Democrats Are 'Defending Democracy' With Threats to Burn Down the System

Prior to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democrats were already making it clear they would not accept any outcome other than the defeat of President Donald Trump in November. But now that a twist of fate has given Trump a chance to replace the leader of the liberal faction on the Supreme Court with a conservative, Democrats are making it clear they are also unwilling to play along with the normal legal process by which a new Justice might be chosen.

This is more than just a symptom of politics in 2020—which has become an all-out tribal civil war in which the object of the game isn't so much to defeat your opponents as it is to delegitimize and destroy them. What makes this particular struggle both important and ironic is that Democrats say they are defending democracy against a deadly threat to our institutions posed by Trump and the Republicans. Yet their own response to the possibility of a new Justice seems to consist of threats of a new round of violence in the streets and a complete overhaul of the institutions of government in order to ensure that they get their way. What Democrats are contemplating sounds like a far greater threat to democracy and existing norms than anything their opponents are doing.

The response to Ginsburg's death on the left wasn't so much mourning at the passing of a historic figure and cultural icon as it was terror at the prospect of Trump flipping a liberal Court seat conservative. While Ginsburg's cult following as the "Notorious RBG" made her a celebrity, the celebration of the Justice's groundbreaking career quickly became a secondary issue once it became clear Trump would move swiftly to replace her. And with Utah senator Mitt Romney announcing on Tuesday that he would support a Senate confirmation vote and back a qualified conservative, the left's worst fears were realized. Romney ensured that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have the votes to give Trump his third Supreme Court pick.

Even before that, the rhetoric from the left about Trump replacing Ginsburg had been over the top. Daily Beast and CNN contributor Reza Aslan tweeted, "If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire f***ing thing down."

Aslan was not alone. Writers Guild of America president Beau Willimon said, "We're shutting the country down" if Trump and McConnell move to confirm a nominee. Washington Post writer Laura Bassett said a nomination would mean "there will be riots."

Democratic politicians weren't much more subtle about their plans. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said McConnell was "playing with fire." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said his party would "use every tool at our disposal" to stop a confirmation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke of having "arrows in our quiver" to keep the seat open.

Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walks to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol. Stefani Reynolds/Getty

Some media figures made clear what that would mean.

CNN host Don Lemon said in a segment with Chris Cuomo that another Trump SCOTUS confirmation meant "We're going to have to blow up the entire system." That entailed "packing the courts," and "getting rid of the Electoral College."

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg agreed about "packing the Court." Her colleague Jamelle Bouie went even further and claimed Democrats must "do something about the courts" that would overturn the rules of review that gave the judiciary that right to overturn unconstitutional actions by the executive and the legislative branches.

Should Democrats win control of both the White House and Senate in November, they will be free to try to repeat Franklin D. Roosevelt's unsuccessful effort to pack the courts in the 1930s, as well as admit the District of Columbia as a state (giving the Democrats two more senators) or pass constitutional amendments to abolish the Electoral College or strip the Supreme Court of its powers. If Schumer moved to end the last vestiges of the filibuster in the Senate and if Democrats also hold the House, there will be few limits on their ability to "blow up the entire system," though anything involving the amendment process would likely be unsuccessful.

But even if Democrats increase the number of SCOTUS justices to 13 (to outvote the six conservatives that will be there if Trump gets his nominee confirmed) or made good on any of their other threats, the question is no so much about the dubious wisdom of such measures but whether they would be consistent with Democrats' claim of defending democracy. Especially since these Democrats seem to be counting on threats of violence in the streets to lend weight to their demands.

There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around with respect to arguments about Court nominations. But much like the loose talk about Trump circumventing or overturning the election results, the Democrats' discussion of their obligation to defend democracy seems to be a matter of pure projection.

After a summer of "mostly peaceful" Black Lives Matter protests that unleashed violence and looting in American cities, is there a shred of doubt in anyone's mind that the same combination of wel-meaning progressives, criminal thugs and violent Antifa Marxists would be deployed to burn and destroy the moment it appears that Trump might be winning the election?

Behind all the high-minded talk from pompous columnists about virtuous patriots stopping Trump from cheating is a brazen threat. The same forces that have wreaked havoc in the name of the false charge that America is an irredeemably racist nation may well inflict even worse damage to thwart Trump's reelection.

That seems to be even more to the point with respect to the filling of Ginsburg's seat. How could Democrats' response to Trump—trying to ensure permanent liberal majorities on the Court and in the Senate and using street violence to punctuate their demands—be reasonably characterized as defending democracy? To the contrary, the Democratic position seems to be that any development that might constrain their power or grant an advantage to the GOP must be stopped by any means necessary, even if means overturning honored traditions and precedents and trashing any institution that doesn't bend to their will.

Seeing from the outside the outrage against Trump and the prospect of a more conservative court, it's clear that for all of the president's flaws, it's the Democrats who are threatening democratic institutions, not him.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.