Part I -- Going Backwards
Led by a reactionary, autocratic faction of the Republican Party, the United States has taken another step backward in terms of social progress. This comes with Donald Trump's nomination of a religiously motivated conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court. Barrett, a devout Catholic and presently a federal appeals court judge, was nominated specifically at the behest of the president's fundamentalist Christian supporters. They, in turn, are hell-bent (this term is employed purposely) on enforcing their moral sensibilities through secular law.
I use the words "another step" because, in multiple different forms, this slippage has been going on for a while. It started with President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and his confused idea that the problem with American society -- a society -- of now over 300 million people, a poverty rate of at least 10.5%, no mandated health insurance, a place where national and state regulations were the only thing standing between the citizen and environmental degradation, an unhealthy workplace and economic instability -- was the size and intrusive nature of the federal government. With occasional but always temporary pauses, the country has been following this Reaganite campaign for small government ever since. How so? All the "intrusive" rules and regulations that protect the workplace, the environment and the economy, have come under attack from people wrapping themselves in the cloak of conservatism and championing a perverted notion of individual freedom. The whole national domestic orbit has been thrown into retrograde motion.
Donald Trump is the apparent culmination of this self-destructive process. Even before he ran for president on the Republican ticket, Trump was suspected of only masquerading as a conservative to secure a political base. Subsequently, he has been described as a misogynist, narcissist, congenital liar, bully, autocrat, and con man, he was nonetheless, Trump was voted into the White House in 2016.
President Trump has turned the Republican Party into a rump affair remade in his own image, essentially purging all moderate Republicans from the party ranks. His singular achievements as president have been to make the rich richer, keep the poor poor, and render most of the population more vulnerable to a range of social, economic and environmental ills. He has also sought to befriend and defend every un-American, potentially criminal outfit in the country, ranging from the Nazis and anarchist armed militias to organized religious fanatics.
In essence, Trump seeks to do to the U.S. as a whole what he has done to the Republican Party. That is why a very large number of government agencies are now headed up by henchmen whose number one job is to cripple their own agencies. For those branches not so easily sabotaged, Trump seeks to find a way to load them up with those he believes will follow his lead. Presently, he is moving to do just that to the Supreme Court.
The unfortunate catalyst for this effort at court stacking is the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg personified for many the nation's potential to move forward. She was a progressive figure who fought for civil rights, particularly those of women. As such, she became a symbol of resistance to the Trump administration's efforts to move the Supreme Court to the right. Afflicted with cancer, Ginsburg was, alas, unable to outlive Donald Trump's presidency.
Now Trump seeks to replace her on the court with a candidate who, unlike President John Kennedy (a Catholic who was once falsely accused of being a tool of the Papacy), might indeed turn out to be more influenced by "orthodox" Catholicism than the U.S. Constitution. On the one hand, judge Barrett has asserted -- that legal careers ought to be seen "as a means to the end of serving God." On the other, she says "I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge." These two statements are in direct contradiction. If the first is true, the second is certainly false. This is not the kind of conflict of interest you want for an arbiter of the U.S. Constitution.
Trump, of course, does not care about religion, nor has he read the U.S. Constitution, and thus is uninterested in a mandated separation of church and state. From Trump's point of view, Amy Coney Barrett's nomination was made not an act of religious faith or made on conservative principle, it is rather an act of political opportunism. With it Trump hopes to garner support in the impending election among a host of Christian fundamentalist voters who fantasize that he is an agent of God. For these fanatics, Barrett's appointment to the court would serve as proof of this absurd conviction.
America isn't the only place such dangerous craziness can take place, but that offers little consolation. Just how depressed should we be due to this unfortunate turn of events? It depends on whether you take a long range or short range view.
Part II -- Short Range
Ginsburg's death was a bad break at a time of serious confrontation between progressive and regressive forces. By this I refer to the next presidential election cycle and the question whether the country will be guided by the concepts of civil and human rights espoused during the 1960s. Will its citizens support the concepts of racial egalitarianism? Will they also uphold same sex-marriage, abortion rights, fair immigration rules, health care for all, and the ongoing struggle for rational gun control? Will they make the issue of climate change a major priority? Will the citizenry even maintain the traditional economic reforms instituted by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression? In the short run, Trump's ascendency, bolstered by millions of fundamentalist Christians (whose loyalty is to an anti-humanist religious ideology) and tens of thousands of libertarians and anarchists, makes these open questions. And now with Ginsburg's demise, Trump will get another chance to undermine progressive standards with a reactionary appointment to the Supreme Court.
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