Saturday, October 6, 2018

Trump, Kavanaugh, and Justice: A Minor Musing

Sometime today, the Senate will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a justice on the United States Supreme Court. His self-righteous outburst last week should have disqualified him because it demonstrated his lack of judicious restraint and sense of entitlement.  All Supreme Court justices ought to be judicious and restrained when their every word affects the course of history. No one should be entitled to a lifetime appointment. Apparently, a Wall Street Journal apology covers multitude of sins.

In the past few days, Donald Trump has taken to mocking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her decades ago. He has also mocked former Senator Al Franken for resigning from the United States Senate when Franken was accused of sexual impropriety.

It's impossible to know what cases will come before the Supreme Court two, five, or ten years from now. Three certainties exist, however. First, Republicans may have had cause to accuse the Democrats of falling prey to relativism and postmodernism over the past twenty or thirty years, but the events of the Kavanaugh hearings and the aftermath show Republicans, like all postmodernists, returning to the Sophists and giving full throat to relativistic arguments. The idea that justice is the rendering of due is no longer an operative principle for Republicans or this allegedly conservative court. Both are acting and will continue to act on Thrasymacus's argument that justice is "nothing else than the interest of the stronger." Only those with wealth and connections need seek relief in the courts or the legislatures.

Second, Trumpists will continue to confuse bellicosity with strength. President George H.W. Bush sought "a kinder, gentler nation." President Abraham Lincoln believed Americans would be governed "by the better angels of our nature." Trump throws tantrums and urges his base to throw them as well. Kavanaugh's contempt and anger was nothing but a tantrum without profanity. The fact that the tactic was successful presages more of the same

Third, public discourse will resemble Flint's water supply for the foreseeable future. Democrats are enraged at how Republicans treated Dr. Ford. Republicans are enraged at how Democrats treated Kavanaugh. Even if senators from both parties are merely posturing for the cameras and their respective bases, the rhetoric has reached a level where comity and reasoned political debate have become impossible at the national level.

Throughout the entire 2016 election season and on a weekly basis since, I have thought about the first stanza of Yeats's "The Second Coming." The following lines capture the current cultural climate:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats concluded by wondering
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, 
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Whatever curiosity I may have had about the answer to that question has given way to dread.