The Gorsuch Confirmation, Polarization and the Hollowing of the American Middle Class

"Nuclear" Neil Gorsuch being sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice

The tragedy of the Gorsuch nomination is not that he is a conservative, an “originalist” who believes in a literal interpretation of the Constitution, although that will certainly add to the polarization in American politics.

The bigger tragedy is that Republicans employed the “nuclear option.”  Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate voted along party lines to repeal a long-standing rule that required a 60-vote super-majority to confirm a Supreme Court nominee.  The rule was designed to ensure that nominees to the highest court in the land have bi-partisan support between the two major political parties.  Sadly, that has come to an end.

It is just the most recent example of how polarized and dysfunctional U.S politics has become.  Why? Two reasons stand out:

  • Excessive money in politics, and
  • Economic stagnation and the hollowing of the American middle class.

A tsunami of money has flooded U.S. politics in recent years.  It has been enabled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United ruling in 2010 that money is effectively the equivalent of free speech – and limits on political contributions are an unconstitutional infringement on that speech.  Today, there is so much money in politics that it has created an oppositional culture in which negative advertising and attack ads, rather than constructive dialogue, are increasingly the norm.

At the same time, also in response to Citizens United, legions of corporate lobbyists are flooding Capitol Hill and executive agencies.  Many are former elected and appointed officials “double dipping” on government pensions and benefits.  In seeking to curry favor on issues such as tax and regulatory policy, they are promoting narrow interests frequently at odds with what is best for the country as a whole and the American middle class.

The rise of social media has added to the polarization, encouraging people to communicate almost exclusively with others who think as they do.  The mainstream media continues to focus primarily on the back-and-forth of daily politics – largely ignoring the bigger picture – the reasons why politics in the U.S. have become so dysfunctional.

Meanwhile, on the economic front, growth has slowed, good paying middle class jobs are increasingly scarce, wages have stagnated for decades, and working people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

What does all this portend? It is not just the economy that is bad shape; American democracy itself is in peril – and we, as citizens, need to take action.

Exactly what action to take is not entirely clear.  It is not easy to take back a government that corporations have “Captured”, as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse put in his book of the same name.  Nor is it easy to restore the economy so it works for everyone, not just corporate interests bent on paying as little as possible in taxes while promoting their narrow interests.

But how about this for a start – let’s vote out of office those who use social media to distract people’s attention while they advocate almost exclusively for more tax breaks for the rich, or others who absolutely refuse to engage in constructive, bi-partisan dialogue.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell – see you at election time.