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Jekyll & Hyde Political Ethics

Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg America’s political extremists have found fresh ground upon wish to flaunt their intemperance. With Trump entering his last 50 days before the next election, and potentially the last four months of his presidency, many have said that the window has grown too narrow to reasonably appoint a successor to Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat. They point to the Republican Senate’s refusal in 2016 to accept Merrick Garland as a replacement for Justice Scalia and demand that they now employ the same tactics against themselves as though any rational person believes that American politics is a game governed by handshake agreements and gentlemen’s rules of  fair play.

Mitch McConnell was completely accurate when he said at the time, “everyone knew, including President Obama’s former White House counsel, that if the shoe had been on the other foot, they wouldn’t have filled a Republican president’s vacancy.” This is the way that American system works; like Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation, it is a creature of diametrically opposed, and mutually loathed, extremes. 

The idea that the Democrats in a state of power and with the ability to install a new Justice in the last months of Obama’s presidency would say, “No, we should wait until the upcoming election is decided,” is only  believable due to the astonishing levels of hubris they showed prior to the 2016 upset. Had they known Trump would be the winner, anyone claiming the would still abide by the rules of ‘fair play’ is either an outright liar or the country’s last honest man.

Ginsburg herself at the time, admonished the Senate to accept the nomination, stating, “That’s their job…There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year.” But when it came to her own seat it is now claimed that her dying wish was to not have a replacement chosen by Trump. Constitutional guidelines be damned, when it came down to the line it was partisan politics that truly mattered. 

During the Obama presidency when many of her supporters urged her to step down to allow a suitable left-wing candidate to replace her, she reportedly refused on the grounds that such a replacement would be too centrist and not suitably extreme. This is the regrettable nature of the system; rather than having left and right leaning centrists making decisions based upon the merits of the issues and taking both sides views into account, you have each side trying to weight the court down with the most partisan candidates it believes it can install. Certainly, you will sometimes see Justices cross the aisle and side with an opposing block, but all too frequently the court’s positions will predictably align with the source of their nomination. Like a child’s see-saw, the further the riders move from the centre to the extreme ends, the more dramatic and prolonged the shifts in position will become.

It’s not an ideal system but, flawed though it may be, both sides know the rules and play the game to the best of their duplicitous ability. The recent cries of “Play fair!” in the wake of Ginsburg’s death are clearly no more that frustrated faux outrage on the part of political operators who realise when they’ve been dealt a bad hand. More troubling is the attitude adopted by the grassroots membership, whose immediate despair quickly gave way to apoplectic rage and promises to riot should Trump follow the actual rules, inconsistently applied or otherwise, of the American political system.

The lack of awareness at play is almost on the level of prior exhortations such as, “We can punch people who say bad things because we’re nice people.” Now it is, “If you follow the rules but not the spirit of the Constitution, we will refuse to follow either the rules or the spirit and that will make us better than you!” We might consider which is worse, a vain, greedy and immoral man who recognises his vices and tries to hide them from public view, or a man of similar character who convinces himself that he is in fact the best of men and stands at the front row of his church lecturing the congregation on why they should follow his example. The rational response would be to say that both are awful people who should be roundly condemned by the community and, while this is perhaps the average person’s view of political extremists, the latter types frequently live within bubbles that insulate them from what others might consider a reality-based perspective on affairs. 

For all the Jekyll and Hyde differences of their political ideologies, these extremists do hold some common ground. Namely, in the selfish and partisan manner in which both will happily use any political loophole to promote their agenda with no regard for quaint concerns such as ‘fair play’. It may not be possible to prevent violent outbursts from such people but we should do all we can to absolve them of any notion that their ‘holier than thou’ tantrums are grounded in anything other than self-serving, political intolerance.

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