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Boardman writes: "The country seems subsumed in a moral numbness where only the powerless majority of humane people shares the global horror at the path down which the powerful in our government and corporate society are taking us without our consent."

President Donald Trump celebrates after his speech at the presidential inauguration. (photo: Saul Loeb/AP)
President Donald Trump celebrates after his speech at the presidential inauguration. (photo: Saul Loeb/AP)

The World Stands Aghast at the Moral Vacuum of American Leadership

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

04 April 17


I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor…. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption… I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken….

– Rev. Martin Luther King, Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967

ifty years later, with direct references to America’s genocidal war in Vietnam removed from the speech, Dr. King’s words have more relevance than they did then: the world is more aghast now than ever at the path the US has taken, but the US itself has less resilience, less coherence, less national vitality than ever. In the years leading up to 1967, even as the US escalated war in Vietnam, the country also passed culture-defining legislation supporting civil rights and voting rights and addressing poverty. Now the energy and vision the country needs for resistance remains diffuse, unfocused, ineffective, while ridiculed or ignored by those in power. The country seems subsumed in a moral numbness where only the powerless majority of humane people shares the global horror at the path down which the powerful in our government and corporate society are taking us without our consent.

The Supreme Court hijacking is but one vivid example among hundreds now, if not thousands. Republicans shredded the Constitution by refusing even to consider President Obama’s choice for the court. It did not matter to Republicans that Merrick Garland was a relatively tepid political choice, a compromise candidate by all appearances (Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland “a consensus candidate” in 2010). Republicans don’t work toward consensus, Republicans don’t compromise, Republicans shoot the wounded. Such Republican behavior is as thoroughly corrupt and reprehensible as it is now all too predictable. Given the unacceptability of Republican actions, what is one to make of Democrats responding to these political high crimes with little more than token whimpers? Why did President Obama leave Merrick Garland to twist slowly, slowly in the wind for almost a year (while he, himself, went golfing how many times)? Where was the public outrage of a Democratic president, of the Democratic Party, of that party’s presidential candidates, or even a single courageous senator or congressman willing to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire in preference to letting them burn the Constitution?

On March 16, 2016, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. On January 20, 2017, that nomination lapsed with the swearing-in of the new president. In the interim, the White House and Democrats in general mostly maintained radio silence on the nomination. (Google searches for “Obama defends Garland” and “Democrats defend Garland” produce nothing more recent than May 2016 until after the election.) Nowhere in his presidency, despite some real and worthwhile achievements, did President Obama come close to rising to the moral profundity of Dr. King. Early on in the Garland farce, the president was remarkably callow:

The way I’ve thought about diversity is not to think about any single seat as ‘I’ve got to fill this slot with this demographic.’ … at no point did I say oh you know what — I need a black lesbian from Skokie in that slot. Can you find me one?... Yeah [Garland is] a white guy, but he’s a really outstanding jurist. Sorry. I think that’s important.

Certainly it’s important to have an outstanding jurist on the Supreme Court, but it wasn’t important enough to the president to go to the mat for his nominee, it wasn’t enough for the president to defend presidential prerogative in appointing Supreme Court justices, it wasn’t important enough to put a centrist justice on the court for President Obama to make it a daily issue on which the Republicans had no principled defense. Neither the president nor his surrogates lobbied the Senate on a daily basis, as they could have. Nor did they maintain a daily media campaign, as they could have. Nor did they go to court to compel the Senate to perform its constitutional duty, as they could have. Collectively, they rolled over and died. Even the American Bar Association was more vocal later in support of Merrick Garland than Democrats. Even Neil Gorsuch has had nicer things to say about Merrick Garland than Bernie Sanders has.

Garland’s year of hanging quietly as an ignored piñata is mystifying when viewed through a lens of principle. It’s less mystifying as reflected in the distorting mirror of politics, especially the remarkably corrupt Democratic presidential politics of 2016. (A Google search of “Hillary defends Garland” finds her backing him in March and denigrating him in September.) A year ago, remember, pretty much everyone thought the Democrats were going to win the presidency and likely the Senate, too. On March 15, 2016, Clinton won every contested state (OH, NC, FL, IL, MO) and Trump did almost as well, losing only Ohio to Kasich. Here’s a whiff of the March magic thinking those primaries produced:

Crafty of O [Obama] to wait until the morning after Trump’s backbreaking wins last night to stick McConnell with this [Garland nomination]. Now Senate Republicans will face maximum pressure from both sides.
If they cave and decide to give Garland a hearing after all, Republican voters who are still cool to Trump might decide to vote for him in a burst of “burn it all down” rage. A betrayal here hands Trump the nomination — assuming there’s any doubt that he’s already on track to win it. If, on the other hand, McConnell stands firm, he’s blowing an opportunity to confirm a nominee who’s likely to be more “moderate” than what President Hillary will offer next year. The conventional wisdom on Trump right now is that he’s a dead duck in the general election barring some sort of national crisis. I don’t agree with it, but it’s not out of left field: His favorable rating, for instance, is toxic and it’s an open question whether he could organize a national campaign capable of matching Hillary’s. If McConnell agrees with that CW, that Hillary’s a prohibitive favorite to win and that the backlash to Trump will hand Democrats the Senate, then refusing to confirm Garland now clears the path for Democrats to nominate and confirm a young hyper-liberal justice next year. Garland is already in his 60s and is no far-lefty; if Hillary wins big, liberals will insist that she exploit her mandate by engineering a new Warren Court. (Garland, ironically, clerked for the most liberal member of the Warren Court but he hasn’t followed the same trajectory as a judge.) So what do you do if you’re Mitch the Knife? Accept a quarter-loaf here by confirming a guy whose centrist credentials will be used to show just how unreasonable and obstructionist the GOP is in blocking him? Or risk having no loaf at all when Democrats win this fall and ram through whoever they want?

This commentator (identified as ALLAHPUNDIT) goes on to consider the possibility of a Trump presidency with a Democratic Senate. And he predicts that Merrick Garland will be confirmed sooner or later. He does not even imagine what we have come to know as reality. In this new reality we have Neil Gorsuch nominated to the Supreme Court, where his stone-cold inhumanity will work to shape the quality of our lives for a generation. Sure, Senate Democrats, most of them, eventually, are putting up a last-minute fight, and maybe they can win it. But even the Republican trashing of the Constitution over Garland wasn’t enough to bother Democrats like Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp or Joe Donnelly to reward that daylight robbery (to which none objected at the time), behavior for which The Washington Post, without apparent irony, dubs them “three moderate Democrats.”

As this is written late on April 3, the outcome is undecided. But whether the country gets Justice Gorsuch or some other Trump nominee, the credit goes to Democrats. They chose politics over principle for most of 2016 and this is what they achieved. And even now, having lost and lost and lost, the party shows little sign of being able to see itself clearly in a mirror, much less identifying all the ways it needs to change to become anything like a democratic party ever again.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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