Tracing back to when bitter partisanship infected the Supreme Court is hard. Some pundits say it began with the denial of Robert Bork, so the Dems “started it”. Whoever started it, Mitch McConnell went nuclear with the denial of a hearing and a vote for Merrick Garland, and the abolishment of the 60 vote threshold for elevating a new justice to the Court.
I don’t know much about John Roberts, but I think he’s said he wants the Court under his leadership to reflect broadly accepted judicial principles, and that its rulings not look like “Republican decision” or “Democratic decision”. Fat chance of that.
We’re at a point now where under Republican administrations, only hard right candidates will be elevated to the Supreme Court and federal judgeships, and under Democrats only progressive ones. That means, over the long term, much less credibility for the Court. If people don’t feel their interests will be honored and protected, even when they are in the minority, they’re likely to cheat or turn violent or simply drop out. If the rules can’t be trusted, why make the effort to follow them? Voter participation is bad enough now. It’s going to get worse.
When the economy is good, it’s hard to say that our democracy is in trouble. But I think our democracy is in trouble. We used to pick Supreme Court candidates that could win 60 votes, which meant attracting senators from all sides. That’s no longer true, and the Court joins all other political institutions as suspect. Beyond that, our infrastructure is crumbling, income inequality is growing, and by significant measures of well being like life expectancy and mother-newborn health, we are lagging the rest of the developed world — by a lot.
Trump is deeply invested in exacerbating the divide — who knows why? Most presidents have at least given a nod toward drawing the country together. By the end of his time in the presidency, he’ll have served as a litmus test — costing friendships, family relationships, and the credibility of the U.S. at home and abroad. History will, I believe, view him as the worst president ever. That his white Republican base has followed him blindly over the brink fits Hillary’s descriptor during the campaign: deplorable. She didn’t win, but she was right.