Republicans Have Now Realized Their Decades-Long Dream of Taking Over the Supreme Court.
I reached adulthood in the late 1960s, and looking around the political environment in those days, I thought the country was firmly set in the ways of fairness, honesty, compassion and unity. Before I was born, rich guy Franklin Roosevelt had reached “down” across the class barrier to offer federal support to regular folks during the Great Depression. Harry Truman had desegregated the Army. Social Security, which had been attacked by conservatives since its inception, had matured into a popular, successful program no longer questioned by the majority of Americans. When I was still a kid the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed. Medicare was passed. The war in Vietnam was ended more or less by popular declamation. In the years to come the Supreme Court would hold that women had a right to control their own bodies, police couldn’t beat confessions out of suspects, and gay couples could marry if they wanted to. We were imperfect, but we were generous. We sought justice.
In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Of course I was very young, and I thought that we we winning.” It wasn’t a perfect world, but it was headed that way and was surely going to get there. Probably, I thought, in my lifetime. Dignity and respect for our elders, voting rights and civil rights for disenfranchised minorities, diplomacy instead of war — this was where the country was going as I grew up, and I embraced the direction. In this hope, I was often buoyed by the Supreme Court, which often applied the most idealistic and human ambitions of the constitution to the laws of the land, steering us as a nation and a people toward a future of justice.
But something began happening during the 1970s. For the first time, conservatives realized they were losing. In August of 1971 future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell sent a memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlining the danger to the Right: The American economic system was in jeopardy from… socialism! American business, Powell asserted, was being regulated and taxed by the government, and it was hurting profits! Powell went on to outline a plan of action to reverse the trends that had led to this dire situation. The important keys were organization and a willingness to think and act long-term.
No one argues that Powell’s 11-page note by itself changed the course of history. But the mostly conservative (and rich) business community definitely took his words to heart and embarked on a long-term plan to overturn the progress of The New Deal, to return the country to a time when, to paraphrase Roaring 20s President Calvin Coolidge, the business of America was business. They wanted to take the nation back to a time in recent history when concern for the rights and dignity of individuals was secondary to corporate profits.
- They founded “think tanks” to advocate for conservative causes;
- funded university chairs to give academic cred to right-wing policies;
- made conservative public speakers available to civic groups and the media to expound on any topic or comment on any current event from the conservative point of view;
- formed youth organizations in colleges, to identify smart young people and indoctrinate them early in conservative ideology.
They didn’t attempt a coup. They knew what they wanted to achieve would never be accepted by the American people if they tried to foist it on us overnight. They needed to change the political environment to make us receptive to their radical ideas — essentially, that corporate profits are more important than human dignity, or even human lives. They knew this would take a long time, but hey — corporations never die, so they have plenty of time. Along the way, they welcomed anti-abortionists and even latent racists who were eager to act as their storm troopers in the effort to usurp the liberal march to justice, but make no mistake: the goal was never to outlaw abortion or same-sex marriage or close the borders or any of that cultural stuff. The goal is to create a regime of corporate wealth and power that is transnational, indestructible and need not answer to any government or human cry anywhere.
Flash forward 50 years to today: Those think tanks and public relations efforts have managed to get right-wing ideas into the mainstream of American thought. Those college youth groups have spawned thousands of conservative congressmen, governors, columnists and commentators, and yes, judges, all steeped in conservative thought and proselytizing tirelessly to the rest of us. The damage is considerable. The landscape is barren, but the world business community has placed a puppet in the White House, and now holds unimaginable wealth and wields more power than any government.
Brett Kavanaugh is a product of this effort, carefully selected, educated and groomed for the job he is now getting: Supreme Court justice. After a lifetime of careful preparation he finally made a short list of government employees deemed by the Federalist Society (one of the aforementioned conservative think tanks) to be a safe choice: a conservative partisan who sees corporations as virtual people with the same rights as real people; money as the literal equivalent of speech (and therefore protected by the Constitution); environmental regulation as government meddling; taxes as theft ; in other words, a corporate shill.
I’m not a political leader. I will never hold high office or occupy a platform from which to influence masses of my peers. I vote, and I talk about peace, equality, honesty, fairness to all who will listen. It’s what I can do and for most of my life I thought it was enough. I admit I didn’t see this coming. You can’t defend your ideals if you don’t even realize there is a serious effort afoot to destroy them. Mea culpa. It’s deeply disheartening — in a way I’m not used to — to have to look at people in the supermarket or in the car next to me at a stop sign and not know if these are members of the tribe which supports the confirmation of this shill. What are they thinking? I don’t know. I have no way to change their thinking, and now they are comfortable in coming forward, cheering at laughing at rallies as their president mocks survivors of sexual assault
My generation is leaving the scene. I wish I could stay a little longer, to join the great battles to come. I wish I could say that things could be worse. But with Donald Trump in the White House, and Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, things could not be worse. It’s not satisfying to say the Court has become just another partisan institution in Washington, with no more legitimacy than the others. The fight for a better world has suffered a huge, generational defeat. May it not be the beginning of the end.