Recent events have increased my belief that the U.S. is at a political tipping point.
In the past few weeks, in addition to the mass shootings that are now horrifyingly routine, we’ve seen Tennessee’s gerrymandered White Republican legislature expel two young Black Democrats who breached “House Order”–despite that body’s unwillingness to expel White Republicans accused of sexual misconduct and criminal activity.
Immediately after a jury found a defendant guilty of intentionally murdering a Black Lives Matter demonstrator, Greg Abbott vowed to pardon him.
Then, thanks to Pro Publica– in deeply-researched reports which have once again underlined the importance of a free and vigorous press–Americans learned that Clarence Thomas’ corruption extends well beyond his widely-criticized refusal to recuse himself from cases involving organizations with which his wife has been active. Not only did Thomas accept trips on yachts and luxurious accommodations worth millions from his “dear friend” Harlan Crowe (a “friendship” that began five years after Thomas joined the Court), not only did Crowe’s purchase of real estate from Thomas (at an evidently inflated price) go similarly unreported, we’ve also learned that Crowe’s creepy collection of memorabilia includes two pictures painted by Hitler and a signed copy of Mein Kampf.
We also learned that, early in their “friendship,” Thomas had reported some of those gifts, but when those reports generated criticism, rather than stop accepting them, Thomas stopped reporting them.
It isn’t just Clarence Thomas.
For years, the American public ignored the legal profession’s exhortations about the importance of the judicial branch, and the need to vote against lawmakers intent upon elevating ideologues to the bench. It’s not just Thomas and the rabidly conservative bloc that now dominates the Supreme Court; thanks to a rogue Texas Judge, a lot more people understand the importance of an intellectually honest, honorable and professionally competent judicial branch.
A federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary ruling invalidating the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, an unprecedented order that — if it stands through court challenges — could make it harder for patients to get abortions in states where abortion is legal, not just in those trying to restrict it.
Kacsmaryk’s ruling wasn’t unexpected. Since Trump placed him on the bench, this poster boy for judicial activism has been the choice of forum-shopping rightwing extremists who’ve responded to clear signals that he would ignore legal precedents that conflicted with his religious beliefs. Among other numerous legal deficits, this particular decision ignored a six-year statute of limitations, rules governing standing, and sound science.
Worse–as two hundred drug companies pointed out in a letter blasting the decision,
“The decision ignores decades of scientific evidence and legal precedent,” the drugmakers wrote. “Judge Kacsmaryk’s act of judicial interference has set a precedent for diminishing FDA’s authority over drug approvals, and in so doing, creates uncertainty for the entire biopharma industry.”
Should the decision be upheld, the consequences of second-guessing the experts at the FDA decades after the fact would threaten investment in all new medications, not just those related to reproduction.
Meanwhile, Rightwing activists and lawmakers are continuing their attacks on local school boards and libraries, and Republican legislators in Red states continue to focus mean-spirited and dishonest attacks on trans children and the medical professionals who treat them.
The narrow focus on transgender folks is strategic. Polling has confirmed that significant majorities of Americans now support same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ citizens, making wholesale attacks on the gay community politically unwise.
Nearly eight in ten Americans (79%) favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing, including 41% who strongly support them.
Trans children are more vulnerable–in more ways than one.
As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post
It is one thing to gin up the base on invented threats from critical race theory or the “great replacement theory.” But when the MAGA movement’s judges begin to inflict radically unpopular edicts on those outside the right-wing audience, that risks sparking a counter-response: a determined, broad-based movement insistent that the United States not turn the clock back on decades of social progress….
The more the Supreme Court diverges from overwhelming public sentiment on issues such as abortion, guns and voting rights, the more strength and more allies the progressive movement may gain.
Add to all this the ongoing antics of the buffoons in Washington whose behavior continues to prevent anything remotely resembling thoughtful governance, the constantly unraveling spectacle that is Donald Trump, and the increasingly overt racism and misogyny that pervades today’s GOP.
Walter Dean Burnham once argued that there’s a 30–38 year “cycle” of political realignments.
We’re overdue, but the signs are there.