What good is the #Resistance if it doesn't actually #resist?
You can see this quandary playing out with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom President Trump hopes to replace with 53-year-old Brett Kavanaugh, a reactionary D.C. Circuit Court judge.
Kavanaugh's selection brought light applause from some peculiar corners, including among prominent members of the #Resistance associated with the legal and security establishments. Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings scholar and editor-in-chief of liberal hawk website Lawfare, says Kavanaugh is a "scholarly and thoughtful judge, a genuinely ecumenical thinker, and an extremely fine person." Susan Hennessey, a Brookings scholar and CNN analyst, says the nomination is "politics as usual," and no reason to despair for the future of the country.
The #Resistance has many factions, but none are more feckless or politically useless than this brand of limp centrism.
Some months ago, Wittes famously called for the anti-Trump left, center, and right to set aside their differences and come together in a big kumbaya hug. Questions of tax policy, entitlements, or foreign policy should be taken off the agenda so that "Americans of good faith [can] collectively band together to face a national emergency."
Wittes wants this coalition to fight Trump by loudly asserting and behaving according to traditional norms. Therefore someone like Kavanaugh, who is within the bounds of normal politics (read: he is personal friends with Benjamin Wittes), is not a big deal — and may even be a positive sign.
This overlooks the point of a certain style of conservative jurisprudence, which is basically "if Democrats do it, or it interferes with the political domination of corporations and the rich, that means it is unconstitutional." (Kavanaugh, for example, argues the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional.) The Supreme Court is just an unelected legislative body, on which conservatives are the most shameless practitioners of constitutional tendentiousness. They behave this way because they are the minority faction, and they view the judiciary as a way to tyrannically suppress the democratic majority.
Therefore, installing a firm Supreme Court majority of conservatives places a large obstacle to any policy-based response to Trump. And as Vox's Matthew Yglesias argues, anti-Trump forces should unquestionably include a big dollop of normal policies that affirmatively address the needs of the citizenry — helping secure a coalition of anti-Trump votes through positive government programs.
The Wittes program to save the republic would have us all but ignore policy solutions to America's myriad problems in favor of shouting huzzahs to the Constitution like some magic incantation. But policy solutions are what we need. As Eric Levitz argues, there is a strong case that our still quite dysfunctional, brutal economy was an important enabling background condition for the rise of Trump. To beat him, we have to start fixing the economy and not just pontificate about the wonders of democracy and honor.
There are a still a great many terrible problems that might be addressed in the process of shoring up an anti-Trump coalition. Tens of millions of Americans are still uninsured, and tens of millions more have crummy insurance. Monopolies are running many critical markets as dictatorships. Student loan burdens have reached unbearable levels. Wages are stagnant, and young people are finding it all but impossible to have a family. Tens of thousands are dying annually from opioid overdoses.
In any rich country where life expectancy is declining for two straight years, something very bad must be going on.
But to actually pass policy addressing these problems, Democrats will have to pole-vault the conservative Supreme Court and allow democracy to function again. The easiest way to do it would be appoint two more justices, thus tipping the partisan balance back the other way. That is actually in keeping with longstanding precedent (the court's size has changed many times), not to mention the fact that Neil Gorsuch's seat was egregiously stolen.
Wittes and the rest of the Norms Brigade are sure to react with stunned, scandalized outrage if such measures are seriously proposed. When they do, they should be breezily ignored.