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Weissman writes: "Obama's political game-playing is pathetic, as is his sanctimonious poppycock about judicial restraint, the rule of law, and loyalty to what the Constitution says. Charles Evans Hughes, later chief justice, shattered those fairytales over a century ago, when he pointed out that 'the Constitution is what the judges say it is.'"

Donald Trump. (photo: AP)
Donald Trump. (photo: AP)

From the Supreme Court to Donald Trump, It's Time to Get Real

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

21 March 16


orgive my foul mood. Like many of you, I’m still brought low by President Obama’s far-from-progressive pick for the Supreme Court, Circuit Court judge Merrick Garland. Obama’s political game-playing is pathetic, as is his sanctimonious poppycock about judicial restraint, the rule of law, and loyalty to what the Constitution says. Charles Evans Hughes, later chief justice, shattered those fairytales over a century ago, when he pointed out that “the Constitution is what the judges say it is.”

This does not suggest that the Constitution's text and legal precedents are irrelevant. As I’ve argued before, they frame the debates and provide the arguments and “values” that the justices use to convince each other and legitimize to the rest of us whatever they decide the Constitution now says, even if today’s interpretation differs radically from what the Constitution supposedly said last week or will say some time in the future.

We can also learn from Antonin Scalia, who proved beyond doubt that there is no intellectually honest and anti-authoritarian way to be a Constitutional fundamentalist. Nor should we trust Biblical fundamentalists, whether Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or Satanic. Nor free-market fundamentalists. Nor Marxist, Leninist, or Trotskyist fundamentalists. Old texts, old myths, and old ideologies cannot keep up with changing times. They may point us in useful directions, help us hang onto basic values, or they may not. But if progressive politics has any underlying theme, it has to be this. That we look ahead and use our admittedly limited human reason and hopefully unlimited human compassion ‒ not your old-fashioned faith or mine ‒ to find workable solutions to problems old and new.

Bernie Sanders did this to perfection with Obama’s Supreme Court nomination. Appearing on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC, he promised to support Garland and oppose the Republican refusal to give him a hearing. But he pointedly criticized Garland as “probably not the most progressive pick.” Would Sanders, if he won the presidential election in November, request Obama to withdraw Garland’s name and make his own pick for the next justice, asked Maddow. “Yes, I would,” said Sanders without the least hesitation.

“I have said over and over again that I do have a litmus test for a Supreme Court justice,” he explained. “That justice must be loud and clear in telling us that he or she will vote to overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision. I’m very worried about the future of American democracy, and about the ability of billionaires to buy American elections. That is my litmus test, and that’s what I would insist on.”

How wonderfully refreshing! But we need to apply the same clear-headed logic to the looming threat of Donald Trump. Most surveys suggest that either Bernie or Hillary could defeat Trump or Cruz, though it’s way too early to put much trust in such hypothetical match-ups. More disturbing is how many of Sanders supporters break with the Bern and talk of voting for Trump against Hillary, or simply not voting at all. And should Bernie win the nomination against the best efforts of the Democratic Party, the corporate media, and the super delegates, the party honchos could well sit on their hands and let him lose the presidential election big-time. That’s what they did to George McGovern in 1972, and the party’s current ties to big money interests offer strong incentives to let Bernie and our political revolution go down in flames.

Letting Trump win, whoever does it, could prove a catastrophic mistake. Just remember what happened when German Communists and Social Democrats in their country’s 1932 presidential elections failed to make common cause against a guy called Adolph Hitler.

Make no mistake. Trump is not Hitler, though his fascistic supporter, the former KKK leader David Duke, thinks that any attempt to compare the Donald to Der Führer will end up “rehabilitating that fellow with the mustache back there in Germany.” Hitler was fighting to make Germany great again against the Communists “and the Jewish capitalists … who were ripping off the nation through the banking system,” Duke told his radio listeners. Trump, he claimed, is fighting the same fight here in the US, defending “the real America” and its European-American majority against Goldman Sachs and Bernie Sanders, “who is a former Communist and is a Marxist right now.”

Trump isn’t even Mussolini, though the similarities are striking, as Dana Milbank and others have suggested. Trump’s “chin-out toughness, sweeping right-hand gestures, and talk of his ‘huge’ successes and his ‘stupid’ opponents, recall Il Duce’s mannerisms. So does his “spreading a pervasive sense of fear and overwhelming crisis, portraying his backers as victims, assigning blame to foreign or alien actors and suggesting only his powerful personality can transcend the crisis.” Trump’s encouragement of violence and use of violent imagery is also similar.

But, at least so far, Trump remains less the ideological leader than the seasoned salesman and TV performer who is still feeling out his supporters to see how he can best ride them to personal power. Think of him as a Fascist in waiting. He’s clearly a racist and bigot, and has been for years, as I reported last September in “A F***king Jew Thanks Ann Coulter.” Her remarks suggested he was at the least a closet anti-Semite. He has since been more open in his Jew-bashing.

He also has been brilliant in winning support from Christian Evangelicals, even though he’s as far from pious as he could be. And, like Bernie, he quickly appealed to white blue-collar workers who had seen neo-liberal economics and trade deals like NAFTA send American jobs overseas. Why has it taken the corporate media and even such savvy observers as Thomas Frank so long to see how his leftist-sounding economic critique fits with his right-wing Fascist appeal? He’s doing exactly the same as Marine Le Pen in France, trying to replace a flaccid Left and poseurs like Hillary Clinton as the true enemy of global capitalism’s failures.

Whether Trump wins or loses this year’s race for president, don’t expect him to go away. He will almost certainly build on his similarities with Europe’s neo-Nazis. The only question is whether he will build his Fascist movement faster than progressives can build a serious alternative following in Bernie Sanders’ footsteps.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.

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