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Goldberg: Concentrated power inevitably leads to political backlash

During almost every Supreme Court nomination battle, I try to make the same point: These fights wouldn’t be nearly so ugly if we didn’t invest so much power in the Supreme Court it shouldn’t have in the first place.

Until the Robert Bork nomination in 1987, Supreme Court fights were remarkably staid affairs. But by the late ‘80s, the court had become a bulwark for all sorts of policies and laws that should rightly be in the portfolio of the legislative or executive branch, or, better, left to the various states. As a result, on any number of issues — most conspicuously abortion policy — the court became more important than the presidency or Congress. No wonder fights over Supreme Court appointments started to look more and more like political campaigns than debates over the finer points of judicial philosophy.

Why bring this up now, when there’s no Supreme Court fight at the moment? Because the power we invest in the court doesn’t warp and bend our politics solely during confirmation battles.

“One of the things Trump has decided is that he is going to give the court to the base of the party,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told an audience at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics this week. “Donald Trump can have sex with Stormy Daniels from now until the end of time and the evangelicals will stick with him because of the courts.”

This could use a bit more nuance. But it is certainly true that if Trump didn’t appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court he would lose a lot of support on the right.

I have done more than my share of criticizing members of my ideological tribe for abandoning many of the arguments they made about the importance of good character and morality in political leaders, so I am happy to stipulate that this “bargain” is shot through with hypocrisy. But perhaps liberals could take a few moments to reflect on why conservatives think such transactionalism is justified.

It’s reasonable to assume that if the court had stuck to its traditional role and not become a parallel legislative branch, this grand bargain with President Trump would feel less imperative.

In my debates with liberals about my new book, “Suicide of the West,” one of the biggest complaints I get is over the idea that Trump was elected in large part as a backlash against the excesses of liberals. “We didn’t elect the guy, so we did nothing wrong.”

But that’s not how politics works. Barack Obama was elected as a backlash against George W. Bush’s presidency, specifically the Iraq War. Bush in turn was elected in no small part because he promised to end the tawdriness of the scandal-ridden Clinton era. And so on. Politics has always been dialectical in this fashion.

The backlash that propelled Trump to the White House was by no means solely about the Supreme Court. Progressivism’s investment in identity politics, its lunge leftward on immigration and the Democrats’ insistence on reinstating the Clinton political dynasty played important roles too.

But my point about the court still stands. It’s doubtful Trump could have galvanized the support of conservatives if he hadn’t promised to hand over the nomination process to the Federalist Society. (And let me be clear: I’m glad he did.)

The founders’ chief concern when writing the Constitution was to prevent the concentration of unchecked power in any branch of government or faction, because they understood that concentrated power was inherently threatening to liberty, no matter who wielded it. That’s the whole point of checks and balances; every player on the board has a vested interest in not letting a rival player get too powerful.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, progressives have repeatedly tried to invest as much power as possible in whatever branch of government they controlled at the moment. And every time, they dismissed concerns about what might happen when their opponents grabbed control of that institution. Liberals cheered, for instance, when President Obama ruled like a monarch via executive orders with his “pen and phone.”

Now, they get to watch as President Trump erases Obama’s work (the Iran deal, the Paris climate accord, etc.). I shudder to think what liberals will do if they replay the same gambit when the inevitable Trump backlash comes.

Jonah Goldberg can be reached at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.

Another View

Democrats’ enthusiasm about potentially winning North Carolina’s 9th congressional district for the first time in 58 years got two shots of adrenaline Tuesday, from Republican Robert Pittenger’s surprising loss and Democrat Dan McCready’s overwhelming win.

Pittenger entered Tuesday believing he was on safer ground than he was two years ago, when he beat former Baptist preacher Mark Harris by just 134 votes in a newly drawn district. But Harris pulled the upset this time, likely making the 9th District even more vulnerable to flipping parties than it already was. And McCready’s dismissal of Democratic challenger Christian Cano positions him to attract even more national attention and money and to ride a blue wave in November, if there is one.

It is by winning Republican districts like the 9th around the country that Democrats could take control of the U.S. House and block President Trump’s agenda. Pittenger and Harris each cast the other as insufficiently supportive of Trump. But Republican voters were tired of Pittenger, who was seen as part of the “establishment” and whom one national analyst had dubbed the biggest Republican “slacker” in the House.

Almost as notable as Pittenger’s loss was McCready’s performance. Not only did he sprint past Cano in his first run for office, but he also motivated voters to get to the polls in unusual numbers. Far more Democratic voters than Republicans turned out in District 9, even though it’s a Republican-leaning district and had a more competitive Republican primary than Democratic one. That suggests Democratic enthusiasm in November. If Republicans can’t win seats like the 9th, which went solidly for Trump, they are in trouble.

North Carolina and three other states held the first primaries of the year Tuesday. Dozens of others will follow in coming weeks and will begin to make clear how the November landscape will look. There’s a buzz in the air, not of impending revolution, perhaps, but certainly of change. Voters are unsettled, some even infuriated, and they’re intent on being heard more than they have in a generation.

They’ll have their chance in November, when 470 U.S. House and Senate seats and 170 N.C. House and Senate seats are up for election. In Mecklenburg, they started Tuesday by kicking two incumbents — Democrats Joel Ford and Rodney Moore — out of office, as well as incumbent Democratic Sheriff Irwin Carmichael.

Those three will or are likely to be replaced by other Democrats, and Republicans are at risk of losing their veto-proof supermajorities in Raleigh. Three races in Mecklenburg in November will help determine that: Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte in a toss-up district against Natasha Marcus; Republican Rep. John Bradford in a potentially competitive race against Christy Clark; and Republican Rep. Andy Dulin against Democratic attorney Brandon Lofton, if he survives a residency challenge.

— The Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, May 9

Letter: Casino is an opportunity

Casino is an opportunity

Dear Editor:

After reading your article regarding the casino (The Sentinel, May 11, 2018). I was completely shocked by what the mayor said. All I can say is here we go again.

The headline told the whole story. Why in the world would you open a public meeting for the purpose of gather public input with a statement saying that the majority (meaning four members) of council are against this issue? Four people are deciding what 18,500 people want. This is not the first time this has happened. Anyone remember the A.B.F. story. Big-paying jobs stopped, but that time it wasn’t the governments fault, but a small group of vocal people.

This time we have Home Rule on our side. Now they might try to confuse you with the words resolution and ordinance to try to make things difficult, but any time a person quotes the law it is a matter of interpretation. My reading of the law is, I can take a petition to the council to change their ruling if signed by five registered voters?

If rejected, then I can require the necessary signatures on a petition to force council to do what is requested by the citizens, in this case by placing a referendum on the next general or primary election. Please, this is my interpretation.

People of Carlisle this size casino will only keep money in this area instead of taking busloads of our citizens out of state. Carlisle has more to gain than to lose. It will not raise crime or kill our kids like selling drugs does in our area.

Plus this letter is from someone who doesn’t even gamble. Don’t let an opportunity get away from us again!

Roger Spitz