Thursday, October 11, 2018

#284 / Grading The Truth Test

Paul Krugman didn't mince words in his October 9, 2018, New York Times column:

Many people are worried, rightly, about what the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh means for America in the long term. He’s a naked partisan who clearly lied under oath about many aspects of his personal history.... Putting such a man on the Supreme Court has, at a stroke, destroyed the court’s moral authority for the foreseeable future.

Krugman is always a promoter of and an apologist for the Democratic Party and its policy positions, so it is no surprise that he had the reaction to the Kavanaugh confirmation that I have quoted above. Krugman was not just "venting," however. His column was issuing a call to action. 

Identifying the Republican Party as "an authoritarian regime in waiting," Krugman addresses the question that is implicit in that characterization, i.e., what are they waiting for? Here is Krugman positing that question (and then answering it):

As I said, the G.O.P. is an authoritarian regime in waiting, not yet one in practice. What's it waiting for?

Krugman suggests (and this resonates with my own sense of where we are) that the Republican Party is waiting to see whether or not they will retain control of both houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections:  

Think of what Trump and his party nmight do if they retain both houses of Congress in the coming election. If you aren't terrified of where we might be in the very near future, you aren't paying attention.

Krugman's "call to action," in other words, is for Democratic Party voters to go to the polls in record numbers and to vote for Democrats. Again, I'm with Krugman on that!

I want to explore just a bit further, however, Krugman's idea that the Republican Party (and perhaps the Supreme Court) might move towards an authoritarian form of government, and what can be done about it. Authoritarian governments always operate in an environment in which the government (and its apologists) ignore "truth" and "reality," and essentially take the position that "if I say something is true, then you must accept what I say as truth in fact."

As we know, our President definitely takes this approach. It is Krugman's complaint that this is just what the Senate did, too. Those who paid attention understood quite well that Brett Kavanaugh did not tell the truth, as he confronted questions about his drinking behavior and preoccupation with sex as an adolescent and young adult. This statement about Kavanaugh's dishonesty applies even if you assume that he did not attempt to rape Christine Blasey Ford (and I think he did), or that he simply had no recollection of this event (something I also think is unlikely, but might be true). If he wanted to take either of those positions, hopefully, because they were true, Kavanaugh could have admitted to an adolescence and early adulthood in which drinking and an outsized preoccupation with sex played a big part. That is what was demonstrably true, and yet this is what Kavanaugh essentially denied. Asking forgiveness for his past bad behavior, and apologizing for any actions that may have hurt others, would have allowed the Senate to do what it did anyway, but to do so on the basis of what might well have qualified as an honest presentation by Kavanaugh. Instead (and I agree with Krugman), Kavanaugh lied, and the Senate pretended that he didn't.

It is the "pretended" part that is the most troubling. The president pretends that things he says are true when they are demonstrable lies. And the Senate did the same thing with respect to the Kavanaugh testimony.

This gives us two branches of government that have demonstrated a willingness to pretend that truth and reality aren't what they actually are. What about that third branch of government, the Supreme Court?

Putting a liar on the Supreme Court isn't going to help, of course, but I'd like to point out that the Supreme Court has already demonstrated its willingness to "pretend" something is different from what it really is, in the course of justifying governmental conduct that infringes on liberty and human rights. If you'd like to read the decision in Trump v. Hawaii, which validated President Trump's "Muslim ban," all the while denying that this is what the Court was doing, you can click this link. The Supreme Court that made this decision did not include Brett Kavanaugh. His supposedly more "moderate" predecessor, Anthony Kennedy, joined with the majority to ratify the President's actions imposing a "Muslim ban," while pretending that significant issues of national security were the motivating factor. The dissent of Justice Sotomayor makes it all quite clear.

When our governmental institutions are willing, officially, to "pretend" that something is true, when it is actually not true, then we are definitely on the doorstep of authoritarianism.

Electing Democrats would definitely help stave off further examples, but what REALLY keeps our potentially authoritarian government "in waiting" is us! Just remember what happened when the president first tried out that "Muslim ban" idea. Thousands of citizens thronged the airports and shut them down. The version of the "Muslim ban" that the Supreme Court approved this past June was much watered down and was the president's third version.

Authoritarian actions by our government can be stopped. We just need to insist on the REAL truth, not on a "pretend" version of the truth that can be justified by some sort of contrived documentation (as the third version of the "Muslim ban" was, and as the Kavanaugh confirmation was, with the demonstrably incomplete FBI report playing the validating role).

Electing Democrats will help; that is what Krugman is advising. But get ready for direct action, too. We may need to go back to the airports, and we may need to be prepared to show up in other places, as well, if our authoritarian government "in waiting" decides to stop "waiting" and tries to implement actions that will put our democratic freedoms in peril.

Authoritarian actions can only prevail if an authoritarian government can make the people accept lies in place of the truth. Whenever such an effort is made, we are put to the test - and so are the claims made by the government.

The Senate has been tested by a lying president. It failed the test. The Supreme Court (before Kavanaugh) has been tested by a lying president. It failed the test. In the end, however, it is our entire nation that will be tested by efforts to transform our system into an authoritarian government, and it is we the people who will grade that test!

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