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The Gorsuch Weathervane

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On the Facebook “wall” of a liberal online acquaintance of mine, I came upon a discussion this morning over whether or not Democrats should filibuster President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. The prevailing opinion among the partisans on that thread was that they should go for it and the sooner the better. They were actually reveling in ending the centuries long senatorial tradition which once forced Senators to seek consensus before placing new justices on the Supreme Court. The posters seemed genuinely glad to be forcing the issue — taking the fight, as they see it, to Republicans in the Senate. As one of them wrote:

“So what are we gaining by not pulling the piin [sic]? If we get to do it once, do it now. The Administration may implode before they can nominate again.”

This, I think, is the key to what’s going on now with this and other administration efforts. It’s why we have come to this pass in the United States Senate and Congress generally and why President Trump’s every move is being met by fierce and unrelenting opposition. Instead of working with the new president, Democrats have chosen to be a new kind of opposition, the non-loyal kind. Why? Because they see in Trump an illegitmate president, someone who doesn’t deserve to be where he is and so must surely have won his office by other than legitimate means. The problem is that President Donald J. Trump has made no effort to disabuse them of this sentiment. In fact, he has so alienated half the country with his knee jerk attacks and foolish tweets (replete with hyberoblic charges made without evidenciary basis) that the Democrats’ desire to defeat him has been hardened, their interest in working with him for the overall good of the country diminished to the point of non-existence.

Instead of outreach to the nation in an effort to broaden his support by winning over Americans who might be won over, Donald Trump has pursued the same divisive tactics he perfected throughout his years as a New York real estate mogul and outsized television personality. When criticized, he attacks his critics to bully them into submission or scare them off. His approach is to use crudity and threats to shock. It’s what made him a reality television star when he hosted Celebrity Apprentice. It served him well on the New York media scene and catapulted him into the first ranks of Republican presidential candidates last year — and then the presidency itself. So more of the same seems like a good enough strategy to him. Already, not much more than two months into his presidency, he’s turned the White House into his personal bunker.

He’s widened already deep national divisions and left Democrats eager to take him on. Already embittered by their unexpected loss, Democrats are in no mood for reconciliation, for olive branches. Eager now for the fight after losing the election and counting on destroying his presidency in the process, Democrats see no percentage in making nice with the Trump administration in the halls of Congress — or anywhere else for that matter. If your antagonist scorches the earth, why should you do otherwise? Fight fire with fire, as they say.

The opposition to Judge Gorsuch, a nominee who should have been an easy confirmation, is premised on the Democrats’ expectation of an ultimate Trump presidential collapse, which the president’s myriad of early problems seems to presage to them. At the least, given the president’s repeated stumbles and the national mood he has helped create, they believe they are making significant inroads in terms of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, inroads which, if realized, would seriously damage the remaining years of the Trump presidency.

Should that actually happen, the combative Mr. Trump is likely to go nuclear himself, further polarizing the nation and likely pushing voters who, by 2020, will be sick of the bitter politics of the Trump years, into the arms of Democrats. That’s part of their calculation, too.

President Trump still has a chance to salvage things — although it’s becoming an increasingly long shot — if he will make an effort to normalize his presidency and give up the petulant behaviors of a spoiled ten year old kid in an Oval Office where adults with some gravitas are expected to preside. But, given his history, how much hope can we hold out for that?

And so here we are today with Democrats willing, no eager, to do something in the Senate that once seemed unthinkable — at least until the former Senate Majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, “pulled the pin” on this political hand grenade when he presided. Republicans would have no reason to abolish this final, and once sacrosanct, filibuster tradition of 60 votes to end debate in the Senate for Supreme Court nominees unless the Democrats (who did just that for lower court nominees when they held the Senate) give them one — which they are now intent on doing.

Democrats are banking on destroying the Trump presidency any way they can and betting Trump won’t get a chance to nominate another Supreme Court justice before he goes down in flames, giving them the upper hand in all future Supreme Court nominations. Considering Donald Trump’s passion for fueling the fires he, himself, ignites, they could be right.

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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