It's no surprise. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is an elderly man. He was bound to retire sooner or later, and when you're 81, sooner usually wins.
To replace Kennedy, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell won't have to sledgehammer equity, comity and decades of democratic norms, as he did in 2016 when he blockaded President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland. McConnell can now play the model of decorum while a partisan majority in the Senate does what partisan majorities now mostly do: Close ranks.
Democrats will wage their best poll-tested arguments against a court appointment by a tainted and possibly compromised president. But they will not stop it. Hopes that phantasmagoric "moderate Republicans" will save the day are likely to be dashed. Republicans intend to lock in place a reactionary court that will thwart the American majority for decades.
And they are very, very, very likely to succeed.
There is no silver lining for liberals. But there is also no cause for panic or despair, as an expert in difficult things, Representative John Lewis, pointed out. This moment is the result of Democratic lethargy in 2014, when Republicans won the Senate, and in 2016, when Trump won the White House. You can blame James Comey, or the mindless leftbots who voted for Jill Stein for president, if you want. And you may well be correct. But it came down to voting then, and it will come down to voting this time, too.
As it happens, the power of voting was vividly on display this week. It launched a 28-year-old neophyte in New York City, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, on a trajectory to the House of Representatives.
Why does this matter? Not because Ocasio-Cortez defeated a Democratic powerhouse. It matters because her victory signals to young people across the country — especially a rising generation of nonwhite young people, especially women — that when you invest energy, intelligence and passion in the Democratic Party, you can access power. You can build something valuable.
As the old and white wage a multi-front campaign to cling to power, that's arguably as important as any message Democrats can send about abortion, health care or Trump's uncanny execution of Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy.
Democrats are a minority of Congress but they are a working majority of the electorate. Trump, who won a freakish election with only 46 percent of the vote, remains highly unpopular. He has used his time in office to make a daily display of aggression toward the growing cosmopolitan part of America.
Trump's ability to appoint a Supreme Court justice is not a mark of strategic genius. It's a function of being president when the guy retires.
If Democrats do not vote on Nov. 6, the damage will be incalculable. Republicans almost certainly will not exercise oversight of Trump — no matter how much evidence of criminality is presented by the special counsel investigating his links to Russia and his business practices, Robert Mueller. The degradation of U.S. influence abroad and of democracy at home will accelerate.
If, on the other hand, Democrats vote, they will gain enormous influence. First, they will take control of the House, enabling them to expose wrongdoing. They can also prevent the Republican majority in the Senate from growing; they could even shrink it or reverse it.
But they will also shape Republican behavior, especially that of Republicans who represent diverse states. Look at Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. His initial response to the Trump administration's policy of separating children, including infants, from their immigrant parents, was this: “When you see Democrats saying, ‘Don’t separate kids from their parents,’ what they’re really saying is don’t arrest illegal aliens.”
Now Cruz is scurrying for cover, making a show of working with California Democrat Dianne Feinstein to keep families together.
Why the reversal? Votes. Cruz is facing a strong challenge from Democratic Representative Beto O'Rourke. Spooked by the blowback he received after parroting the administration, Cruz now wants to show sympathy toward migrant families and a spine toward Trump. He's worried about votes.
November is a generational election on the order of John F. Kennedy's in 1960 or Barack Obama's in 2008. For a young cohort of black, white, Hispanic and Asian young people, who've come of age in the shadow of financial destruction and partisan polarization, everything is on the line. Either they will vote, rising to assume a place in the American power structure. Or they will pay the price of lost opportunity and American decline.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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Jonathan Landman at firstname.lastname@example.org