The United States Is Broken

As many of you know from these pieces, I am basically an optimist. I want to believe that given the chance, most people will do the right thing. I am no longer certain of that. In my past pieces, I tried to present a balanced approach to issues, even if I do express my opinions and have things that I am for or against.

Today, I am not pulling any punches. I am sick and tired of a large number of Republican politicians that are trying to destroy our country in order to return it to an era where white men ruled without question and citizens that do not share their world view are discouraged or prevented from voting. In order to achieve those goals, they are willing to turn our form of government into an autocracy and are willing to support a coup to attain their desired end state.

First and foremost, anyone, repeat, anyone, that supports Donald J. Trump is a traitor to the ideals of our country. I no longer tolerate the “yeah but, he did this or that which was such a great policy.” There are no “yeah, buts.” There are no “both sides.” I did not, and do not, understand why anyone would support him for president, but for arguments’ sake I will take people of good faith at their word that he truly was such a master of economic, immigration, pandemic mitigation or whatever policy you choose, that it was worth looking past his misogyny, racism, greed, criminal enterprises, and the like. All that ended after the 2020 election. Besides the insurrectionist attack on the seat of government on 6 January, we now know that there was an active, multi-layered, wide-spread attempt to thwart the will of the voters and to keep Trump in office past the end of his term. The attack on 6 January was just the last phase of that effort.

In my mind, it’s game over. Period. That undoes any good he possibly could have done. Anyone that still supports Trump, the Big Lie, or any other avenue aimed at returning him to office is a co-conspirator to overthrowing the government and should never be allowed to hold office. Unfortunately, it seems that the price to pay to run for almost any office in our land as a Republican is unabashed support of the Big Lie. Our country has gone nuts in support of a man with no moral compass or integrity. A sad turn of events.

Exacerbating the problem is the rash of racism sweeping the country and the open advocacy of the great replacement theory. This is the idea that “Democrats” and “others” are purposely bringing in immigrants of color to “replace” white citizens in jobs, voting, and economic prosperity in order to take over the country and install a “socialist” regime. Republican politicians such as Elise Stefanik (NY) (the number three ranking Republican in the House), Ron Johnson (WI), Matt Gaetz (FL), Senate candidates J.D. Vance (OH), Eric Schmitt (MO) and Blake Masters (AZ) and many more — it is quite a list — openly or obliquely espouse it. TV “personalities” such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson push it openly on their programs (according to the NY Times, Carlson has done so over 400 times). And of course, Donald J. Trump turned making people afraid of the “others” that were going to replace them into an art form. Anyone who is not a white Christian fits into the pattern of those “replacing” the “true” members of American society. That includes Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and non-white immigrants (or “third world voters” as Carlson calls them).

Wow. A lot to unpack there.

The replacement theory is the basis for numerous mass shootings in recent years, including Pittsburgh, El Paso, Poway CA, and elsewhere. Of course, most recently, it is the alleged motivation behind the Tops supermarket massacre in Buffalo. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) the movement has its roots in the early 1900’s in France. It was picked up in the United States to justify Jim Crow laws and the continued oppression of African-Americans. The theory rebounded in the current era when another French writer Renaud Camus published “Le Grand Replacement” (the great replacement) in 2011. His book focused on immigrants from Africa and Asia, especially Muslim immigrants, that will take over Europe due to higher birth rates which will eventually drive European whites into extinction. White supremacists around the world latched on to this revived theory to justify their racist activity. Thus the claims that a “white genocide” is underway. It is now a growing refrain from Republican politicians around the country and has taken on an anti-semitic tone as some of the theory’s advocates believe that a Jewish cabal is orchestrating the “take over” on behalf of the Democrats.

Yes it sounds crazy. Unfortunately, it is increasingly a mainstream Republican talking point.

Finally, we are coming apart at the seams because we put guns over the lives of our children. There were huge protests surrounding the wearing of masks in schools during the ongoing pandemic, but people just shrug when 19 innocent kids and two teachers are gunned down in their classroom. (Ho hum, thoughts and prayers.) Republican politicians such as Ted Cruz (TX) smarmily tell us he is so saddened by this event, but mostly because now Democrats, the mainstream media and “others” (that word again) will try to use it for political advantage. When is enough enough? I have written too many times following such tragedies that we are the only developed country in the world with this problem. The Second Amendment does not give citizens the right to carry semi-automatic weapons of war into classrooms. Canada, Australia, England, and many other countries share our values, movies, video games, mental health problems and all of the other “reasons” people give to explain away these atrocities and yet, it is extremely rare for them to experience the type of violence that happens with increasing frequency in our country.

It is shameful. If more guns made us safer we would be the safest country in the world. And we most definitely are not.

In my view, we as a country are in big, big trouble. I am not sure we can survive as the country we know for much longer. We have a former president posting from his castle in Florida about an impending “civil war”. Is he advocating for one? I’m not sure, but some folks in our country will see it as a call to arms.

So am I down on the Republican Party? Yes. I am not saying that every Republican advocates for these issues. I am saying that increasing numbers of them are. By far, most disheartening is that good people in the Senate and elsewhere that know that this is an impending doomsday crisis say nothing. They remain silent. They do not condemn their fellow office holders for being anti-American. Crickets. Apparently they are either afraid or else regaining power is of the utmost importance, even if it means more people die, elections are overturned and morons run the government.

Meanwhile the Democrats, especially in the Senate, sit around wringing their hands and expounding on how bad things are. Fix it! You are in power. Do something! If the Democratic leadership has not figured out by now that Republicans are never — never — going to support any action that makes President Biden or the Democratic Congress look good then they deserve to be replaced. Republicans even voted in a bloc to deny funds to help to alleviate the baby formula crisis. Come on! Why would any right thinking Democrat believe that they will get Republican support for anything? Boo hoo. The filibuster keeps us from acting. I guarantee that when Mitch McConnell (KY) takes over as the Senate Majority Leader there will be numerous “carve outs” preventing the use of the filibuster for legislation that he wants to see passed.

There is an old saying that we get the government we deserve. I think we deserve better than that which we might be about to experience. The only way things change is through the ballot box. There is a part of me ready to throw up my hands and say “screw it!” Let loose the hounds! Then I calm down and say to myself that if I don’t care, then what kind of world will our kids and grandkids live in?

We can do better. We must do better. Otherwise we will be hopelessly broken.

The Minority Rules

The fall out from the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade published by Politico this week is getting a lot of richly deserved attention. While it is a February draft that is sure to change in some form or another, the basic tenets of the opinion will most likely remain — perhaps better refined, but still tendering the same basic argument. To date, much speculation centers on how the document was leaked. In a world where everything seems “unprecedented” this truly was. While Supreme Court decisions have been leaked before they were announced in the past, this is the first time in memory that an entire opinion was leaked. However, the why, who and when concerning the leak, although important in an institutional way for the integrity of the Court, is secondary to what is in the opinion.

I am not an attorney and I am not a Constitutional scholar, but it doesn’t take much more than an ability to read and to understand what is written to know that this opinion is a direct threat to way more than just the one case. Whatever one’s opinion on abortion may be, I recommend that you put aside those thoughts for a moment and think about what Justice Alito’s draft opinion means in a larger context.

For the the last year or two, my view is that the Supreme Court has, in a series of decisions large and small, been moving toward a very, very tight interpretation of our nation’s laws and Constitution. As this trend continues, it will move our country back at least one hundred years, and possibly back to life as it was under Reconstruction in the late 1800s.

For example, since the New Deal, and in keeping with rapidly developing complex technical developments, Congress increasingly gives authority to Executive Branch departments to regulate all manner of government and private enterprises. Recent district and appeals courts decisions have increasingly decreed that if a certain regulatory authority is not specifically written into the law, then that agency has no power to enforce it. For about one hundred years, we have assumed otherwise as long as it was reasonable and in keeping with the basic function of that agency. Chaos is likely to ensue should this trend continue as it would necessitate re-writing countless laws to specify powers that by the time the law is enacted are no longer relevant as technology and society move on.

The second trend that appears to be growing in numbers and reinforced by the Supreme Court is giving priority to the states over the federal government. Reconstruction, here we come. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were focused attempts to abolish slavery and to provide the same rights to formerly enslaved individuals as to those that enslaved them. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 (a date which we will come back to shortly) in particular is relevant to this discussion. Section One of the amendment includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Basically, the Due Process Clause extends the rights under the Bill of Rights to the states. The Equal Protection Clause says that every state must extend the protections of the law to every group equally. These clauses have been the basis for decisions such as Loving v Virginia which overturned laws prohibiting mixed race marriages allowing those marriages to be recognized in every state; Obergefell v Hodges which makes same sex marriages valid in every state of the Union, and of course, Roe v Wade, a right to abortion and the case now in question. Also relevant to this discussion is Griswold v Connecticut which hinged on marital privacy and the right to use contraceptives. The fact that the word “privacy” does not appear in the Constitution was a subject of debate in that case and is relevant in the Roe v Wade case as well.

From the last paragraph note that “abortion” “marriage” “privacy” “contraceptives” and many more modern activities and life style choices that we assume to be common in the course of everyday life are nowhere to be found in the Constitution. This is why Section One of the 14th Amendment is the source of arguments for and against many cases that reached the Supreme Court in the last 60 years or so.

This draft opinion is so upsetting to many Americans, beyond the impact of turning abortion laws over to the states, because it threatens other aspects of life that were considered settled. What other rights might states take away? It is not hyperbole. It is not hysteria. Several Republican members of the Senate raised similar questions as to why rights could not be “undone” during the hearings to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. If the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses were the basis for these decisions, and Justice Alito argues that they should not apply, then what is to stop states from taking away the rights of numerous groups based on marital status, race, gender identity or any other factor?

Do not be sanguine if you support a women’s right to choose that half of the states in our country still allow abortions. The Congress could pass a law institutionalizing the right to an abortion. Many Democrats have declared that they will work to pass just such a law before the mid-term elections. It will not happen. There are not enough votes in the Senate to break a filibuster and the Democrats will not or cannot overcome that rule. I guarantee, however, that if in 2024 the Republicans control the Congress and the White House that they will pass a law that does away with abortion in all fifty states — and they will ignore the filibuster if needed.

Several things jump out to me, a lay man, in the Justice Alito draft opinion. Most glaring perhaps, is that he says that a right decided nearly fifty years ago should be taken away. This is the first time that this has happened in our history. Justice Alito argues that the Supreme Court has changed their opinions several times throughout history. In particular, he mentions the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson case that established in law the “separate but equal” doctrine that institutionalized racism in our country. That ruling was overturned in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. Please note that the Brown ruling gave equal rights to a group of Americans. It did not take away a right.

If you happen to read the draft opinion (the link is in the first sentence above) you will notice a disturbing tone in his writings. I will not dwell on that, but he essentially calls his predecessors on the court morons and says that their decision, upheld in other cases since the original 1973 ruling, is “egregiously wrong.”

Digging deeper into his draft opinion, he seems to claim that the 14th Amendment only applies to things known in the year that it was ratified — 1868. Anything after that such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and countless other elements of modern life should not be included because they were unknown or unaddressed in that time. He says that “a fundamental right must be ‘objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.'” One could argue that racism, misogyny and bigotry are “deeply rooted” in our history, although the Justice may disagree. He goes on to argue that what people want (he uses liberty as an example) is not the same as what the 14th Amendment protects. Therefore, he continues, the Court should be “reluctant” to “recognize rights that are not in the Constitution.” And there we are. Apparently, we should live and act like it is the 1700s or 1800s.

Keep in mind that the majority of Americans favor no changes to Roe v Wade. Polls vary, but all show a majority favors keeping the government out of what may be the most personal of decisions. Remember also that many of the recent state laws make no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. When that is factored into polling, 80% or more of Americans are opposed to such restrictions. It seems like a single opinion is overwhelming what the majority of Americans want. Justice Alito addresses that fact by saying, in essence, “too bad.” He is not swayed by public opinion.

When this interpretation is tied to increasingly favoring states rights over the federal government, we are living in very regressive times. One would think that such an issue was solved with the Civil War, but apparently, I was wrong. We can already see in states like Texas and Florida what an over zealous legislature subservient to an autocratic governor can do to undermine the rights of those citizens.

In my mind, it gets worse.

The fallout from the Supreme Court rulings comes in the context of an ex-president that is still raising money and holding the party formerly known as the Republican Party hostage. There are very few traditional Republicans left that have not fallen into the MAGA Party. In way too many local, state and Congressional primaries, to win an election one must agree with the Big Lie and vow to overturn any election that a Republican does not win. That is where many, many states are headed. If your guy or gal does not win, then it could only be because the election was rigged, and the results should be overturned. I guess in many states, only Republican candidates are allowed to win elections.

In addition, looking at the Supreme Court which many would hope would be a bastion of defense against such un-American activities, we see a tendency to follow political beliefs rather than the rule of law.

Apparently here too, only Republicans can name Supreme Court Justices. Remember that the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell packed the Court with his nominees (I say his because the then president did not care about the Court, only that he got credit from his base). He blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland for nearly a year because of an upcoming election. Then, after voting for a presidential race had begun, he crammed Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate. Even as the president that nominally nominated them lost the popular vote twice. (Fun fact: A Republican presidential nominee has only won the popular vote once in the last 30 years.) To pour salt on the wounds, when asked recently whether any future Supreme Court nominees would go forward under President Biden’s last two years in office should the Republicans regain the Senate in 2022, Leader McConnell demurred, implying that it was unlikely. So, it is amazing that Judge Jackson’s nomination process went forward because it seems that only Republicans are supposed to be able to nominate Justices.

It is enough to make me wonder if our Republic can survive much past 2024.

Few people truly believed that Roe v Wade would actually be overturned. Primarily because in our history, rights had only be restored, never rescinded. Even Republican Senators such as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski did not think that it would be overturned as they were personally assured — assured — in public and in private by nominees Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett that it was “settled law” or “stare decisis” meaning that the precedent had been set and there was no reason to change it. So, both Senators came as close to calling those Justices “liars” as is possible to do in polite company.

As has been noted, this is a draft opinion for the majority of the Justices. It could change. Some speculate that it was leaked in order to force a change — others argue it was leaked to solidify the vote of a wavering Justice currently in the majority who might change his/her vote. Time will tell. The final decision should be handed down in late June or early July.

My advice to all Americans that do not agree with this course of events is to do something about it. Demonstrating in the streets is great, it makes people aware and allows for a release of emotion. Unfortunately the only thing that will change things is to vote. Organize, get out the vote, and cast a ballot. Otherwise, the crazies will take over.