Thursday, June 30, 2022

Machiavelli's Court

One thing the far-right Supreme Court has learned well, that Democrats in Congress would have done well to learn (it's probably too late now), is a lesson from Machiavelli about exercising power. To wit: if you feel compelled to take certain actions that you know are unpopular, or will engender backlash -- do them all, do them early, and do them all at once.

Do not try to spread them out. Do not feel the need to pull back on some to balance the others. Do not hem and haw with baby steps. Do everything you want to do early, and immediately. The backlash will come, but the backlash won't be materially different between one outrageous thing and ten outrageous things. Spreading them out just creates new moments of fresh anger. Purported sops won't make people forgive in the moment (are you feeling any less livid at the Supreme Court because of Biden v. Texas?). Get them all out of the way in one fell swoop. Once your opponents are crushed, then you can start indulging in gestures of peace. If you feel like it.

From abortion, to guns, to climate change, to funding religious schools, to prayer in school, to Indian sovereignty, to racial gerrymandering, the Supreme Court delivered an orgy of far-right fantasies over the course of barely a week. Liberals are furious. How could we not be? But we're also reeling. How could we not be? If a few of these decisions came out the other way, would we be materially less furious? Unlikely. If the decisions had been spread out, would our rage be dampened? No, if anything it would have been reignited anew each time. 

The Supreme Court acted decisively and without remorse. Its response to any notion of moderation or gesture of even-handedness was an enthusiastic middle finger. The strong take what they may, and the weak suffer what they must. Not exactly ideal behavior from a court, but for those who see themselves as princes -- well, Machiavelli would be proud.

And in turn, failing to follow this advice is the mistake Democrats made over the past two years (and of course, we can lay blame primarily at the feet of Synema and Manchin here, with some assist from the "Problem-Solvers Causers Caucus"). Democrats needed to do big things. Those things would be controversial. Talking them out indefinitely in a bid for a compromise that would never occur only would bleed resources (ask Barack Obama how that went with the ACA). Better to slam them through at the start. Voting rights, anti-gerrymandering, DC statehood, BBB, protecting abortion rights. Yeah, these things would be controversial. They wouldn't be any less controversial if they're spread out in drips and drabs. Do them all, do them together, weather the storm, and then spend the rest of your time consolidating your position. 

Alas, now its probably too late. This may be why, even after literally everything that's happened, if there was a single item I could slam through Congress before the turnover it'd be DC statehood. It's not necessarily more important than other candidates -- though DC's status as an American colony is a moral disgrace of epic proportions -- but it'd make it more likely Democrats would hold Congress through 2022 and so could try again next time. Democrats having power is not a sufficient condition for reversing these terrible trends, but it's a necessary one. It's hardly guaranteed they'll learn their next time around; but we'll never find out if there never is a "next time".

1 comment:

George Peterson said...

As soon as it became apparent in 2009 that the Republicans were going to abuse the Filibuster to shut down literally everything the Democrats were trying to do, the Dems should've suspended it and hammered through EVERYTHING they wanted to do as fast as possible, including massive tax increases on the super wealthy.

But now they don't have enough votes because of the two hold-outs.

And no imagination to think outside the box. Or the courage.