Election 2020: Democrats must learn to use the system to drive home their advantage

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The only chink of light in 2020 could be the imminent defeat of Donald Trump in next week’s US Presidential election, but his profound influence on politics and society will be much harder to dislodge than the man himself.

fter just one term in office, Trump has already appointed three Supreme Court justices, tipping the court to a six-three conservative majority – the most conservative it has been in 70 years.

His latest appointment, 48-year-old Amy Coney Barrett, is the least experienced nominee to the court in 30 years. Barrett, a law professor before Trump nominated her to 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, has almost no experience of practising law, having spent just two years in private practice. At her hastily convened confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was unable to provide details of more than three cases she had ever worked on. The minimum, usually, is 10.

What Barrett lacked in experience, she made up for in ideology. It is no secret that Barrett is pro-life and she has also publicly criticised previous 2012 and 2015 decisions of the Supreme Court which upheld the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

As a candidate in 2016, Trump promised to appoint nominees to the Supreme Court who would “do the right thing” on Obamacare and repeal the law which provides healthcare to millions of Americans.

Barrett’s first case, on November 10, will concern yet another attempt by Republican states to overturn the law. Previously, Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, acted as a swing vote for liberals on Obamacare and other issues. Barrett will likely nullify his influence.


Even if Democrats take both the Presidency and the Senate next week, they will be powerless to stop a Supreme Court, shaped by Trump, striking down progressive laws on abortion rights, equal pay, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control and Obamacare. The court may even have a role to play in deciding the election result itself, if it sides with Republican litigators in disputes concerning States’ election protocols which could have a material influence on the results.

Republicans’ determination to rush through Barrett’s confirmation, in the teeth of an election campaign in which more than 60 million Americans have already cast their votes, is evidence of where their priorities lie. The Republican-controlled Senate could have spent their time agreeing a Covid-19 stimulus package for Americans. Instead, they preferred to devote their time to Barrett’s nomination.

While more than eight million Americans have tested positive for Covid-19 and more than 225,000 have died, the biggest concern for Republican Senators was not the present pandemic, but rather their future legacy. The logic, while mercenary, is clear. Coronavirus will eventually be gone, or at least managed, in a few years. Barrett could sit on the Supreme Court for more than 30 years.

Trump, for all his cartoonish and clownish behaviour, kept his eye on the prize. He may have been unable to build his ridiculous wall, but in four years he managed to award nearly 200 judges with lifetime appointments to federal courts. In fact, Trump has now appointed a quarter of all active federal judges in the United States, including more appeals court judges than any other recent first-term president.

Appeals court judges are particularly powerful as their courts are the last port of call for cases in individual states before those cases, perhaps, make their way to the Supreme Court. Long after Trump’s presidency becomes an unpleasant footnote in history, these judges will still be shaping civic, social and cultural life in the United States.

While Trump has done a good job in packing courts, that won’t count for much with millions of Americans who are out of work and destitute because of the pandemic. His failure to competently handle the Covid-19 crisis is the predominant reason he is trailing Joe Biden by nine points in national opinion polls.

Democrats, if they win, may wish to forget the nightmarish four years of Trump’s presidency and consign him to the dustbin of history. That would be a mistake. They need to study the dirty tactics and media manipulation that Trump used to such great effect and harness that power to further their own agenda.

If Democrats do take the Presidency and the Senate, they need to railroad through as many of their policies as they can before the balance of power inevitably tips in the other direction. For too long, Democrats have been concerned with being bastions of civility in American public life, baulking at the hyper-partisan nature of US politics and determined to counter it by engaging in consensus-driven policy implementation. If the Trump years have taught them anything, it should be that reaching across the aisle to do deals with Republicans is self-defeating and stupid. The only thing it achieves is delaying and diluting Democratic legislation, while Republicans laugh at their naive endeavours.

Republicans have shown they will go to any lengths, including gross gerrymandering and voter suppression, to cling to power. Democrats who prefer to do deals with such a debased and diseased party, rather than represent the interests of their own voters, don’t deserve to be in office. They may not like the fact that politics in the United States is ugly and partisan, but wishing it away won’t change it. They must learn to use the system as it exists to drive home their advantage and hope their policies demonstrably improve the lives of Americans and act as catalysts for long-term reform.

Trump’s tenure has done immense damage to race relations, minority rights, climate change and foreign policy. The sole focus of Democrats must be righting as many of these wrongs as they can in as short a time as possible.

Source: Irish News