In the early days of “The Resistance,” back when the movement was purportedly focused on forming broad coalitions that spanned ideological divides, it was common to hear its members lament Donald Trump’s assault on treasured American norms and conventions. The patina of legitimacy this organizing principle lent to the anti-Trump left’s more unsavory members and tactics is no longer operative. For the power-starved left, it seems that those norms and conventions are part of the problem.
Among the norms not codified in law that nevertheless buttress the power-sharing relationships that have preserved the republic’s stability for decades is the Supreme Court’s balanced number of justices, which has stood at nine for nearly 150 years. The panic that tore through liberal ranks following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement led the left to exhume one of the Democratic Party’s worst ideas: court packing.
It’s not entirely clear what kind of strategy liberals have devised to ensure that Democrats and only Democrats would get to dilute the conservative majority’s influence, but they sure are passionate about it. And this is not a fringe movement. From far-left websites like The Outline, Paste, and Jacobin to mainstream liberal venues like the Huffington Post and the Washington Post opinion page, resurrecting the idea that contributed to the GOP’s astounding victories in the 1938 midterm elections is just what the doctor ordered.
The Court is one of three branches now dedicated to advancing the “ideology and agenda of international fascism,” Huffington Post political reporter Zach Carter insisted. Roosevelt University political science professor David Faris penned an elaborate fantasy in which Democrats regain the presidency and Congress, the “illegitimate” Justice Neil Gorsuch resigns, and both parties agree to support a constitutional amendment to end lifetime appointments to the bench. To claim that boosting the number of justices on the nation’s high court was not a controversial proposal, Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews cited precedent established in Mussolini’s Italy. Seriously. “Court-packing is a tool,” he wrote, “it can be used for authoritarian ends, or for democratic ones.” Presumably, you are supposed to trust that the people advocating court packing to achieve that which they cannot through the political process are not the authoritarians here.
It isn’t just the Supreme Court’s organization but the U.S. Constitution itself that becomes a source of liberal consternation whenever Democrats are out of power. Specifically, the U.S. Senate, which is resistant to proportionality by the Founders’ design, has also supposedly become a tool of despotism.
“I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk,” American Enterprise Institute scholar and Atlantic editor Norm Ornstein began. “[B]y 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30 [percent] will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent.” He concluded that this was, “unsettling, to say the least,” though it is telling that he felt comfortable describing the collective habits of a group that is defined by a common gender and race in negative terms without any fear of blowback. As for Ornstein’s condemnation of the Senate’s lack of proportionality, the AEI scholar is practically coy in comparison to those on the left.
Take, for example, Ian Millhiser, who recently penned a hysterical screed on the subject. Originally headlined “In U.S. Senate elections, people of color count as 3/4s of a person,” the Center for American Progress’s blog wisely ditched the racial agitation and settled on claiming that the upper chamber of Congress is “facing a legitimacy crisis.” Why? Because of the way it has been structured since the Constitution was ratified. Indeed, without making the Senate unresponsive to population shifts, it’s unlikely that the Constitution would have been ratified in the first place. The compromise that produced the nation’s bicameral legislature was a stroke of American brilliance that yielded not only the nation’s founding charter but the Bill of Rights, the subsequent amendments, and the flourishing of human rights they enabled. To Millhiser, though, the Senate is racist because minorities tend to sort into shared communities and, therefore, receive less representation in the upper chamber.
Reforming or abolishing the Senate altogether isn’t a new idea for the left, but it tends only to rise to the fore when Democrats are in the minority. They do not dwell on Article V of the Constitution, which declares “that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” Since no state is likely to consent to its disenfranchisement, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But of course, not all of the left’s coup fantasies are unfeasible or even unpopular.
The move to abolish the Electoral College received new momentum following Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential victory, but the campaign to transform the presidency into the product of pure democracy is an old one. As of May, 11 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the nonbinding National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would effectively eliminate the Electoral College by compelling a state to apportion its votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that the only states that have adopted this anti-republican measure vote reliably Democratic on the presidential level. This legally dubious campaign has the support of liberals ranging from Robert Reich to Al Gore to the New York Times editorial board (you guessed it: the Electoral College is racist). Even Hillary Clinton has managed to overcome the shame associated with advocating the abolition of the institution that cost her the presidency in order to support this proposal.
Any fair-minded observer must conclude that the left’s appeal to the sacred inviolability of America’s cherished norms was only another convenient avenue for regaining power. There is no convention or settled principle so sacred that it cannot be attacked in the name of “progress.”