Brett Kavanaugh nomination: Vote throws more fuel on a raging fire

The confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the next nominee to America’s Supreme Court will exacerbate his country’s increasingly destructive culture wars.

It will also encourage those who would roll back liberal, progressive politics all around the world — at least in those countries where some sort of democratic process survives.

The nomination was secured by an even tighter margin than Brexit, a symptom of Europe’s culture wars.

His progress as President Donald Trump’s second lifetime proxy on the court was secured 50 to 48. Britain voted 52 to 48 to quit the EU.

Though the maths are unquestionable, the huge impact these tiny margins have is preposterously disproportionate and dangerous.

The defeated struggle to accept the sweeping changes that follow. Individuals or causes endorsed by such small margins inevitably overreach and further alienate opponents. Division deepens, progress and solidarity stall.

The nomination was a resounding victory for America’s right.

Unwavering political partisanship withstood multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh, but these charges, apart at all from the core issue, exposed doubts about his honesty, temperament, and bias. Nevertheless, America’s increasingly belligerent conservatives rejoice.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, epitomises this crusade: “This project … is the most important thing that the Senate and an administration of like mind... could do for the country... And today is a seminal moment in that effort.”

That seminal moment, for America’s more tolerant, liberal citizens, epitomises what seems a relentless darkening in the public space.

Accusations made by the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, that Kavanaugh “is against “environmental protections, women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, Native American rights, health-care protections, and workers’ rights”, will not comfort those who opposed him.

That McConnell responded by describing Kavanaugh as “a superstar and a legendary scholar” and of “excellent” temperament and judicial philosophy” must make any rational person wonder if Schumer and McConnell were talking about the same person.

This scale of division cannot but weaken America, just as it stymied Barack Obama’s legislative programme. Next month’s midterm elections may reverse that merry-go-round, if Democrats prevail.

Though the result is disappointing, there are lessons, if the process can be separated from the result.

As we grapple with how we might appoint judges, the transparency, and the democratic rigour around it, offer a template we might consider.

This is not the first setback for progressive America.

On August 12, 1980, Senator Edward Kennedy, who had just lost the Democratic nomination to contest the presidency to Jimmy Carter, made one of the great modern speeches.

He concluded: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

This weekend’s events make that 38-year-old speech as relevant and as inspiring as it ever was, even if making it real has become more difficult.


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