When modern Democrats talk about preseving “norms,” traditions,” or even the “Constitution,” they’re really talking about preserving their preferred policies. We know this because “liberals” have shown themselves not only willing to destroy the legitimacy of institutions like the presidency, the Senate ,and Supreme Court to protect those policies, they’re willing to break down basic norms of civility, as well.
Take the example of Hillary Clinton. In the very first sentence in her new scaremongering essay, which makes the case that America’s “democratic institutions and traditions are under siege,” she attacks our democratic institutions and traditions. “It’s been nearly two years since Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to become president of the United States,” the piece begins.
The intimation, of course, widely shared by the mainstream left, is that Trump isn’t a legitimate president even though he won the election in the exact same way every other president in U.S. history has ever won election. According to our long-held democratic institutions and traditions, you become president through the Electoral College, not the non-existent popular vote.
So when Clinton, or writers at Vox, or The Atlantic, or Politico, or new liberal favorite Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, say it’s “well past time we eliminate the Electoral College, a shadow of slavery’s power on America today that undermines our nation as a democratic republic,” you’re either tragically ignorant about our system or cynically delegitimizing it. Or maybe it’s both.
The Electoral College isn’t ornamental; it exists to undercut the tyranny of direct democracy and ensure the entire nation is represented in national elections. When you attack it, you’re not condemning Trump, you are, in a very palpable way, attacking a core idea that girds much of our governance.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the anti-majoritarian Senate is also suddenly problematic for many Democrats. When a NBC reporter, commenting on a Washington Post article, says “the idea that North Dakota and New York get the same representation in the Senate has to change,” he’s probably not ignorant about why the Founders implemented proportional voting, or why there is a difference between the House and Senate, or why the Tenth Amendment exists. He simply favors a system he thinks would allow liberals to force others to accept his preferred policies.
That’s the thing, of course. North Dakotans can’t make New Yorkers ban abortion, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. They can’t make New Yorkers legalize “assault weapons” if Heller is upheld. But New Yorkers are perfectly content to force North Dakotans to accept both abortion and gun control. So, then, surely nothing could be more frustrating to the contemporary liberal than the existence of an originalist court that values the self-determination of individuals and states.
That is why the effort to destroy Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t only about the nominee, but the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. When you can’t corrode constitutional protections by seating justices that simply ignore the words and purpose of the founding documents, you can proactively smear the people whose decisions do uphold those values.
When Sen. Mazie Hirono, who rejected basic tenets of due process throughout the Kavanaugh hearings, argues Kavanaugh “is going to be on the Supreme Court with a huge taint and a big asterisk after his name,” she, like many others, is giving her followers a pretext to ignore the court.
If there is a “taint,” a proper constitutionally mandated solution exists: provide evidence and impeach him. Otherwise, there is no asterisk. Republicans didn’t break any constitutional norms. Trump nominated a candidate with a blemish-free ten-year record on the DC appellate court.
Republicans in the judiciary committee had hearings in which Democrats could question the nominee. Republicans even added additional hearings after Democrats leaked uncorroborated accusations. Republicans then asked for a seventh FBI investigation into the nominee before voting. Then the entire Senate voted. There is no asterisk.
Of course, if Democrats had been in charge of the Senate, they would have been free to shelve that nomination just as Republicans had done with Merrick Garland, when they also decided adopt the “Biden Rule.” If Democrats had followed the norms of the Senate in 2013, rather than using the nuclear option, they might have been able to filibuster Kavanaugh. They didn’t.
Instead, during this entire constitutionally mandated process we just went through, Democrats demonstrated a malicious disregard for the institution, not only by slandering those they disagreed with, and by leaking uncorroborated accusations, and by attacking the principles of Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and by ignoring long-held Senate rules during the proceedings in their Spartacus moments, but by preemptively declaring the pick illegitimate the day the president announced it.
According to liberals, every conservative-run institution is illegitimate. Working out how it’s illegitimate is the only question.
Even the questions in the aftermath of the Kavanaugh vote point to misunderstanding of process. Did Democrats “fight hard enough” to stop a nomination? What does that even mean? You fight by winning the argument, and by appealing to a large swath of Americans to win the Senate, and by winning the vote. In a decent nation, you don’t win by smearing your political opponents as gang rapists, and you don’t win by acting like a mob and screaming at your fellow citizens in restaurants and elevators.
After all, Hillary, and others who write about Trump’s supposed annihilation of our institutions, seem wholly concerned about aesthetics, manners, and policy, not procedure or institutions. Civility is a worthwhile issue, but it is a separate issue. You might find immigration and environmental policy of primary importance, but not getting your way isn’t a constitutional crisis. When they act like it is, liberals—and it’s getting progressively difficult to give them that descriptor—are destabilizing the institutions they are claiming to save.
How many times did a Democrat even mention the Constitution during the Kavanaugh hearings? I imagine, if we’re lucky, a perfunctory handful. Trump, far more than the previous administration, has strengthened proper separations of power. One of the ways he’s done it is by his judicial appointments. And Democrats’ inability to make any distinction between the neutral processes of governing and their partisan goals makes them, to this point, a far bigger threat to constitutional norms than the president.