Much to discuss and process with today’s SCOTUS 5-4 decisions. But it focuses my attention on something different. The Trump Era really began not in November 2016 or January 2017 but rather in February 2016. That’s when Justice Antonin Scalia died and Mitch McConnell, within hours, announced that he would not allow the Senate to consider any nominee from President Barack Obama, then just beginning fourth year of his second term.
Barack Obama merits some criticism here, though I think the only thing he could have done differently was make a more aggressive choice in his nominee and used it more aggressively as a campaign cudgel. I don’t think there was any chance that McConnell was ever going to hold a vote. There was no force that could compel him to and that was all that mattered. Indeed, I think it’s doubtful that he would have held one if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency and the Republicans still controlled the Senate. In the alternative Hillary universe there’s a very good chance we’d still have an eight Justice Court.
We have become accustomed over the last 30 months to Senate Republicans or the congressional GOP generally backstopping really any outrageous action by President Trump. But the reality is that there isn’t anything they’ve backed from President Trump that was a more frontal and egregious attack on the system of government than this refusal to entertain any nomination fully a year before Obama left office. And this wasn’t simply before Trump was President. It was while he was still very much seen as an enemy by the establishment party, even though his eventual nomination seemed increasingly likely.
In a way, this only tells us what we know in other ways: that Trump was a symptom or more specifically a catalyst of a trend which predated him.