To understand what is going on here requires only the application of Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is the correct one. What we thought the Republicans were doing, right in front of our eyes, was in fact what they were doing. To the Republicans, there is no truth, and there are no principles; there is only power. They have shown us over and over again that they will say and do anything to gain power and then to retain it. The Republicans understand that time is against them: they and their policy positions are deeply unpopular with younger generations, and when enough older Republicans die off, they will be out of power – probably permanently. As that day inches closer, they have become a party desperately clinging to power and willing to go to increasingly extreme measures to hold on.
While in theory it should be difficult in a true democracy to create the kind of structural barriers that would extend their power beyond their own representative demographics, it’s frightening to see how effective Republicans have been at erecting exactly this kind of long-term structural advantage. Gerrymandered districts. Voter suppression. Maintaining the Electoral College, and the two-per-state system of representation in the Senate that disproportionately empowers Red states. And, of course, stacking federal courts – including and most notably the U.S. Supreme Court – with hard-right Republicans with lifetime appointments.
Any shred of belief that the courts are immune to this can now be safely discarded; they are deeply complicit. The Supreme Court, with its now 6-3 Republican majority, is busy enshrining the Republicans’ ill-gotten structural advantage in case law precedents that may take another fifty years ore more to dislodge, just as they are now poised to toss out Roe vs. Wade fifty years after that decision was handed down. They have allowed gerrymandering to persist and have gutted the Voting Rights Act. They have, step by step, allowed religion to creep into government, giving the hard-right Christian Republican base a stronger foothold in local, state and federal governments. And most insidiously, they have allowed Republicans to use the halls of government to keep women and poor people disempowered, disenfranchised, uneducated, unrepresented, and poor.
Along the way they have rediscovered what every populist dictator throughout history has known: the truth is their enemy. They have gutted our schools, fighting against improved curriculum at every step, banning books, and placing curriculum and textbook selection in the hands of partisan hacks who will ensure that even mathematics is taught in a way that reinforces their preferred narrative. They have systematically attacked and discredited the news media, undermining trust in the “fourth estate” to give voice to credible dissent. And they have brazenly lied, time and time again, while ensuring that there are no consequences for being caught lying.
The surest evidence that the Republicans have co-opted the courts is the number of times their judicial appointees have lied, openly, as they sought confirmation. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said that they considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” Even Alito and Barrett claimed that they were not inclined to overturn it.
Our mistake (and apparently Senator Collins’) was in believing that, when faced with whether to tell the truth about their intent when doing so would almost certainly ensure they would not be confirmed to the Supreme Court, principles would win out over power. Those days are gone.
As Justice Thomas’ recent actions have reminded us, the Supreme Court justices are not bound by a formal code of ethics. Don’t believe for one moment that is an accident, nor that it is an oversight that will be corrected anytime soon.
The apparent decision to throw out Roe vs. Wade in its entirety is both a quiet “campaign promise” kept by the Republican justices, and a step to ensure that the Christian right remains fervently and loyally Republican – regardless of what their elected officials and judges say and do. It is exactly what it seems, and it shreds the last tatters of hope that the courts are remaining above the political fray. We should all expect from this point on that the Supreme Court’s rulings will be even more politically motivated – with less effort to obscure it. They will continue to support voter disenfranchisement efforts so long as doing so props up Republicans. They will create more avenues to break down the separation of church and state. And, if it comes to it, they will find a way to swing a Presidential election in favor of a Republican. They have no reason not to, since they have now explained to us in no uncertain terms who they are: they are liars who prioritize political power over principle and democracy.
As Benjamin Franklin presciently feared, we have failed to keep our democracy. It no longer serves the people it was established to represent. The Senate is a dysfunctional mess. Our elections have been undermined, as has the free press. And our courts have become just one more tool for the powerful to retain power. At the moment, our best hope for recovering and reforming our government is if this extreme Roe Vs. Wade ruling serves as a wake-up call for women across the country to rise up and vote out of office the people who paved the way for it. Women now make up the majority of voters; the power is their if they can rise above the forces that have been amassed to take their power away. It won’t be easy or cheap, and the forces in power will do everything they can to prevent it – and to overturn it if it does happen. But with every passing election cycle democracy slips further away from us; the urgency to right our ship of state have never been greater.