ROGER COHEN. Confirmed: an insidious presidency (the New York Times)

Oct 9, 2018

Trump believes that judges should be agents of those who appoint them. That would be the end of the rule of law.

Insidious is the man. Insidious is his pollution of the F.B.I., whose former director, James Comey, he fired after Comey refused to show “loyalty.” Loyalty in this instance meant willingness to shelve, at Trump’s demand, an investigation into dealings between his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia.

Then the F.B.I. — given a week to investigate what happened 36 years ago between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford — concluded an investigation on which the lives of our children and grandchildren may hinge in less than a week. It did so as Trump, speaking behind the seal of the president of the United States, unloads his bile on Dr. Blasey.

Contagious is the man. Contagious is Trump’s view that judges should be agents of those who appoint them rather than the independent guarantors of America’s constitutional democracy. Trump wants loyalty from Kavanaugh, too, and the angry, emotional testimony that the judge provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee carried this subliminal message: “I am one of yours.” It was right out of the Trump playbook.

The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of the rule of law. It was conceived as a critical part of the political system, not as just another venue for ordinary, ugly, polarized politics. Kavanaugh’s confirmation is the capstone to a shift in that direction.

Courts were meant to be America’s great levelers, not their great dividers and inciters. “Kavanaugh’s statements were so partisan and suggested so strongly an inability to be independent on any sort of issue salient to contemporary politics that his confirmation would put at serious risk the rule of law,” Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said.

Imagine Justice Kavanaugh on political gerrymandering. It’s worth remembering that Kavanaugh was reading a prepared statement when he said Dr. Blasey’s allegations and a “long series of false, lastminute smears” were a “political hit” and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” The charge was not extemporaneous.

His Wall Street Journal mea culpa — “I might have been too emotional at times” — is unpersuasive. Poisonous is the man. Poisonous is Trump’s inability to abandon mob incitement as his mode of political operation. Meanness is how this man gets his kicks. Always was, always will be.

It has become axiomatic to regret the tribal division of the United States — the inability to build bridges or even hold conversations across ideological divides, the sharpening national fracture into algorithm-consolidated political silos — and, of course, the Kavanaugh hearings now constitute Exhibit A in this unraveling.

There’s something pathetic about these laments. No call for civility or the capacity for civilized disagreement (the sign of any healthy society) has any weight when, from the highest office in the land, there emanates a stream of partisan vilification.

The Oval Office either ennobles Americans or befouls them. There is no escape from the current poison, other than to vote Trump out.

Corrupting is the man. Corrupting is a presidency dedicated to the blurring of the line between truth and falsehood. False or misleading statements have issued from him several times a day. It’s impossible to recall on Friday the lie that outraged you on Monday. The effect of this is to devalue truth. More and more Americans care little for the sacredness of facts. I see references, even in the nation’s best newspapers, to the “reality-based press” or “fact-based journalism.” What other kind is there?

In the end, the Kavanaugh hearings were about the pursuit of truth — the truth of this Jekyll-and-Hyde man, the truth of whether he assaulted Dr. Blasey, the truth of his words. I believe he failed the test of truth in ways that should have disqualified him from confirmation. But the meaning of honesty is not something Americans can agree on any more. So the hearings were about everything but that: white privilege, the #MeToo movement and, of course, Donald Trump.  Corrosive is the man. Corrosive is the pollution of the F.B.I. that now seems about to be extended to the Supreme Court. Other pillars of the Republic, including a free press, are in Trump’s sights. Behind the scattershot outbursts, there is a consistent pattern. It conforms to all we know about a president whose sympathies lie with the autocrats of the world, from Moscow to Manila, rather than with democratic leaders.

Free societies do not die overnight. The growth of a climate of intellectual fear is one sign of their weakening. So are the development of a personality cult, the stripping of meaning from language and the spread of disorientation.

Infectious is the man. Infectious is Trump’s hard work to bring the whole country down to his level. A spineless Republican Party folds into the Trump Party. Uncle Sam wants you in his indecent reality show.

Now that Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump is confirmed; and the damage this president has done will look more irreparable in the age of the judgeagent.




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