By Howard Kurtz
Published October 09, 2018
The left is really, really angry after the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation.
Or perhaps I should say that some liberal pundits are mad as hell. And that's leading them to make some stunning declarations as they try to harness that anger—or maybe just engage in very public group therapy.
Now anger has always been a tool in American politics. It's a way of whipping up your base and energizing your voters. President Trump regularly tries to rouse his most loyal supporters by playing to their grievances and hitting hot-button cultural issues. (Just yesterday, he accused Democrats of "torturing" Kavanaugh and his family through a "hoax" with "fabricated" charges.)
But there was a dramatically different reaction in the left-leaning media establishment when anger on the right began fueling the Tea Party movement after Barack Obama's election. I never particularly liked the "take back our country" rhetoric — take it back from what? — but many mainstream pundits were too quick to dismiss the movement as a bunch of racist yahoos.
Now, in the Trump era, anger is in. It's trending. There's a resistance movement.
There was, to be sure, plenty of ugliness on both sides of the Supreme Court battle. Ariel Dumas, a writer for Stephen Colbert’s "Late Show," tweeted that "no matter what happens, I'm just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh's life." (She later expressed regret for her "tone-deaf attempt at sarcasm," but I don't see a hint of humor.)
Anyone flipping through the major papers yesterday would have seen these op-ed headlines:
"Liberals, This Is War" — Charles Blow, New York Times.
"Get Angry, and Get Involved" — David Leonhardt, New York Times.
"We Need to Stay Angry on Kavanaugh" — E.J. Dionne, Washington Post.
I'm sensing a pattern here.
Let's start with Blow, who's already written that he wants to hate Donald Trump. The Kavanaugh confirmation, he says, is part "of a much larger plan by conservatives to fundamentally change the American political structure so that it enshrines and protects white male power even after America's changing demographics and mores move away from that power."
Blow writes that "liberals can get so high-minded that they lose sight of the ground war," and in case folks aren't grabbing their bayonets, says that "Kavanaugh is only one soldier, albeit an important one, in a larger battle. Stop thinking you're in a skirmish, when you're at war."
Leonhardt begins his piece with this declaration: "If you're not angry yet, you should be."
Leaving aside that people don't like to be told how they should feel, he says that after a "brutal, partisan process ... the two new justices have cemented an extremist Republican majority on the Supreme Court. It has already begun acting as a kind of super-legislature, throwing out laws on voting rights, worker rights, consumer rights and political influence buying. Now, the court is poised to do much more to benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of most Americans — and the planet. This is not how democracy is supposed to work."
Actually, it's exactly how democracy is supposed to work.
Trump won the election (by fewer popular votes, Leonhardt complains, but that's the system set up by the Constitution). The Senate confirmed his choice (yes, on a razor-thin partisan vote, but that’s also how ObamaCare passed).
"Again, if you’re not angry, you should be, and I realize that many of you already are. The past two weeks, on top of everything that came before, have created a sense of frustration and injustice that I have never seen before from people on the left and in the center. The question now is, What are you going to do with that anger?"
Then he makes the perfectly rational suggestion that they get involved: Turn out in the midterms, prod family and friends, knock on doors. That, too, is how democracy is supposed to work. If you want your side to wield power, you have to win elections.
Dionne is a smart and sophisticated observer, and an old colleague, so I'm surprised by the language he uses: "Conservative forces in the country, led by the Republican Party, have completed a judicial coup, decades in the making."
A coup? I get that conservatives have been targeting the court for decades, and I get that the GOP was ruthless in denying Merrick Garland a vote. But that doesn't rise to even metaphorical coup status.
"After all these outrages, there will be calls for a renewal of civility, as if the problem is that people said nasty things about one other. But the answer to this power grab cannot be passive acceptance in the name of being polite."
Then comes the zinger: E.J. wants to pack the court.
"And there should now be no squeamishness about the urgency of enlarging the Supreme Court if Democrats have the power to do so after the 2020 elections. The current majority on the court was created through illegitimate means. Changing that majority would not constitute politicizing the court because conservatives have already done this without apology."
Sure, he acknowledges that FDR’s court-packing scheme was a disaster, but says the opposition can be overcome with a two-year debate.
Doesn't this sound like changing the rules after losing the game?
The country has just been through a raw and incendiary battle that opened wounds about the treatment of alleged sexual assault. Emotions are still running high. But all this talk of anger and wars and coups seems jarringly out of place for those who usually preach the virtues of rational debate and discourse.