Now that Brett Kavanaugh is Justice Kavanaugh, it is time to consider the possible consequences for our democracy, or what’s left of it. And, it is time to explain why this year’s midterms are the most critical election in decades, if not centuries.
For some time, various authors have warned of a gradual decline into authoritarianism in the United States. This worry has been accelerated by both the presidency of Donald Trump and the surrender of the Republican party to Trumpism.
With the placing of Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, the possibility of authoritarian rule in the United States has gone from a theoretical discussion to a growing possibility. Here is one way it could happen.
From democracy to authoritarianism: one scenario
- Kavanaugh confirmed to Supreme Court, shifting the court to a 5-4 conservative majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts being the most moderate (!) of the 5.
- Democrats fail to retake the U.S. House, leaving the Republican party in control of Congress.
- Donald Trump fires Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, replacing him with someone who does not have to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
- The new attorney general fires Rod Rosenstein and takes over control of the Mueller investigation.
- The Supreme Court begins rolling back various laws and rights: abortion rights, voting rights, civil rights, property rights.
- The Supreme Court, in Gamble v. United States, decides to eliminate the dual-sovereignty principle that allows states to charge persons for crimes already charged at the federal level. This means that if a person is pardoned at the federal level, they are also pardoned at the state level.
- Donald Trump pardons everyone involved in the Russia investigation, including those already convicted.
- The new attorney general shuts down the Mueller probe, and refuses to release the report.
- Republicans in Congress refuse to hold either Trump or the new AG accountable.
- Trump wields more and more control.
Let your imagination take it from there. If the pattern is similar to other authoritarian regimes, everyday life continues more or less as it was – but certain differences become apparent:
- The press is free to report whatever it wants, as long as it doesn’t investigate or report anything bad about Trump or the government.
- Court cases are almost always decided in favor of persons and companies that are friends of Trump, or have given money to him / his campaign / his company.
- Opponents of the Trump regime are arrested and jailed on made-up charges.
- Elections continue to be held, but become more and more meaningless, as the results become more and more predictable.
- Corruption, graft, and bribery become normalized, and the courts become an arm of the ruling party, rather than arbiters of the law.
When you think of this sort of America, do not look at Nazi Germany. Instead, look to today’s Russia. Many people in Russia live fairly normal lives – unless they oppose Putin or one of his cronies. And there is no doubt who is in charge: the ruler on top.
Sarah Kendzior on U.S. authoritarianism
Persons who have studied other authoritarian regimes have been sounding the alarm about Trump since 2015. One such author is Sarah Kendzior, who had this to say after the Kavanaugh vote (you should go read the entire piece):
Checks and balances are nearly gone. The executive branch was long ago corrupted; the independent legislature neutered by a GOP majority nakedly seeking one-party rule. Until now, the judiciary had been the strongest bulwark against autocracy, having struck down many of Mr. Trump’s unconstitutional executive orders during his first year. The Trump administration responded by packing the courts, appointing right-wing judges to lifetime appointments and purging attorneys they view as opponents. Justice Kavanaugh is the final nail in that coffin. This is now Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court of the United States, run on white male entitlement and alternative facts. …
Autocrats rewrite the law so they are no longer breaking it, and they hire and fire accordingly. This is why I have been warning for years that Donald Trump, whose seemingly autocratic consolidation grows stronger every day, was akin to a criminal able to someday select his own judge or delay his own trial – and now he has. This is why a purge of the FBI was followed by a sham FBI investigation into Justice Kavanaugh, reminiscent of those of authoritarian states, with key witnesses and evidence ignored.
In less than two years, the United States has lost the executive, legislative, judicial branches to corruption, while other checks – the media, the criminal justice system – remain badly damaged.
That leaves one check: the people. That is why we fight. That is why we protest. That is why we vote. Because we, the people, are all we have left.
As she notes, “we the people” is all we have left. And that is why this election is so important.
The importance of the upcoming midterms
You’ll note in the above scenario that the second step is “Democrats fail to take back the House.” Congressman John Yarmuth has noted that as he and his fellow Democrats were leaving Washington, not to return until after the election, they said to each other: “If we don’t take back the House, I’m not sure we’ll have a democracy to return to.”
Is it possible that this scenario, and other like it, are overwrought and too alarmist? Of course. It is possible that even if Republicans continue to control everything in Washington, something happens to cause them to abandon Trump and begin working with Democrats to safeguard our democracy.
But, it is also possible that things get even worse, and Republicans continue to be Trump-enablers and McConnell-ites, concerned only with retaining power and rewarding their donors. How bad could it get? Ask people in former democracies that have become authoritarian: Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Venezuela.
We cannot look to the Republican party to stand for democracy, especially if it means standing against Trump. Republicans in Washington have become the party of Trump and McConnell, completely owned by, and afraid of, Trump and Trumpers. We cannot look to the executive branch to do the right thing, and we cannot look to the courts.
As Sarah Kendzior says, it is up to us. We have to be the ones to vote, and to resist.
We are all we have left.