Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court marks a shift to the right, and Trump's antisemitic rhetoric shows the rot at the core of the US state, argues Sean Ledwith
The shameful confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court on 6th October put the seal on a traumatic period of US politics that highlights a political system in crisis. Despite an upsurge of outrage across the country concerning the prospect of a suspected rapist taking his place on the highest court in the land, President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress rallied their reactionary forces on Capitol Hill to clinch the appointment.
This saga has been marked by acts of appalling political conduct that are almost unimaginable in any other era. From Trump’s disgusting public mocking of a rape victim at a mass rally to insinuations of a Jewish conspiracy by one of his top advisors, the Kavanagh nomination starkly illustrates how low standards of behaviour among the American elite have fallen in recent years. Commentators in the US have spoken for many years about how Congress has become the broken branch of state. However, with a misogynist in the White House and a suspected rapist on the Supreme Court, it is now inevitable that millions of Americans will call the legitimacy of the entire edifice of the federal structure into question.
Last bastion of the elite
Throughout its history, the US Supreme Court (Scotus) has acted as the last bastion of elite power. With its unelected nine judges appointed for life, the court has been complicit in some of the worst injustices ever committed in the country. In 1857, in Dredd Scott v US, the court authorised the return of a fugitive slave to the racist South, thereby triggering the civil war a few years later. In 1896, Scotus gave the green light to segregation in the South. During WW2, the court backed FDR‘s shameful incarceration of all Japanese Americans. In order to sustain the illusion of a neutral state, however, Scotus has also sometimes been seen to advance progressive developments in US society, such as moving against segregation in Brown v Board 1954 and supporting abortion rights in Roe v Wade 1972. Kavanaugh’s elevation with his undisguised right-wing profile means the court’s aura of legitimacy will now be in serious doubt for millions of Americans.
Shift to the right
Kavanaugh first came to public prominence in the 1990s when he was part of the Republican-backed legal team hired by Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr to bring down Bill Clinton with allegations of personal misconduct. In the first decade of this century, he was one of George Bush’s legal advisors who sought to justify the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. When Trump entered the White House last year, a vacancy on Scotus meant the new President was able to appoint Neil Gorsuch and begin the process of shifting the court decisively to the right. Kavanagh will now replace the outgoing Anthony Kennedy who had a reputation of sometimes siding with the liberals on the bench. For the first time in a generation, the right will now dominate the court and undoubtedly seize the opportunity to seek an anti-progressive agenda. This has already been apparent in the past year with Scotus backing Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban and defending the right of Christian retailers to discriminate against gay couples.
When Kavanagh appeared at a public session of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 27th September to answer allegations of rape, television viewers around the country witnessed the unprecedented spectacle of a Scotus nominee launching a partisan tirade against the very politicians who were sitting in judgement on him. Whatever the truth of the rape allegations against Kavanagh, he clearly is not a person who possesses the qualities of calm deliberation and reflective judgement traditionally associated with Supreme Court justices.
These, of course, are also characteristics conspicuously absent in the personality of the man who nominated Kavanagh. With typical inconsistency, Trump praised the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford on the day of her appearance on Capitol, Hill, calling her ‘credible’; then four days later launched an appalling attack on her at a mass rally in Mississippi. Trump’s belated dismissal of Ford’s account (and of the two other women who have accused Kavanagh of sexual misconduct) would be crass and insensitive at any time but in the era of the # MeToo movement, displays a disregard for shifting public opinion that almost beggars belief.
Trump’s disastrous administration is not only providing cover for misogyny but also the vile undercurrents of racism in US society. Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York and current member of Trump’s legal team, retweeted a message on October 6th claiming George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish financier, was providing the funding for the anti-Kavanaugh demonstrations in Washington:
“Follow the money. I think Soros is the anti-Christ! He must go! Freeze his assets & I bet the protests stop,” reads the money by a Twitter user named Dee Thompson, retweeted by Giuliani early Saturday."
Such a repellent smear would not be out of place in Nazi propaganda from the 1930s about a global Jewish conspiracy. What Kavanagh, Trump and Giuliani collectively cannot accept is that the sexism and racism they absorbed as privileged scions of the American ruling class in the last century are no longer acceptable in this one. The scenes of mass mobilisation on the steps of Congress to stop Kavanagh are inspiring reminders that the spirit of Occupy, the Sanders campaign, striking West Virginia teachers and other sections of the US radical left is alive and kicking.
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