By Frank F. Islam, September 26, 2018
The American civil war was fought between 1861 to 1865. It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 620,000 people.
America’s current uncivil war began near the end of the 20th century; ramped up a little at the beginning of this 21st century; accelerated in the second decade of the century, and, has moved into nearly full-fledged and continuous conflict since Donald Trump took office on January 20, 2017.
There are not many dead yet from this escalation. But this war has affected millions — indeed tens of millions — of American citizens. It may not result in the taking of many lives. But, it could very well sound the death knell for that fragile crucible called the American democracy.
During his participation on a panel on Morning Joe on September 19, “left-wing” documentary filmmaker Michael Moore stated that he had a two-hour interview with Stephen Bannon, former White House Trump advisor and “right-wing” proponent of the Deep State theory of government, for his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9.
Moore proceeded to explain that Bannon had wisely declined to give approval to have his interview included in the film. He asserted, however, that one of the things that Bannon said during that interview was, “The difference between our side (the Republicans) and your side is that we go for the head wound, your side (the Democrats) likes to have pillow fights.”
That may have been somewhat true before the Trump presidency. However, the gloves have come off frequently ever since Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Numerous groups and individuals, such as students and faculty on college campuses, liberal users of the traditional and social media, Democrats in Congress, and many others have put up their dukes and begun to fight in the same uncivilized manner as their opponents.
A recent example of this were the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings held to determine whether to recommend confirming Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court justice. Most of the Democrats on the Committee seemed to be interested in asking tough questions in a manner that would enable them to determine whether Judge Kavanaugh has the qualifications, temperament, and independence of mind to serve in that hallowed body. A few decided to use it as an opportunity to pontificate, posture and politic — perhaps trying to position themselves to run for some higher office in the future.
The net result was that the hearings were ugly both in their process and imagery. In most cases, Kavanaugh gave bland, uninformative, and non-committal answers, and walked away at the hearing’s end with his confirmation appearing imminent.
Then, along came the “leak” of the confidential letter from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accusing Judge Kavanaugh of having sexually assaulted her when she was 15 at a party in high school. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) had this letter well before the hearings began, and for some unfathomable reason decided not to share it with her Democratic colleagues or Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chair of the Committee, so that this matter might be reviewed before or as part of the normal hearing itself.
Various reasons have been given as to why this “confidential” letter was shared with colleagues after Kavanaugh’s hearing was completed and subsequently released. None of them are satisfactory.
The sad fact of the matter is that Professor Ford did not agree to going public with the information in her letter. Someone or somebodies on the Democratic side in the Senate, in an apparent last-ditch attempt to block the Kavanaugh confirmation, decided that she was expendable. As a result, Christine Blasey Ford who, if her claim is true, was a victim of sexual assault in high school, will be a victim of senatorial assault in 2018.
This is not a pretty picture for her or for the Senate itself. Because of the release, a new Judicial Committee hearing was called with just Ford and Kavanaugh to be present. In the rush to judgment, or — as some might say to whitewash this matter, the Republicans in the Senate requested no FBI investigation and no other witnesses to be called.
This approach appears to have been taken to give the appearance of due process, while in truth subordinating it to the political end of getting another conservative, Republican-leaning judge on the Supreme Court by avoiding a full and open inquiry.
The foregoing assessment might seem cynical or harsh. But, when you combine it with the arbitrary and capricious manner the Judicial Committee leadership took to handling the scheduling of this hearing, and the biased statements of Republican senators regarding it, the evidence supports the validity of this conclusion.
Consider the following. Chair Grassley originally set a date of Monday, September 24 for the hearing. After Dr. Ford’s attorneys pointed out that gave them almost no time to determine whether to participate and to manage their end of the process if they did, Grassley “graciously” offered to move the hearing back a whole two days to Wednesday, September 26. He set a take-or- leave-it deadline of 10 p.m. on Friday, September 21, for the Ford team to decide whether to accept this extension.
At about 9:30 p.m. on the 21st, Debra S. Katz, Ford’s attorney, responded with a strongly worded and scathing memo refusing to comply with the deadline; accusing the Committee of “bullying” Ford; and asking for one more day to make their decision. Grassley, apparently feeling charitable — or realizing how ridiculous he was appearing — in a tweet set a new deadline of 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 22.
Ford responded before the deadline agreeing to testify at the hearing. It was set for Thursday, September 27 but the details remained to be negotiated. Those details may not matter much, though.
This is so because the sad fact is that, for some Republican senators, who might be labeled the “bully boys,” the Ford- Kavanaugh sexual assault hearing may be irrelevant. Those bully boys include Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Senator Orrin Hatch (UT).
On Monday, September 17, Senator Hatch, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, presented a convoluted defense of Kavanaugh. Hatch, indicating that he had talked to Kavanaugh, stated “The judge who I know very, very well is an honest man, said this didn’t happen.” He added that Dr. Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser was “mixed up” and “I think she is mistaken.” Then he concluded “If that was true (the accusation), I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today.”
On Friday, September 21, McConnell, speaking to social conservatives at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, promised, “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the U.S. Supreme Court. So, my friends, keep the faith. Don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re going to plow right through it.”
So much for getting to truth and justice. It seems that for some in the Senate, the American way is to trust but don’t verify, keep the faith but don’t practice it, and plow right through but don’t protect the innocent. This is the new pulpit for the bullies — it is not one that would make Teddy Roosevelt proud.
In sum, the polarized and polarizing performance of the Judicial Committee is dismaying and to a large extent discrediting. The Committee’s handling of the Kavanaugh hearings and their aftermath were just another example of how truly dysfunctional the United States Congress has become.
Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, say both parties bear some of the responsibility for this. But they lay most of the blame for this dysfunctionality at the feet of the Republican Party. In their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, they declare, “Today’s Republican Party… is an insurgent outlier.”
Ornstein and Mann trace the origins of the Republican Party’s condition to Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. In a 2016 article forVox, they opine, “Newt Gingrich, first among other Republican leaders, took this polarization to a new level. He was key in the transformation of the party into a destructive and delegitimizing force in American politics (which makes his recent bonding with Trump very fitting).”
Gingrich did not accomplish this destruction and delegitimization on his own. As Ornstein and Mann note, in 2008 the “Young Guns” (Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan) “took the Gingrich playbook and ran with it…” Following that, beginning in 2015, the Freedom Caucus began to push the House further and further to the right. And, as the behavior of Congressmen Devin Nunes (CA) and Jim Jordan (OH) has demonstrated, the Caucus remains intent on being a destabilizing force in 2018.
For most of the first decade of this new century, even as the Republicans in the House tried to pull the Congress down the rabbit hole, the Senate could be looked at as the adults in the room, considering matters objectively and trying to work together across party lines to get things done. In 2008, however, with the election of Barack Obama, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at the time Senate minority leader and now the majority leader, began to assume a Gingrich-type role and make the Senate a less collaborative and compromising place.
McConnell’s first strike in this regard — made after President Obama assumed the presidency — was the declaration that “The single most important thing that we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” With that in mind, he and his Republican allies set about to block everything from legislation to Presidential nominations to fill vacancies, using the filibuster. This “scorched earth”-type tactic frayed the relationships among the senators.
His second strike, made as the majority leader, was to refuse to hold hearings and a vote for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to become Supreme Court Justice in 2016. McConnell’s rationale — although such a tactic had never been used before — was that it was too close to the upcoming presidential election and that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
McConnell’s third strike in 2017 was to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) with no Democrats on the health policy task force and no hearings on the subject. When the health repeal legislation didn’t pass, McConnell and his Republican allies managed to get a very flawed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed right before year’s end that eliminated the individual mandate component of Obamacare. This effectively neutered Obamacare by gutting the financial support necessary for its full implementation.
That’s three strikes and McConnell should be out. But in today’s highly politicized world, that’s not the way things work.
What is out is any of the good will that was left in the Senate. Who is out is a large segment of the American people suffering economically, physically and psychologically, because of this charade in Congress.
Given all of this, it might seem perfectly appropriate for the Democrats to resort to the same pugnacious methods employed by the Republicans. This might be true if this were a cage wrestling match.
But it is not. As we said in an earlier blog, it is a contest for the head, heart and soul of America.
It is a battle for the future of this country. If both sides resort to tactics that divide rather than unite us, there will be no way that all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men will ever be able to put this democracy together again.
What is the alternative course? Senator John McCain spelled it out perfectlyin the eloquent speech he delivered on the senate floor on July 25 before he voted not to repeal Obamacare.
In his speech, Senator McCain reflected upon his time in the Senate; reminded his fellow senators of their responsibilities; called them out for not living up to them; and pleaded with his colleagues to do so. McCain’s speech should be required reading as a civics lesson for all elected officials and citizens.
The whole speech is a masterpiece. There are many great paragraphs and lines in McCain’s remarks. There are also words and phrases that matter as well. They include: “regular order”, “old way of legislating”, “servants”, “humility”, “trust”, “dependence on each other”, “cooperation”, “compromise”, and, “the cause that binds us”.
These are words, practices and behaviors that transcend tirades, tribalism and territorialism. They have healing power. If enough good men and good women embrace them, they can provide the basis for working together to end this uncivil war before there are so many casualties that it is unstoppable.
If both sides are inflicting head wounds, our American democracy will not survive. Let the healing begin!