By Adam Marletta
Regular readers of this column do not need me to tell them that Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, would be an appalling disaster for women’s rights, the environment, and working-class people. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh would effectively repeal all of the gains the working class has made throughout the 20th century.
As Aaron Amaral writes of Kavanaugh’s efforts to curb the so-called “administrative state,” in a July 11 article for Socialist Worker, “Kavanaugh, like [Neil] Gorsuch and [Antonin] Scalia, appears to want to return this country to a regulatory environment like what existed before the early 20th century — one barren of regulation, in which the market reigns supreme.”
Kavanaugh has made his personal opposition to abortion quite clear — though he is unlikely to forthrightly admit to his anti-choice views during his upcoming nomination hearings.
Whether Kavanaugh and the other four conservative justices on the Court overturn the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade outright in one dramatic ruling, or whether they continue to chip away at the law in incremental yet significant ways, remains to be seen. Regardless, Kavanaugh’s confirmation would all but ensure the repressive, patriarchal dystopia depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was less speculative fiction and more a harrowing premonition of the future.
The pending vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation means that “moderate” Republican Sen. Susan Collins will once again play a deciding role in Trump’s agenda.
Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic includes Collins in his list of GOP “RINOs” — “Resisters In Name Only” — along with other opportunistic, Trump-critical Republicans like John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker. “Maine senator Susan Collins, as one of those mythical ‘moderate’ Republicans, is not as bad as everyone else on this list,” Marcetic writes, “though given the extremity of today’s GOP, that doesn’t amount to much.”
Indeed, FiveThirtyEight.com puts Collins’ “Trump Score” — a scorecard devised to track how often a member of Congress votes along with Trump and the Republican Party — at close to 80 percent.
Recently, members of the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Mainers for Accountable Leadership, Maine People’s Alliance, and several other local activist groups have formed a coalition to pressure Sen. Collins to vote against Kavanaugh’s nomination. The precise form this direct action takes has yet to be determined.
(The coalition’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 31, at 6:00 p.m. See the group’s Facebook page for meeting location which, as of this writing, has yet to be determined.)
While some on the left speculate that Sen. Collins’ vote is all but assured, we must go into this fight believing that we can flip Maine’s senior senator. The stakes are simply too great to have a defeatist mindset.
Beyond Kavanaugh’s overall atrocious track record and prior rulings, the liberal argument against him has thus far focused on the perceived “legality” and “constitutionality” of his nomination.
Liberal Democrats are still justifiably angered at the GOP’s blatant theft — in broad daylight — of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court selection, Merrick Garland, in 2016. The Republicans’ coordinated refusal to grant Garland a hearing — or, for that matter, to even meet with the man one-on-one — is, to my knowledge, completely unprecedented in the history of U.S. politics. By all rights, Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court installment, rammed through in Garland’s place shortly after the 2016 election, is an illegitimate Supreme Court Justice.
If Senate Democrats had any spine whatsoever, they would give Kavanaugh the same cold-shoulder treatment — not because it would thwart his confirmation. (Senate Republicans do not need any Democratic votes to confirm Kavanaugh. And some “red state” Democrats are likely to vote for him, anyway.) They should just do it out of partisan spite.
But of course, the Dems won’t adopt the Republicans’ same “dirty” tactics because “when they go low, we go high”… or something…
Others on the left argue that a sitting president under investigation, as Trump is, should be prohibited from nominating anyone to the Supreme Court. Come what may of Robert Mueller’s investigation (and I remain skeptical of the overall claims of Russian “meddling” in the 2016 presidential election), I think it is a mistake for the left to place too much hope in the “Russiagate” investigation bringing about Trump’s downfall.
Trump and his former staffers are obviously guilty of violating campaign finance laws, obstructing justice, and engaging in other ethically dubious practices. But whether any of these crimes leads to Trump’s defenestration from office, remains to be seen.
The point is that these liberal arguments against Kavanaugh — while significant in their own right — rest on a desire to return to the “status quo” of U.S. politics. Those on the left oriented around these constitutional concerns view Trump as a sort of repugnant aberration in terms of American politics. If only, they lament, we could return to the “scandal-free” era of Obama.
This sentiment among some members of the left is completely understandable. But let us be honest: Living conditions for working-class Americans —especially, rather ironically, people of color — were not especially better during the eight years preceding Trump. To wit, for all of the outrage generated by Trump’s draconian crackdown on immigrants, Obama still holds the record for having deported more undocumented immigrants than all previous administrations combined.
As socialists, our view is not that Trump has brought the U.S. to a “constitutional crisis,” as many liberals and Democrats claim. We would argue, rather, that the U.S. Constitution, which denied rights to women, African Americans, and poor citizens, has never been particularly democratic to begin with. The Constitution, like the Supreme Court with its unelected justices who serve for life, is a tool of the bourgeois ruling class — not a guarantor of democracy.
As such, socialists’ opposition to Kavanaugh is not limited to the man himself (although our short-term goal should be preventing his confirmation). We oppose the entire institution of the Supreme Court.
In other words, let’s build a coalition to keep Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court. But let’s also chart a path forward to a revolutionary future where reactionary, right-wing bigots (most of them men) are not in charge of women’s bodies. One in which the working class controls the surplus labor power which fuels society. This larger goal is, no doubt, a long term project. It will require painstaking patience, work, and organization.
As Naomi Klein writes in her 2017 book, No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need:
With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere, set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.