject of her death. Here’s an email the Biden campaign sent supporters Saturday. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

“Today, we fight for [Bader Ginsburg’s] legacy,” said Harris’ note.

Democratic donors certainly appeared energized: the party said it raised tens of millions of dollars in the hours after Bader Ginsburg’s death.

In an inimitably American political phenomenon, both parties were actively fundraising upon the judge’s death.

The Trump campaign released a similar message to supporters.

This sudden effect of this debate will likely resonate unevenly across the country, helping Republicans in some places but not others.

It’s illustrated in the different reactions from Republican senators involved in tough re-election fights.

Just compare their reactions to a map showing church attendance rates per state: Republicans running in more religious states dove headfirst into the fight, which will inevitably raise hot-button social issues. 

(CBC News)

North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who heads the justice committee in charge of the process, vowed to support a nomination immediately. 

By contrast, Colorado’s Cory Gardner dodged various questions on the topic and released a vague statement; Susan Collins of Maine said the presidential election winner should get to make the pick.

There’s some reason for optimism for Democratic nominee Joe Biden: surveys in three smaller swing states this week suggested he’s more trusted on court appointments than Trump.

It triggers a brawl on Capitol Hill

The power to pick judges rests with the president. The power to confirm them belongs to the Senate.

Right now Republicans control the Senate with 53 votes, to 47 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents.

Those numbers would not, until recently, have guaranteed confirmation: for generations, 60 votes were required for most major actions in the Senate, but because Congress is so frequently paralyzed, first Democrats, then Republicans, began chipping away at the so-called filibuster rule.

Now it takes a simple majority, of 50 or 51, to confirm a judge. And it will be close.

The first question is how quickly Republicans proceed. Trump tweeted his own suggestion that the party move fast: “We have this obligation, without delay!” 

Anti-abortion activists, seen here in the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., last January, are likely to have a more favourable court. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

His party has flexibility on timing a final vote. It can happen before or after the Nov. 3 election: the current Senate term lasts two months beyond the election, until Jan. 3, and the current presidential term lasts until Jan. 20.

It’s taken an average of just over two months to confirm justices since the 1970s. It used to be faster, in less-partisan eras, and it could be faster again with the new simple-majority rule.

Democrats are vowing to put up whatever fight they can — with legislative delay tactics, threats of revenge if they regain the chamber and efforts to embarrass Republican senators in tough re-election races.

Both parties quickly began fundraising off the subject of her death. Here’s a text the Trump campaign sent supporters Saturday. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

Then there are the insults. 

Both parties are calling each other hypocrites: Republicans for reversing themselves on their 2016 declaration that presidents shouldn’t name a judge close to an election, and Democrats for reversing themselves in the other direction.

Yet Republicans likely hold the upper hand in this nomination battle. They controlled the Senate in 2016 and they control it now.   

It foreshadows a clash over institutions

The Republican Party has won the popular vote in a presidential election precisely once since 1988. Yet it has a stranglehold over the Supreme Court.

And Democrats are livid.

There are growing calls within the party to overhaul the country’s institutions to make them more representative of the country’s actual, increasingly diverse, demographics.

Obama spelled out some of this agenda in his eulogy for the late civil-rights hero John Lewis: he called for full votes in Congress for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, a new voting-rights law and an end to the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule.

Many progressives want to go even further — and expand the Supreme Court: meaning add new judges.

Biden has opposed the idea and said Democrats would come to regret it. 

But the idea is growing on the left. 

Nearly half the party’s presidential candidates said they were open to it. Sen. Bernie Sanders has raised the idea of rotating judges between upper and lower courts.

The Democrat who leads the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Saturday said that if Republicans proceed with this nomination, Democrats should immediately move to expand the court should they win the Senate.

Franklin Roosevelt famously failed in an effort to pack the court in the 1930s.

He was frustrated that conservative judges were blocking aspects of his New Deal, the Depression Era social-safety net and public-works program.

Cohen’s book says Roosevelt achieved something even if he failed to pack the court: after that, the judges stopped cancelling his policies.

Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has left open the possibility of shifting to a simple majority vote on all bills if his party wins back the chamber.

On Saturday, in a conference call with party members, several outlets reported him saying that if Republicans replace Ginsburg now, “Nothing is off the table.”

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American politics is about to get a lot uglier – The Boston Globe

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To win political power will mean using it brazenly, extravagantly, and without comity or consensus.

A group of protesters rally in front of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s home on September 19 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell has said that if President Donald Trump nominates someone to take the place of Ginsburg following her death, the Senate would proceed with the nomination process despite the presidential election being less than six weeks away.Jon Cherry/Getty

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is devastating, and not simply because it is the passing of one of the most influential jurists in American history.

It is what comes next that should alarm us the most.

If we lived in a normal democracy in which all political parties abided by basic democratic norms and traditions, both presidential candidates would spend the next six weeks debating — among other issues — who they would appoint to the Supreme Court in 2021 should they win the presidential election.

But if we lived in that country, Merrick Garland would be a member of the highest court in the land.

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Instead, four years ago Republicans — led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell — refused to give Garland a Senate hearing. As they argued at the time, nine months before a presidential election was too soon to appoint a Supreme Court replacement for Antonin Scalia. Fast forward to 2020 and McConnell announced within hours of Ginsburg’s death that there will be a Senate vote on Trump’s pick to replace her on the Court, even though voters in some states have already begun to cast ballots.

McConnell’s move is cynical, hypocritical, and completely in keeping with the nihilism that he has brought to bear on American politics. For McConnell, norms are for the weak. Might makes right and political power is a tool to be wielded in the pursuit of ones self-interested political goals, the consequences on the legitimacy of America’s democratic institutions be damned. We saw this when Republicans pushed through Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Court after credible allegations of sexual assault, and we will likely see it play out now. While it’s far from guaranteed that McConnell will persuade 49 of his other Senate Republicans to go along with his efforts to pack the Court, one would be foolish to bet against cynicism winning the day.

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If this happens, what will Democrats do in response? Should the polls hold up and they win the presidency and narrowly take control of the Senate, American politics will dramatically change. As Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer made clear Saturday morning, if McConnell moves forward, “…nothing is off the table.”

That means, almost certainly, an end to the Senate filibuster if Democrats win control in November. Democrats would probably move forward with statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which could mean four new Democratic senators. And Democrats may be emboldened to expand the Supreme Court to make up for what the party rightly perceives as the theft of two seats by McConnell and the GOP.

Democrats would have already pushed for many of these reforms before Ginsburg died. But if the GOP rams through yet another new justice, the gloves will come off — not because Senate Democrats will be furious, but because it will be the only way to hold back the bile of party activists.

This is the right thing for Democrats to do. When one party refuses to abide by democratic norms; when it acts as an agent of only its own political supporters and makes no effort to honor institutional principles; and when there is no accountability and there are no political repercussions for nefarious actions, the course forward is clear. Democrats must play the same political hardball Republicans have played for much of the past two decades.

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But we should not delude ourselves about the larger corrosive effect. For Democrats to imitate the actions of Republicans means a new era of cutthroat politics in which bipartisanship remains out the window and both political parties shove aside all of America’s political traditions. To win political power will mean using it brazenly, extravagantly, and without comity or consensus. It will complete the evolution of American government from its current state to one more representative of a parliamentary democracy in which once a party achieves power, it treats it as a mandate to put in place its political agenda lock, stock, and barrel. And when the other party achieves power, it will do the same. It’s not to say cooperation will be impossible or never happen, but rather that the system will evolve in such a way that it will not be necessary — and each party will put in place reforms to increase their power and weaken the other side. Republicans have been doing that for years. Now Democrats will likely follow their lead.

Perhaps this is the politics we need. Perhaps Americans need a starker reminder of the differences between the two parties. But the ugliness and divisiveness that will flow from this will only deepen the intense polarization that already defines American politics.

In an ideal world, Mitch McConnell would step back from the brink or enough members of the Senate Republican caucus would demand he do so. Don’t hold your breath on that happening. After all, if the last few years have taught us anything — we don’t live in that America.

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Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.

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Politics Podcast: How A Supreme Court Vacancy Will Shape The Election – FiveThirtyEight

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In this emergency installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and how the political fight around the new vacancy on the court might unfold.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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