Before we get to the bat belfry currently melting through the pavement at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, let’s take a moment for the profoundly important event that has been relegated to a circus ring way over in the far corner of the tent: The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Right, that. Remember? I do, barely, after the first half of this week. There is no sense in stemwinding some deep-think paean to the doings on Capitol Hill; the whole exercise is a charade wrapped in a mugging, and it is all just terribly sad. “Once you decide something is a low and very predictable farce,” wrote Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce as the hearings began, “this job becomes very easy to do.”
The hearings went sideways faster than Nixon’s farewell speech, but no amount of bombast or rank partisan malfeasance could obscure the truth of it. The base fact before us is that Brett Kavanaugh has no business coming within a light year of the highest court in the land. He is a shameless political hack of the purest ray, a hatchetman whose fingerprints are all over many of the most appalling events of the last 25 years.
Kavanaugh was a key figure in the Clinton impeachment debacle, the Elian Gonzales fiasco, the historic calamity of Bush v. Gore and the Terri Schiavo tragedy. And let us not forget how he also lent a helping hand during the years George W. Bush was surveilling the nation, pursuing illegal wars, slaughtering civilians and torturing prisoners: Kavanaugh was there, pitching in like the eager Federalist Society careerist he has been probably since the day he was born.
All those Kavanaugh documents from his Bush years the Republicans are refusing to divulge — Mitch McConnell feared releasing them would imperil the nomination — are almost certainly black-letter evidence of the atrocities he helped commit while serving that pestiferous man and his pestiferous administration. Kavanaugh’s cozy little Brooks Brothers riot of a life would likely not be the only one turned inside out if the crimes detailed on those papers saw daylight, which is why Republicans have ensured that, for all practical purposes, they may as well not even exist.
Despite all that, despite an act of organized Democratic resistance on Tuesday that was remarkable because it was organized and because it actually happened, despite the protests popping off in the chamber like heat lightning in a distant purple sky, Brett Kavanaugh will almost certainly become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court before the first snows blanket Mt. Monadnock. Why? Because the Republicans have the votes … and because the most repellant aspects of his sordid career are precisely what adherents to the modern Republican ethos love most about him.
They’ve all been listening to Kavanaugh’s pleasant fictions and hearing exactly what they need to, because of course they have. No one on the North American continent is better prepared to lie straight to the faces of senators than Brett Kavanaugh. Part of his role with the Bush administration was coaching other nominees on how to do exactly that, as Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse so succinctly explained on Tuesday:
Tomorrow, we will hear a lot of “confirmation etiquette.” It’s a sham. Kavanaugh knows the game. In the Bush White House, he coached judicial nominees to just tell Senators that they will adhere to statutory text, that they have no ideological agenda. Fairy tales. The sad fact is that there is no consequence for telling the Committee fairy tales about stare decisis, and then riding off with the Roberts Five, trampling across whatever precedent gets in the way of letting those big Republican interests keep winning 5-4 partisan decisions. Every. Damned. Time.
Brett Kavanaugh’s ticket was punched two Novembers ago; one could argue it was punched after the 1994 midterm elections, when the existence of Bill Clinton finally fractured the last lingering bedrock Republican sensibilities, which had been visibly cracking since Barry Goldwater ran for president 30 years earlier. Kavanaugh, like Trump and Reagan before him, is a symptom and not a cause of the vile subterranean aquifers that have turned the country into a floodplain of racism, hate and greed.
“Justice Kavanaugh” is a done deal because he shares those rank ideals with the GOP senators who will vote to raise him on high. He will sit there and do their bidding for the next 30 years, amen, and virtually nothing short of the Earth careening into the Sun can stop it.
Unless a precious few of them — two would do it, five would be nice — decide to vote against Kavanaugh at the conclusion of these hearings, or when the full Senate convenes for his final confirmation.
A paltry little week ago, I would have dismissed such an idea with a weary shake of the head and perhaps an unrestrained jet of vomit. Not these people, I would have said. Never in hell. Kavanaugh is their beau ideal in every policy sense, and besides, they are in so deep with Donald Trump and his cavalcade of deliberate mayhem that a sudden reversal would give them terminal whiplash.
That, as they say, was then. Things happen fast way up where the air is rare, and if this week has proven anything, it has proven that matters can always get worse.
The revelations released in previews of journalist Bob Woodward’s new book were harrowing enough by themselves. Woodward’s story begins with former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn stealing papers from the president’s desk to keep Trump from signing them, an apparently common event for several high-level staffers that Woodward correctly describes as an administrative coup d’état. Also included in the excerpts are scenes of presidential rage, incoherence, ignorance, fear and hate so sinister they would make Edgar Allan Poe seek a new line of work.
The saber-toothed disclosures in Woodward’s book were still chewing their way through an astonished and unprepared White House when the second volcano erupted: On Wednesday afternoon, some cowardly administration official seeking to set bold new parameters for the term “CYA” dropped an anonymous editorial on The New York Times.
The editorial, perhaps the most self-serving platter of cognitive dissonance ever proffered in print, bemoaned the “amoral” president who was messing up all the great work the administration was doing: enlarging the military, poisoning the environment and plundering the Treasury for the wealthiest of the wealthy. Were it not for the unlettered orange goon in the round room, reads the lament, everything would be just spiffy.
Fear not, this craven writer soothed, we’re here to protect you from the president we’ve known to be malevolently dangerous from the beginning, but we didn’t speak up until now because, well, gosh, we have such nice jobs to protect.
I can count on one hand with fingers to spare the number of times Donald Trump has said something I agree with, but when he called the author of that article “gutless” on Wednesday night, he hit the nail on the head. Whoever wrote that tripe saw fit to take a job with this administration in the first place, saw fit to hide the ugly reality of Donald Trump from the public and ultimately saw fit to crouch behind “anonymous” in order to salvage any future employment prospects. The best people, really, no, tell me more.
The content of the op-ed makes me want to run up a tree for about a dozen different reasons. However, not only does it serve to confirm the core elements of Woodward’s book, it has also utterly demoralized Donald Trump and his entire crew. The White House is flailing around trying to figure out who dropped this dung bomb on them. In one fell swoop, the author transformed Donald Trump into every panicked victim from all those bad horror movies: THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!
The double-barreled combination of these events — the Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed — is a profoundly significant event in US politics. The chaos in the White House has moved beyond the seedy realm of reality TV and into a zone of genuine contra-constitutional peril unseen in the land since the days of Andrew Johnson. Pile on the five guilty verdicts/pleas for former Trump associates and the looming Mueller/New York investigations and what we have is nothing less than an existential crisis of national proportions.
Which brings us back to Brett Kavanaugh, and to all those Republican senators who have been carrying water for this lumbering fraud of a president since the moment he broke the party over his knee in 2016.
Those senators support Kavanaugh’s nomination because they agree with him on shredding corporate power limitations, thwarting gun control, erasing women’s reproductive rights, obliterating regulations, trashing the environment and breaking unions, among other things. Donald Trump likes Kavanaugh because Kavanaugh may be the one person who can save Trump from the legal consequences of his actions.
Mr. Kavanaugh, you see, believes presidents are immune from the law. He hasn’t come right out and said so in the hearings, but his previous writings tell the tale and his evasions this week speak for themselves. Can Trump pardon himself? No answer. Can Trump ignore a lawfully executed subpoena? No answer. Will he recuse himself if any Trump-related legal issues reach the Supreme Court? No answer.
By themselves, these non-replies should constitute possible grounds for disqualification from the position he seeks. In the context of current events, with the legal and moral roof caving in on this administration to the point that aides are stealing the people’s paperwork from the Oval Office, Kavanaugh’s love affair with executive power and refusal to pledge recusal should be the period at the end of a one-word sentence: “No.”
No president in these circumstances should be allowed to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, especially if the one appointed may decide his fate based on politics and not the law. The Democrats cannot block this catastrophe from the minority. Only Senate Republicans can. Two would do it, five would be nice, and time is short.
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